The role of [g]od in Spore

SporeI am a huge fan of the old Sim games. I hardly ever play anymore, but games such as Sim City played a significant role in my upbringing. Since I am GetReligion's "token normal American young male" according to Terry, I have the honor of writing about the religion ghosts in the Spore story. The question that few seem to ask is whether this game is more about evolution than it is some version of the intelligent design theory. After all, the user has the option of controlling the development of their world. Is the user in a sense playing God?

Here is a review by The New York Times:

What is the difference between a game and a toy? Does a game that feels more like a toy -- even a scintillating, empowering toy -- fall short on its own terms? Or is it enough just to be a great toy?

Those questions came to mind again and again as I spent more than 60 hours recently with Spore, the almost impossibly ambitious new brainchild of Will Wright. Best known for his popular evocations of urban sprawl (SimCity) and suburban Americana (The Sims), Mr. Wright has spent the last eight years trying to figure out how to convey the vast sweep of evolution from a single cell to the exploration of the galaxy as an interactive entertainment experience. His answer, Spore, is being released in stores and online for PCs and Macs in Europe on Friday and in North America this weekend.

As an intelligent romp through the sometimes contradictory realms of science, mythology, religion and hope about the universe around us, Spore both provokes and amuses. And as an agent of creativity it is a landmark. Never before have everyday people been given such extensive tools to create their digital alter ego.

The article manages to mention the word "intelligent" and religion in that last paragraph there, but not in the sense that I was thinking.

Here is a reader comment submitted to us recently:

I'm not sure if this counts as a religion ghost, but it's definitely an intelligent design ghost. The NY Times has a story online today about the new computer game Spore .... The focus of the article is on the game's debt to evolutionary biology, even though its actual gameplay is much more like intelligent design (or even a "God of the gaps" theory), since it requires input and choices from the player. The creatures do not "evolve" on their own. Yet the article doesn't come close to even bringing up the topic.... I can understand The Times not wanting to confuse a computer game preview with a scientific and theological controversy, but the connections seem far too obvious to have simply been ignored.

While the NYT article actually hints at the issue, the article never really delves into it:

Yes, Spore is undeniably gorgeous; Mr. Wright and his development team at Maxis have accomplished a prodigious technical feat with the programming that allows members of Spore's interstellar menagerie variously to walk, stalk, flop and fly as they befriend and devour one another. For that matter, Mr. Wright and his publishers at Electronic Arts deserve all the credit they have received from some scientists merely for making a game about evolution (though it will be fascinating to see how the game fares among people who do not believe evolution is real). And yes, millions of people will surely spend countless hours, and dollars, on the fabulous computer toy that is Spore. And they should.

Yes it would be fascinating to know how the game fares among people who are skeptical of the theory of evolution. Perhaps the NYT will cover that story soon?

There are so many places one could run with this analogy. Obviously not every evolutionary effort goes as planned in the game (otherwise it wouldn't be much of a game). So, when things go bad, is it the result of bad decisions by the "god-like" person playing the game? In Sim City (my favorite game of all time), one could easily perform disastrously as a mayor and the result would be a miserable city filled with pollution, crime, underemployment and uncontrolled disasters. If one performs in an equally pathetic manner in Spore, the results are going to be bad for the life that one is attempting to develop.

On the flip side, the successful player of Spore seems to be able to move his or her evolutionary world into a state similar to that of today and a little beyond. The conquest of space awaits us in God's plan for the world? That is the case at least according to one game developer.

In any event, it would be imprecise to call the ability to control or guide the evolutionary aspect of Spore "intelligent." An experienced successful player of the game could be deemed "intelligent" while the less successful would could be termed "unintelligent." Thus, you could have both "unintelligent design" and "intelligent design" in the same game.

In concluding this rather rambling post, check out the headline in the review by The Los Angeles Times:

Electronic Arts spawns Spore -- which may be a benevolent god

The article actually covers the release of Spore from the business perspective, which is probably appropriate and inline with the LAT's efforts to cover the business of entertainment. However, at some point, and perhaps someone has already done this (please send here if you find one), someone should cover the "God" ghosts in the release of this game.

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