Spore, The Evolutionary Game

2010/10/25
By Dan

Spore™ is a computer game released in 2008, commonly known for its recurring concept of evolution, both biologically and technologically/culturally. Spore takes you not only through a creatures’ family tree, but the way culture and technology develops after it becomes a dominant and sentient species.  Spore gives you the remarkable ability to design your own animal and mold it until it’s capable of developing technology. The creature you follow and manipulate is one of a species that is on an evolutionary path to become the most technologically advanced creatures on the planet and eventually become the dominant species such as the humans on Earth. Spore grasps the concept of evolution pretty well, however, Spore does not always follow biology correctly.

Spore bases itself on the concept that life had traveled to Earth (or in this case, a habitable planet) via a comet. A cut scene begins: a comet crashes into a habitable planet, breaking into small (some microscopic) pieces along the way. A camera focuses in on a crystalline rock—and then it bursts. A small little microbe climbs out with nothing but a mouth and flagella (bacteria/cell propulsion organelle).

At this point you can swim free and you eventually evolve, adding parts and changing structures. You eventually evolve to a multi-cellular organism too big for the primordial ooze. The game (due to time constraints) skips over a portion where one plays as an aquatic creature, and makes the player evolve legs. You take your first steps on land and onto a nest, eventually evolving to a far greater species. At the pinnacle of your evolution you begin to develop tools and such. After becoming a tribe, one will start a city, then an empire, and eventually join together to create a spaceship. You fly around the universe meeting aliens, befriending and battling. You spend the rest of the game in the space age and become an interstellar expert.

If you just skimmed through that, that’s fine—because here is the main point of the post: Spore stays close to reality, but jumps in and out of it at times. Spore has added and subtracted many concepts, due to time constraints and child-friendliness; such as an underwater stage (where your creature is a fish) and a city stage (focuses on one city rather than multiple).

Spore’s perhaps gravest mistake, was the gaining of parts (e.g.: a mouth, a foot, a tail, a wing). Although vital to the game, Spore designers did not want to give out the best mouth, or feet, or “graspers” until it was the right time. The solution to this issue, was to create bone piles that a creature could stumble upon and—in some unexplained phenomena—gain the ability to develop so and so part (e.g. a horn or an improved mouth). The farther one got from their nest, the better the parts would be. In reality a creature will not be able to stumble upon supernatural bones, the best mutation of a litter/breed will survive to reproduce (more often).

Spore’s second mistake, was again the concept of evolving new abilities and parts. (depending on the player) creatures may appear to gain parts for no apparent reason. For example, a player might decide it’s cool if you made the creature’s legs have one joint, and make them 20 feet tall. Without a doubt, it will be interesting, but it will not be logical. A creature could be made with outgoing colors and not be poisonous or a poisonous mimic. In nature, a creature will (over time) evolve to fit an environment, not evolve to look pretty cool to us humans.

Third, Spore bases itself around the chemical, DNA—although all earthlings contain it, there is a great chance that if there is other life in the universe, it will not share the same genetic principles. It may not even have genes to begin with. Astrobiologists claim that nucleic acids may not be the only chemical possible of storing data. (“Terra Firma.” The Planets. BBC 2: 24 Jan 1999.Television. 13 Oct 2010)

Spore does, however, keep the concept of evolution alive and is one of the first games to do so. Spore is a step towards biological themes being used (more commonly) in everyday life. Spore helps young people get a better sense of evolution and sets them on a path to biological knowledge.

Here is a video I made using Spore, featuring a Striped Bakersaurus (Virgae Scitmagister) and its trusty son jumping around and having fun!

How effectively does Spore educate young people? What other games do you know that use biological themes in their game play? Should Spore be used as an accurate representation of evolution?

  • Cartland

    Interesting post Dan! It seems to be a really fun game. I think game is a good way to educate young people about different things. Through playing this game, young people may start thinking about evolution and have a basic general idea about how life changes during time. I have played a game called world of coo. It is a puzzle game with a strong emphasis on physics, for Windows, Mac OS X, Linux by 2D Boy. It is a really successful game, and it’s really fun. But games are still games. The designers in order to make the game funny, they will change the true nature, and add the fake settings. We cannot believe everything that says in the game, although it related to science, and it seems to be true.

    source:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_of_Goo

  • Samantha P

    I think Spore educates young children because it gives kids some idea of evolution even with its flaws. I honestly have never even heard of this game so i wouldn’t be able to even tell you another kind of game but this game sounds awesome. I mean some people think evolution is boring and to have a game almost like Sims, is pretty cool. It definitely would help me with evolution as a child and have me more interested in it at a younger age then now. Spore shouldn’t be used as an accurate representation of evolution but it does a good enough job for young children. However, if other levels or games were invented for older kids then it should be more accurate, so teens/adults can have a better sense of evolution. These flaws in this game are a big deal and would upset evolutionists or scientists but its just a game. Every game these days are never accurate enough to represent the real “idea” behind it. Which is why its just called a game in the first place. Overall i’m still shocked about Spore because its a really cool idea either way and it sounds like a lot of fun. It really sounds like an interesting way to think about science!

