Spore: Intelligent Do It Yourself

Even if you're not a gamer, you probably have encountered some mention of the new release Spore. I've seen it in magazines, mentioned on podcasts and even on the evening news. If you're not a gamer, hang on. I'm not one either, but this game is interesting.

It comes from Electronic Arts, a big developer and publisher of popular games. They're not focused on education. They sell games like the Madden NFL series and Need for Speed. But they also published The Sims which is one of a few games that I actually liked playing.

The Sims series don't have defined goals. (That was also a quality of Myst which was the first game I bought for my first Mac.) You create virtual people called "Sims" and you put them in homes that are pre-fab or that you build. (Sounds a bit like Second Life and other virtual worlds.)

There was a lot of anticipation for Spore. Many pre-reviews were positive, but after it hit some complaints started emerging. It wasn't because the game's graphics or interface were clunky. Not that it's the definitive source of reviews, but the current user reviews on Amazon are giving it a lot of 1 star reviews. Some have issues with the digital rights management (DRM) system it contains. (You have to activate the game over the internet with a limit of 3 activations.)

The game got lots of pre-launch publicity and EA used a kind of prequel marketing tool called SporeCreator. The game is simple and Sims-like. You create little creatures and watch them grow and evolve.

Well, evolve may be the wrong word. There's a story on Slate called "Spore's Intelligent Designer: Will Wright's new hit game is all about evolution. Or is it?" The creatures don't really evolve on their own since you are always poking in with mouseclicks, and the intelligent design community has been pointing that out.

Some reviewers also seem to be Sim-ed out. They WANT a goal to work towards. They don't embrace uncertainty.

I have seen some bloggers say that on some levels it's constructivist. You are building the creature from scratch, making decisions, learning as you need to learn.

There are others like this on that shelf. In Little Big Planet, you take a block, make it sort of humanoid, add a face (use a photo of yourself if you want to), put in a motor and it comes to life. Even an obvious game in a game show format called Buzz!Quiz TV let's you write your own trivia questions and challenge others. A car racing game called TrackMania lets you design your own car racetracks.

Is all this constructivist, DIY or edupunk? Maybe it's games 2.0 or the read/write version of gaming.


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