Tag Archives: evolution

Making science video games: Spore and the misrepresentation of science.

A friend said to me,
“I am trying to make a video game to create interest in engineering.  Someone told me Spore taught a lot about evolution.  What do you think?”

I did play Spore and I was very disappointed.  I was angry, actually, because the things that are so cool about evolution were not present.  Playing Spore was like expecting an excellent new baseball game and instead it was a soccer game.  The worst part is, that real evolution would make a great game!

The real problem with Spore was that Maxis and EA advertised it as being about evolution, and bragged about it being a real science video game.  However, anyone who knows about evolution knows that isn’t true. The problem is that so many people do not know how evolution actually works, and could easily be confused by the version of “evolution” presented in Spore.

Science journalist John Bohannon assembled a team of scientists to give Spore a report card on all the subjects its claimed to present.  You can see this report card here: http://scienceguild.org/wiki/index.php?title=Spore You can read John’s review of Spore in Science Magazine, here:  http://www.sciencemag.org/content/322/5901/531.3.full

Why am I writing about it?  Because science can be explained by playing games, but only when the core of the science must be used to win the game.  For example, a game about evolution should require the player to overcome that fact that random events may wipe out your offspring at any moment.  That would be exciting and teach real science.  I am writing about this because we (learning technology folks) are still struggling with this concept.  I believe we have learned the theory: we know we want a game that requires the player to use real science to win.  The struggling is coming from the question, how do we make that game?   Working closely with the scientist, or having the scientist be the game writer is the answer.  For examples, see Metablast, Cellcraft and Surge (and Immune Attack, of course).

E.O. Wilson says Games are the future of Education

Dr. E. O. Wilson is interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition by Will Wright, the creator of the video game, The Sims.  Dr. Wilson is Professor Emeritus (retired) at Harvard.

You can listen to the interview on NPR’s website. At the beginning of the interview, E. O. Wilson says that games are the future of education.  He says that gaming allows us to learn the way that we evolved to learn: by doing.

Who is Dr. Wilson?
From NPR site:
“Biologist E. O. Wilson, professor emeritus at Harvard University, is a two-time Pulitzer-winning ant expert who helped develop theories of island biogeography, chemical ecology, and sociobiology. A leader in the modern environmental movement, Wilson has devoted his life to understanding how all forms of life are connected.”

Who is Will Wright?
Have you heard of the video game, The Sims? Well, before the Sims, Will Wright created a game SimAnt, in 1991. And according to his story on NPR this morning, Will used Dr. Wilson’s work on ants to create the scientifically accurate game SimAnt.

Here we have another argument in favor of teaching using games. Games allow us to Do Things. FAS has long held this position, and we are always happy to hear when others say so, too.