Next Gaming in Evolution – part 1

6 09 2008

hattip Joan Bushwell and her chimpanzee minions

I really can’t remember the last time I was actually excited about the release of a video game*. The countdown until some vague release date in September is still ticking away in my soul. Hopefully my new new job will assist me affording a new Intel-based Mac on which to play it (my iBook is only PowerPC :().

Carl Zimmer’s NYTimes article “Gaming Evolves” takes a closer look at the science background story on Maxis’ latest creation: SPORE.

What I feel is going to be the opinion of most scientists is best captured here:

Even as scientists praise Spore, they voice concerns about how the game does not match evolution. In the real world, new traits evolve as mutations arise and spread gradually through entire populations. Winning Spore’s DNA points does not work even as a remote metaphor.

“I do hope that it doesn’t confuse people as to what evolution is all about,” said Charles Ofria, a computer scientist at Michigan State University and a creator of Avida.

Spore may also mislead players with the way it is set up as a one-dimensional march of progress from single-cell life to intelligence. Evolution is more like a tree than a line, with species branching in millions of directions. Sometimes species become more complex, and sometimes they become less so. And sometimes they do not change at all. “There’s no progressive arrow that dominates nature,” Dr. Prum said.

These caveats notwithstanding, Dr. Near hopes that Spore prompts people to think about the evolutionary process. “This may be totally off about how evolution works, but I’d much rather be dealing with a student who says, ‘O.K., I have no problem with evolution; I think about it the same way I think about gravity.’ If it does that, it’ll be great.”

The game is an excellent well informed thought experiment. Will Wright has done his homework to bring enough science to make Spore work, but ultimately sacrifices some reality to still make it a user-driven game. This user-drivenness is also just enough to allow some IDiots to take it under their big-tent philosphy into the division of deity-driven evolution. I still think Spore has done quite a lot better than any other “evolution” game I have seen before.

Hopefully further iterations of Spore, or possibly built-up mods will be able to emphasise a bit more on the science and free-reign aspects of Spore. It’s a bit hard to criticise a game that has yet to be released, but in my next post I’ve got some suggestions I’ve come up for improving modifying the Spore Sim-Life style game to allow more scientific playfulness.

*maybe a little about Warlords IV, which was more notsalgia/patriotism that turned into general letdown as usual




3 responses

6 09 2008
Next Gaming in Evolution - part 2 « It’s Alive!!

[…] For some background on our topic: Science in the new Spore Computer game visit: Spore Official Site, Carl Zimmer: Gaming Evolves, Joan Bushwell’s Chimpanzee Refuge and/or the first part of this post. […]

5 04 2009

Theres a new expansion coming out! You can find more info here:


30 06 2010
Game: I wanna play forever « It's Alive!!

[A look at other computer games for the classroom]

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