This article was originally published in the Wednesday September 17th edition of the York Excalibur and posted online on September 23th on the Excalibur website.
In case anyone has been living under a rock for three years, or still hasnâ€™t discovered the Internet, let me tell you about Spore, a videogame brought to you by Will Wright, the genius behind SimCity and The Sims. In fact, you might want to think of this game as â€śSimEverythingâ€ť â€“ it takes you from microbiology to interstellar space exploration. You create and control a creature through five evolutionary stages: cellular, creature (wild animal), tribal, civilization and space. But how accurate are these stages when compared to evolutionary theory? Anyone with a little bit of education on the subject might argue that there are fundamental elements of evolution that are absent from Spore, such as gradualism and random mutation.
Ironically, the player assumes the role of an intelligent designer in Spore â€“ you choose how your creature will evolve every step of the way. Itâ€™s very tempting to say that Darwinism is
entirely absent from Spore. However, the game does serve as an evolutioneducation tool: itâ€™s just not perfect. Is it even possible to simulate evolution perfectly with Spore? The very
nature of videogames goes against traditional evolutionary theory since gamers tend to have more fun when theyâ€™re able to control the game and interact with it.
Would Spore be as fun to play if we had no access to the creature creator? What would happen if gradualism and random mutation were included into the game? Random mutation would suck all the fun out of Spore. Imagine if we didnâ€™t get to choose whether our creatures were vegetarian or carnivorous or whether they had an acid-spitting appendage or a giant spike. I mean, this wouldnâ€™t totally ruin things for the player, but the overall experience would deteriorate. Half the fun of Spore is creating a creature that appeals to you. The look
of your creature is just as important as its play style. Random mutation would be much closer to how evolution really works, but it would take away the feeling of control over the
creature. Instead of boasting, â€śThis is what I created,â€ť you would end up reluctantly saying, â€śThe game stuck me with this one.â€ť Evolution is a long and slow process, a fact not reflected in the game. In Spore, for example, a creature with a pincer mouth is able to give birth to a snout-nosed offspring. In the real world, it would take millions of years and numerous generations for the species to change in such a radical way.
The fossil records (if weâ€™re lucky enough for the creatures to have been fossilized at all) might show the kinds of radical jumps that the Spore creature creator allows, but in reality
there would be hundreds or thousands of transitional species that link those two fossils. Sporeâ€™s saving grace is that there is some form of natural selection, although itâ€™s not entirely genuine. The player is ultimately the one who is doing the selecting. In the first two stages â€“ where youâ€™re given the ability to add parts to or remove parts from your creature â€“ the player only has to react to the environment. In the cell stage, there are a couple different arms races you may choose to participate in. You may decide to focus on swimming speed
so you can escape from enemies or chase down prey. On the other hand, you may sacrifice mobility for armaments: there are always bigger fish in the ocean.
Unfortunately, the environmental pressures become less and less apparent at each stage. When the player reaches the tribal stage of the game, theyâ€™re no longer able to make
physical changes to their creature â€“ physical evolution stops and social evolution becomes the focus. Despite growing an enlarged brain and becoming a more civilized creature, the process is far from Darwinian. In Sporeâ€™s defence, Wright makes it clear that his creation is not meant to be a tool for evolution education. Itâ€™s only meant to spark curiosity. Itâ€™s hard to criticize Spore for that, especially since youâ€™re lucky if you learned anything about evolution in high school. Itâ€™s also about a lot more than just evolution and the origin of life. When players reach the space stage of the game, theyâ€™ll think about the future of life as well. Perhaps the gameâ€™s intelligenceguided evolution is an easy way to avoid controversy. Evolution has not been fully accepted by some people and other theories have emerged to explain a theological presence. Some see Sporeâ€™s players fulfilling Godâ€™s role in the gameâ€™s simulated
history. Spore still makes the assertion that, given time, a simple species can evolve gradually into a very complex species. Maybe the only reason Spore isnâ€™t a perfect â€śEvolutionSimâ€ť
is because the game requires interaction and control. Spore better reflects the concept of intelligent design instead of evolution â€“ but then again, itâ€™s only a videogame.