Spore Origins is not an evolution simulation

| Ted Landau's User Friendly View
I've spent the past few days playing Electronic Arts Spore Origins on my iPhone. Overall, I can recommend the game. Although it is a bit repetitive and a bit too easy (except for the last few levels, or so I have been told), the graphics are gorgeous and the game play maintains your interest.

However, be aware that the game is not even close to a simulation of how evolution or, more specifically, natural selection actually works.

I saw an article where the creators of the game described the mechanics of Spore as a cross between evolution and intelligent design. That's approximately true, but only if you put the weight clearly on the intelligent design end of the scale.

The evolution (natural selection) part comes into play mainly with the struggle for your organism to survive. If you don't get enough food or if you don't defend yourself well enough against attacks, you die (go extinct). Manage to do the opposite and you have the chance to acquire additional physical characteristics. These improve your chances of surviving further challenges. That's it.

Unfortunately, this is a distorted view of the process of natural selection:

• First, there's no sex or reproduction of any kind (from what I have read online, mating and social behavior do play some role in later stages of the full Spore game; but not so in Spore Origins). In the real world, evolutionary success is virtually the same thing as differential reproductive success. Put another way, an organism that dies after producing a dozen offspring has a much greater effect on the species' evolution than a member that lives much longer but has no offspring. This alone pretty much eliminates Spore Origins from any serious consideration as an evolution simulation.

• Related to the first point, the competition that most contributes to evolutionary change is competition among members of the same species. Predator-prey interactions are secondary. They only matter to the extent that surviving such interactions provides an opportunity to leave more offspring than a competing member of the species. In Spore Origins, you are the only member of your species; there is no intra-species competition.

• In the real world, not all changes are positive. A change due to a mutation could leave an organism worse off than it was before. Other changes may prove beneficial at first but lose their value if and when the species' ecology shifts. Spore offers almost none of this. Although the features you can add may work better in some combinations than in others; all the features are designed to be "improvements."

• Evolutionary change via natural selection occurs within a population over generations -- as older animals die and are replaced by a younger generation. Over this time scale, the population characteristics of a species shift. Reproductively successful changes spread through the population; harmful ones do not. In contrast, change in Spore Origins occurs by a lone non-reproducing organism acquiring new physical characteristics over its potentially limitless lifetime.

This last point is critical to the evolution vs. intelligent design aspects of the game. An intelligent designer is someone that can arbitrarily select the characteristics of an organism, independent of any process of natural selection. That's primarily the way Spore Origins works. You are the "intelligent designer." You mete out changes as a reward for the creature surviving a game level.

While it is true that such changes can improve your creature's future survival probability, the process in Spore Origins is almost the opposite of how natural selection works. Natural selection does not "give" you an improved eye, for example, simply because you managed to survive with the "old" one. Rather, you get a modified eye first (typically via some random mutation) and, assuming the modification is beneficial, gain increased success as a result.

Bottom line: None of this detracts from the fun of playing Spore Origins -- as long as you realize that the game is not an evolution simulation. To the contrary, it is actually closer to an "intelligent design" simulation.

One more thing: EA should have provided more details as to the rules of the game. It was especially frustrating to find no explanation as to how evolution points are acquired (these are the points that unlock access to additional features for your creature). Apparently, you gain these points automatically when you complete certain levels; nothing else you do has any effect. I would have liked to have known this before I wasted time trying to uncover the "secret" of how to get these points. I still haven't found any official confirmation of this, not even on EA's Web site, so I may be wrong. However, a search the Web revealed many other users similarly unable to figure this out. So at least I am not alone here.

Comments

RPV

I suggest you go back to university. Nearly all you just said has changed now because of modern research, and you posit as fact much that is simply speculation. No one knows how we evolved, and anyone that says they do will be made a fool by the next generation as we learn more and more. Evolution is a philosophy in search of ever-changing data about how it may have happened.
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Ted Landau
[quote comment=“3919”]Nearly all you just said has changed now because of modern research…

It is true that not all evolution may occur through the mechanism of natural selection. Particularly in one-celled organisms, exceptions have been found to some of its principles. It is also true, of course, that details as to exactly how natural selection works continue to be modified as new evidence is discovered (as is true for any other area of scientific research).

That said, the basic mechanisms described in this article remain accurate across almost all species and have decades of evidence to support them. No “modern research” has overturned these principles. I stand by what I wrote.

Ummmm....

I think you may have missed a fundamental part of what Spore is all about. Spore is a game. I know we like to say that it’s a “simulation”, but none of Will Wright’s “simulations” are anywhere near a real simulation. At best, they are simulation-based games that are still meant to be enjoyable experiences. While watching a real evolution simulation might be interesting to some, you’d be hard-pressed to call it entertaining, especially when any reasonably accurate simulation would require massive amounts of computing horsepower and would take weeks to provide even the smallest discernible change.

