But what do actual biologists think? John Bohannon "The Gonzo Scientist" played Spore with a team of scientists and reported on their experience in Science. Two evolutionary biologists - T. Ryan Gregory of the University of Guelph and Niles Eldredge of the American Museum of Natural History - rated the "Cell" and "Creature" stages of the game. The "Cell" stage fared OK science-wise, but the "Creature" stage got a poor review:
"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."Bohannon has created a page at the Spaceguild Wiki that gives a more detailed report card of Spore's science. If it were a college student, it would have flunked out long ago:
[. . . ]
You might think that Spore's fatal flaw would be that it supports intelligent design rather than Darwinian evolution. (That's what I initially thought.) But it turns out to be not even that interesting. "Spore is essentially a very impressive, entertaining, and elaborate Mr. Potato Head that uses the language of evolution but none of the major principles," conclude Gregory and Eldredge.
Organismic biology: D-So overall pretty awful. Gregory and Eldredge also contributed a detailed explanation of why they gave Spore such poor grades for its depiction of evolution.
Evolutionary processes: F
- Cell biology: D
- Genetics: F
- Development and reproduction: D
- Evolution as fact: B
- Mutation and variation: F
- Natural selection: F
- Sexual selection: F
- Genetic drift: F
- Historical contingency: D
- Constraints: D
- Evolutionary history: D
You may be asking yourself, why does this matter? It's only a game, right? I actually don't think it would matter much at all, if it weren't being marketed as educational.
The game's makers are clearly aiming for the highly lucrative family and education markets. "Since the game's release we've received a lot of interest from various schools and universities around the world," a Spore spokesperson wrote me in an e-mail. "So that's a good sign that there's a lot of interest in [the] academic/education community."I would hope that any adult that bought Spore with an eye to education would use it as a way to initiate discussion of the actual science of evolution, but I suspect that that doesn't happen very often. Instead parents will buy the game and just hand it to their kids, assuming it has some educational value. And while it may keep kids entertained, they won't end up knowing any more about biology than they did before they started. Hopefully the inaccurate use of biology terms and concepts within the game won't end up confusing them when they do learn about real science.
(via The Loom)
Image: Punky Quillibra, the creature created by evolutionary biologists T. Ryan Gregory and Niles Eldredge. They were able to change every component of Punky's body in a single generation, a game feature that is totally unlike evolution.