Video Game Allows Users to "Play God" With Evolution

Washington Post: “In the Beginning, Finally” It’s a video game that gives you your very own universe and lets you “play god”—so what’s the story of this latest venue for evolution?

This week, video game publisher Electronic Arts released Spore, a wide-ranging video game that lets the player fill in for God—using a distorted imitation of theistic evolution.

The game allows players to design creatures that then compete to survive.

Designed by Will Wright, creator of the popular video game The Sims, Spore has the player manage the evolution of a species from puddle-surfing protozoan all the way up to interplanetary-sailing intelligent life. Of course, random chance doesn’t guide the player’s species; rather, the game allows players to design creatures that then compete to survive. “The game’s powerful design tools allow players to follow their imaginations and create a giant race of friendly-looking teddy bears, if they like, or monsters that look as if they might have been plucked from a horror movie,” the Post’s Mike Musgrove notes. He also explains the basic operation of the game:

As a species begins to thrive, players earn “DNA points” that can be spent on developing better versions of next-generation creatures. A certain type of leg or foot might make a player’s creature run faster or jump higher. The development options a player is shown are based on his or her previous rounds of choices; that teddy-bear species wouldn't be able to quickly evolve into a two-headed-snake species, in other words. . . . [T]here isn’t exactly a way to “win” the game. As a player’s pet species develops the technology to venture into space, Spore users can keep exploring the virtual universe for as long as they wish.

Furthermore, as a player’s “creations evolve” (an interesting bit of oxymoron), they are uploaded to a central Sporepedia server and make their way into other players’ universes as well.

And lest there be any misunderstandings, let’s make it clear: this game in no way recreates the randomness of genetic mutations that, evolutionists allege, has driven life from unicellular to space-faring. Instead, as an MSNBC article explains:

The game is divided into five chapters. Each represents a step on the evolutionary ladder. The initial stage occurs under the microscope, seconds after a comet seeds your planet with the building blocks for life. . . . Soon, you grow legs and enter the second stage of the game. Now on dry land, you work in a pack to befriend rival creatures or drive them to extinction.

Also, instead of millions of years, MSNBC reports that it takes only about an hour to complete each stage and move on to the next. Thus, there is no real “evolution” going on whatsoever; only natural selection that determines whether your creations survive against predators and starvation, and then bursts of so-called “evolution” that actually allow the player to intelligently design their creature for the next stage.

As Carl Zimmer reports in a New York Times article, “The step-by-step process by which Spore’s creatures change does not have much to do with real evolution.” He even quotes Yale scientist Richard Prum, who comments that “The mechanism [of evolution in Spore] is severely messed up.”

There’s little doubt that the differences between the game and actual evolutionary hypotheses will be lost on many of Spore’s players.

Zimmer later adds, “Even as scientists praise Spore, they voice concerns about how the game does not match evolution. In the real world, new traits [allegedly] evolve as mutations arise and spread gradually through entire populations. Winning Spore’s DNA points does not work even as a remote metaphor.”

Nevertheless, Will Wright claims, “We wanted to convey the sense that evolution can bring up a surprising diversity of weird, interesting, strange things,” even though the diversity generated by the game is the product of years of intelligent design—first on the part of the game creators, and now on the part of players who will build their species.

And there’s little doubt that the differences between the game and actual evolutionary hypotheses will be lost on many of Spore’s players—something that Yale scientist Thomas Near apparently does not mind. “This may be totally off about how evolution works, but I’d much rather be dealing with a student who says, ‘OK, I have no problem with evolution; I think about it the same way I think about gravity.’ If it does that, it’ll be great.”

Of course, it remains to be seen just how big of a success Spore will be—and how much influence it will have on young minds. The Post notes that in addition to versions for Windows and Macintosh computers, Spore will be released for the iPhone, Nintendo DS, and possible game console systems. Parents should be very careful that their children, if and when they encounter the game, aren’t misled into thinking the fantasies of a video game are representative of the actual history of life!

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