  • Naseem

    Really awesome post, Dan! I had actually heard of Spore, but never understood what it was about. I looked up another type of educational/biology-related video game, and found a prototype game called Immune Attack (http://www.fas.org/immuneattack/), developed by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), Brown University, and the University of South Carolina. This game uses a familiar, comfortable gaming experience in order to teach tough concepts such as immunology easily to young players. It helps those who would regularly be uninterested in biology a fun, hands-on opportunity that will boost interest. As you advance through each level in Immune Attack, you come across a different infection with a new type of immune cell for you to “train.” In order to train your immune system to defend your body against infectious enemies, surrounded by red blood cells you can squeeze through the walls of blood vessels, and interact with various objects. Fend off invaders, or die trying.
    Article: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060921205003.htm

  • Rachel

    I think it educates young people well enough about evolution , even if it has some weaknesses and false concepts. I do not know of any other games that use biological themes in them, but this one defintely sounds like a fun way to learn. I think Spore should be more accurate, because at the same time children are learning false information and can get confused about the evolutionary theory.

  • Mayana

    Spore seems very interesting and i wouldnt mind playing it. In the beginning of this article it was mentioned that “The creature you follow and manipulate is one of a species that is on an evolutionary path to become the most technologically advanced creatures on the planet and eventually become the dominant species such as the humans on Earth.”
    Imagine human scientist altering different chemicals and species and one day ends up creating some being stronger than humans! what would our world be like? would we be moved out of our homes and enviornment? would we be considered in-humane to this new specie?
    It is pretty interesting to wonder what if, but never actually take it any further. I actuallly believe this is a very clever game and we should begin to play it in class!

  • Michael

    I can think of no better way to get to this generation than by incorporating evolution into one of our most popular forms of entertainment: video games. As an avid gamer myself, I found out about this game quite some time ago in a magazine I subcribes to. However, I did not immediately connect it with evolution. In fact, in some ways it seems to incorporate intelligent design! Even though your single celled organism does evolve into an advanced race, you, the player, control how it evolves, and what it would look like. Sounds like the player is playing God, doesn’t it? We can make a creature in any form simply because we think it is cool, whether “cool” means an amorphous blob or a multi-limbed dinosaur thing.
    Overall, Spore is a wonderful game, and while it does incorporate evolution, it really shouldn’t be used as an accurate representation for evolution. This was a game, and a game is made for fun; and evolution is definitely not a game.

  • Andrei

    This is a very interesting post. Its really good to see how we are using games to educate young people. The idea of this game in specific using the concept of evolution is great because it is a very controversial topic. Throughout this article you mention the game is “close to reality, but jumps in and out of it at times” which results in mistakes as you put it. However in my opinion these “mistakes” are benificial to young people because it opens their minds to new ideas. To think what will happen if our intelligence keeps enhancing, as our abilities keep improving…until what? A perfect society with out war or competition, where humans are perfect and evolution no longer exists?

  • Demi

    For a person who isnt an avid videogame player this game seems like an exciting game to play. Unlike the other responders, I have never heard of Spore and I am very suprised that there is a video game based on evolution. Spore is a good way to teach young children about evolution earlier while having fun. it also helps strugglers or people not interested in biology learn a topic that isn’t exactly an easy one.

  • http://missbakersbiologyclass.com/blog/2010/10/25/spore-the-evolutionary-game/ Yianni

    It sounds like a very intresting game! I never heard of this game before but this will definatly help further my understanding of evolution. I do think if they make it more realistic, they will be able to reach a much larger audience.

