Bad Grades For Spore

By Carl Zimmer | October 23, 2008 5:19 pm

Last month I wrote in the New York Times about Spore, a highly anticipated game that let you follow life from microbe to intergalactic civilization. I had a couple evolutionary biologists play around with it to get their reaction, and contact a couple others who had had a chance to play the game. They gave it positive–though decidely mixed–marks. In today’s issue of Science, John Bohanon describes the reactions of a number of other biologists, and they really don’t like it at all. Here’s what Ryan Gregory has to say:

“The problem is that the game features virtually none of the key ingredients of evolution as we understand it,” says Gregory. “There’s no shared common descent between species, since every single creature in Spore can trace its lineage back to a different single-celled organism that arrives from space.” Spore also lacks biological variation. “When you run into other members of your species, they are always identical clones of you.” Nor does it have natural selection. “There are no consequences for dying, since you just reappear at your nest.” Your organism does evolve, says Gregory, “in the sense that it changes over time, but it really has no bearing on how things evolve in the real world.”

I believe the article is behind a subscription wall, but you can check out a wiki Bohanan set up for an in-depth report card.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, General, Writing Elsewhere

Comments (5)

  1. Eva

    I happened to listen to this old TED talk by Will Wright just this morning, and noticed that he actually doesn’t really say it’s about evolution, but rather more general philosophical, and trying to teach about the long-term impact of changes to the environment. I don’t think you should see it as an evolution-teaching-tool.

    That being said, I have only played the miniature iPod version of the game (because my macbook can’t handle the real game) but have been naming my little creatures “Lamarck” =)

  2. Paddy

    I picked up the game as a curiosity and have enjoyed it. I am also a student who will be graduating with degrees in zoology and biochemistry. The evaluations by these biologists are over critical. Of course the game is not an acurate simulation of evolution which would be quite the feat for any programmer. The game is a so called “god game” where the player is in control of most things in the environment, in this case cintrolling the physical characteristics of the player’s creature. In that respect, the game absolutely delivers. Furthermore, if people are expecting a video game from Electronic Arts to teach or even acurately portray evolution in all of its complexity, they have missed the point entirely. It is a GAME for entertainment purposes only.

  3. Tucker

    The game failed on multiple levels, primarily it’s just not very engaging – on ‘hard’ you can pass through the various stages up to space conquest in under an hour, and after each stage your previous work on your creature/vehicles/cities becomes nearly obsolete.

    The $5 dollar creature creator is the best part of the game.

  4. Gabe

    Tucker says it pretty well, but I find some of the aspect of the space stage thought provoking at times. The game is well executed and meant to be played in and not necessarily through. The big brains expecting a more literal interpretation of the model of evolution should look elsewhere. When Will Wright originally introduced the concept to the public he was all about “The Long Now” ( and I think that’s ultimately where he was aiming for. If he can stir up a little talk about the game within sciency circles in the meantime, he just sold a couple more copies.

    Remember this is the same man that says he didn’t do enough to profit off the Sims. Spore is his attempt to make up for that.

  5. I haven’t played the game, and I probably won’t. For years I have dreamed of a real evolution game, and I really don’t think it should be that difficult to make. Let the offspring mutate. Let natural selection runs its course. Let the player control one lineage, but let the rest evolve for real. That way the player will end up in competition with related organisms, and that sounds like real fun to me. If the player dies, let him take control of one of the related organisms, instead of his dead one just reappearing at the nest.

    Piece of cake.


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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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