Spore is Evolution Propaganda? Sounds Good.
Will Wright’s new computer game Spore promises to be a lot of fun, but it doesn’t teach evolution. From what I’ve seen so far in the Youtube clips promoting Spore, the game seems like it’ll be fun to play but it’s essentially a design-based game, not an evolution-based game.
No matter, already the delusional nutcases (i.e. creationists) are hyperventilating about how Spore ‘indoctrinates’ children into ‘evolutionism’. Never mind that the game has players design life forms, picking body parts and body plans and then letting their creations free to prosper or fail in the game world. The only selective aspect of this game appears to be that some designs will let you acquire resources faster than others, but that seems to be the only evolutionary component, and that’s not much.
I do like the procedural aspects of the game, which calculate the way a creatures moves or picks up objects on the fly, letting creators make weird creatures without really knowing how they’ll move, and letting the computer do the figuring out for them. This aspect has potential to teach people about how some body designs would play out in the real world, perhaps making the point that top-down design is a particularly inefficient and stupid way to try and generate a working life form. Of course evolution takes care of this aspect by throwing out variations that are tested against the harsh realities of life, and only those variations that are relatively successful are kept. In the game there doesn’t appear to be an analogous design-filtering system.
Even though Spore contains only a minimal amount of evolutionary mechanics, that’s too much for the YECs. If you’re curious to see just how stupid and incurious these people can get, check out Anti-Spore (and yes, that’s a no-follow link). If you have any doubts about how pathetic the YEC arguments can get, that site is a good antidote to your illusions.
I wish someone would design a game that actually demonstrated a working selection process. It’s too bad no one has, because there is some very interesting work going on in the field of evolutionary simulation research, where evolutionary processes can be demonstrated in a virtual environment. An excellent example was presented at this summer’s TAM 6 meeting, by Lee Graham and colleagues. I thought Wright’s earlier game SimLife was a lot of fun in this way, because even though it was pretty linear in the way it had creatures ‘evolve’, it did a not-bad job showing at a layman’s level how genetic drift works in isolated populations.
Evolution is such a fundamental process in complex systems, operating in not only biology but also in software that can copy and mutate. Basically any system where objects can replicate imperfectly will tend to show differential selection and varying trait profiles over time. Evolution is easy. I’m still waiting for a game that shows people how this works. I really want to see how many creationist heart attacks such a game would engender…