  • Emily

    That’s so interesting, Dan! I’d never heard of the game before, but I do believe that, through its faults, Spore has a positive effect on helping to educate children and helps to keep them interesting while doing so. I don’t play many video games, but I have two brothers who are avid players, and they continually play games like Halo, or Modern Warfare. These games only contain fighting and violence and if they decided to play a game like Spore, I’m sure that they’d be much more mentally stimulated. As Naseem was saying before, they have created a video game containing the subject of immunology which helps to interest students that would otherwise be bored or confused by the topic. I personally think that although Spore has some faults, it can help young students get the main idea about evolution and what it involves.

    http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/09/060921205003.htm

  • dawood

    I actually heard about this game from the person who wrote this, and at first i was very surprised that a game like this was actually being sold and played. As many of you might know video game designers usually make games that a general audience would prefere somthing thats not school related, somthing that would make lots of money (Call of duty1-6 etc). When I asked around in game shops (gamestop) i found out that this game was vey popular, and many people were buying it. Even though some of the stuff in this game is fiction and untrue about evolution, it does give some knoledge about this topic. It would actually be really cool if a version of this game actually came out that followed all the rules of the evolutionary theory. It would make Biology teachers lives much easier, and it would help students learn about biology while they were playing

  • Zach

    Great post Dan! I myself have played this game, but I had to stop short due to my computer crashing. Again, I am for that this game give somewhat a sense on how life operates. It give a clear sense on how biologically organisms can evolve into stronger beings, but the fact that the game gives you the ability to change different parts can be against teh role of evolution.
    I would like to support the fact that Spore does follow some biological logic that applies to our society. According to a National Geographic Article (link below)released just after the game, explains how in comparision to humans and other organisms, the game exhibits bilateral symmetry, which basically means that the organism is symmetric, with the same amount of body parts on one side, and the exact same amount on the other. Humans and organisms clearly exhibit that state. Also, there can be possible equivilents to different periods in time (comparison to the Jurrasic period, etc)
    However, there are a few things that I feel that are unlike human and animal evoultion. The game (if played at a consistant rate) can take an extremly quick time to go from cell to civilitzation. Unlike regular evoultion, evoultion can take millions of years, in which the game can take about a few hours. But, with the differences and similarities in mind, Spore can show a clear view to how the basis of evolution is made.

    Link: http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/episode/how-to-build-a-better-being-3863/04#tab-Overview

  • Emilio

    I have also played this game, and not just by myself, but with yourself Dan! I feel the game is good for education in evolution if it’s a loose and flimsy education that someone wants. While the game is fun and clearly demonstrates “survival of the fittest” and evolution of a species, as well as the adaptations the species makes. Essentially, the game shows it happen, and explains that the concept exists, but doesn’t quite explain genetics and all the details of how it happens. The game is really only educational if a third grader is playing it and only just finding out about evolution.

  • Noa

    Great post, Dan! I actually decided to research and see if there are any other biological games like this, and found myself across and interesting one. It’s called “The Biological Cell” and in this game there is basically a picture of a cell and inside you have all the basic parts of a cell. The object of the game is to get all the names of the part correct, in the least amount of time. The game will give you a name (let’s use for example, the nucleus) and you have to press the button that’s pointing to the nucleus! Once you’re done you can compare your best score with other players! This game is very educational and will help many who need to know the cell for any classes!

    The Game:
    http://www.purposegames.com/game/153
    Information on the Game:
    http://www.purposegames.com/game/153/info

  • Gurk

    Good job Dan! I never heard this game but it sounds like a fun game. Like everyone else I agree that this is a good educational game. I searched about the game, while the game is fun to play and shows Darwin’s message of “survival of the fittest” and evolution of the animal kingdom. I watched the trailer and the game looks fun to play, the trailer shows how you create your player and survive and reproduce. And I’m very happy that Dan wrote a blog on this because thanks to him I am anxious to play this game.
    And here is the trailer for this game: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jVH9Q8M8eaQ

  • Gunnar

    Wow Gurk great observations. I also looked more into the game and i found that a new version of the game is coming out and it’s called the cell stage. It talks about life as a cell and you have to survive and evolve long enough until you can defend yourself and than go reproduce to get an army. it is exactly the same as every animals biological goal of surviving and reproducing! The trailer looks amazing and i’m even thinking about getting the game when it comes out! Heres the trailer:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HzaFrQUdgi0&feature=related

  • Emilio

    Well, I’m sorry to say that you’re a bit late, Gunnar. That video was released in 2008. However, the way the video game works is that you form a cell, and you-as you said- have to eat other cells and stay away from larger ones to survive until you evolve enough to move onto land. From there, you can eat other creatures and the same rules still basically apply to this stage, then you can periodically enhance the appearance and abilities of your creature. You eventually form a tribe of your species that help you hunt and such. In this way, the game follows the theory of evolution very well, however, the game does go on to allow creatures to travel into space, which while not necessarily impossible over an enormous amount of time in reality, is extremely unrealistic as outer space is a vacuum and has no oxygen, and is beyond freezing. This would really defeat the purpose of evolution if a creature were to evolve to just die, and be incapable of reaching the biological goal of survival and reproduction. As I said before, the game has a good structure for early learning about evolution, but eventually becomes unrealistic and implausible.

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