Spore has enough problems as it is without taking on all the limitations that an accurate reflection of evolution would require. Not to mention that evolution is only one part of the game - there’s the whole tribal and civilization stages of the game that have nothing to do with how a civilization really emerges and develops. I’m not sure watching “Guns, Germs and Steel” play out on a computer screen would really draw that many $50 bills into EA’s coffers.

geoduck

[quote comment=“3919”]No one knows how we evolved.

Umm… yes we do.

I’m currently working on a film that shows how Chordates evolved from Pikaia to Homo Sapiens. We know many of the steps down to the Genus level and we’re close on a lot of the Species.

On a more fundamental level you are quite wrong. Evolution is a fact, period. To say anything else is as silly as insisting the world is flat because we can’t prove it is absolutely spherical. The mechanism of evolution, pure natural selection, punctuated equilibrium, or whatever is the subject of much debate. Personally, I think that some will be dominant in some situations and others in others. It even appears that a lot of simple blind luck was involved, for example why the group that lead to modern mammals survived the Permian catastrophe.

Do we know the name and address of every single creature that has lived on this planet since Eukaryotes appeared billions of years ago? No.  Do we know enough to say evolution is a fact and other theories, divine intervention, creationism, or intelligent design, are just wrong and a waste of time? Without question. Is evolutionary theory itself evolving over time? Absolutely. That’s how science works; you test theories and those that fail are updated or discarded.

Oh and before you even respond, yes we have seen one species evolve into another.

Now as far as Spore; it really doesn’t bother me that it isn?t an accurate model of evolution. I don’t see it as marketing itself as an accurate evolution simulator. Darwin?s Dilemma and SimEarth weren’t either but they were fun.

KitsuneStudios

Ummmm….: Gamewise I understand that they made the choices they made, but the problem from an educational standpoint is that they got SO MUCH wrong, that as an educational tool, it’s completely useless.

It’s a little like getting kids interested in history by telling them about the amazing adventures of Abraham Lincoln freeing the women of Mars from Ghandi Kahn, Dinosaur King.

Not saying it’s not fun, but it’s about as educational as “The Flintstones”.

coaten

Ted, you’re taking it a little too seriously, dude. It’s a game. I think we get that this is not how came to rule the planet.

Ted Landau
[quote comment=“3928”]Ted, you’re taking it a little too seriously, dude.

Perhaps. But it is a serious matter for me.

Given all the misinformation about evolution out there, and considering the ongoing debates about what to teach or not to teach in our schools —I just wanted to make sure that Spore does not become a further source of evolution “misinformation.” As long as people understand the game’s limits, go ahead and have fun. That’s exactly what I am doing (currently at Level 19)!

macman

hmmm… geoduck/Ted:

Those that did NOT believe in Creation/God/Bible were the ones that said the world was flat… The Bible clearly referred to the earth being spherical 1000’s of years prior to Christopher Columbus. Read it for yourself at Isaiah 40:22.

And just in case you still think the earth is sitting on elephants… it is “hanging in space” as per the bible book of Job 26:7.

You are even fulfilling a prophecy in the Bible. Read it for yourselves at Romans 1:21-23:
21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

Misinformation… hmm…

bob

You all have a point. Reminder that all of Europe believed the world was flat (under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire/the Catholic church. Ignorance was/is there greatest tool. Lets say Spore is just a game, reminder for ages 10+. It may not be a great educational tool for teaching Evolution or Science, but it gets kids interested in complex thinking, literally of things outside of their world; stars, galaxies, solar systems, trade and why its a good idea to get out and make friends. So what it doesn’t teach them facts is it supposed to? ITS A TIME KILLER, but with that, makes you wonder and think about things. Who knows maybe it makes a few curious who later when they are big people they will have interests of astronomy, car design, architecture, city planners, economist, they think back to Spore and how they became interested in what ever they do.
My thought: science and God have met, we just need to let go human ignorance and learn to see God though the modern mind. Drop the magic and miracles and look at it with the facts we have, and keep looking at the wonder. I don’t think God likes ignorance.

bfd

Don
[quote comment=“3933”]The Bible clearly referred to the earth being spherical 1000’s of years prior to Christopher Columbus. Read it for yourself at Isaiah 40:22.

Which translation? Some say “circle” and some say “vault.” None say “sphere.”

And just in case you still think the earth is sitting on elephants… it is “hanging in space” as per the bible book of Job 26:7.

Well, I’m pretty sure the Earth isn’t being carried by elephants. Anywho…

That chapter and verse doesn’t refer to “space,” rather it states that the earth is hung or suspended over ‘nothing.’

You are even fulfilling a prophecy in the Bible. Read it for yourselves at Romans 1:21-23:
21For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles.

I like that quote. Is God a male?

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, what does any of this have to do with the discussion at hand?

Andrew

It’s not the natural selection at all.

The question is - how do mutations arise?

Natural selection merely filters the mutations.  I don’t think Spore’s “nature” or how it “selects” pertain to what Ted’s really talking about.

Ted, are you saying that the mutations are generally driven by the player?  If so, then it’s certainly not random.  And it sounds fun to try to design (intelligently—or otherwise!) an entire ecology.

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