Is Will Wright's new game, Spore, about evolution or intelligent design?

The art of play.
Sept. 11 2008 5:36 PM

Spore's Intelligent Designer

Will Wright's new hit game is all about evolution. Or is it?

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Once the evolution stages end, Spore morphs into a traditional and less-innovative strategy game. You form a tribe, then evolve into a civilization with a military, economic, or religious culture. I managed to go religious by doing exactly what the religious nuts in America do not: eating lots of veggies and playing nice with my neighbors. When I eventually founded a city, I flooded the planet with religious propaganda to forcibly convert the unwashed heathens beyond my walls. This element of the game has angered atheists. I can't imagine that it's going to make evangelicals too happy, either.

So it goes with Wright. He admits Spore is a game that deals with intelligent design. He acknowledges the religious component. But he takes pains to point out that it's a caricature of reality, like all his games. The final stage of Spore has you scooting around in a spaceship, exploring a universe populated with user-created content. That's maybe not so realistic, but it is enjoyable. It's important to remember that building a game based strictly on evolutionary principles would be a disaster. How would you play it? Perhaps you'd just end up watching a lab computer churning data.

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What people see as agendas in Spore and The Sims and SimCity may merely be artifacts of what's required to turn a simulation into a game. An early prototype of Spore included mutations, but Wright said it wasn't engaging—users needed to make those tweaks. "When we put the players in the role of intelligent designer then people were much more emotionally attached to what they made," he says.

Ultimately, games are made to engage the people who play them. Provoking wonderment or debate is a good thing. Wright abstracts grandiose topics, and he does it well. Not enough game designers have the stones or the vision to try the same, which is why we get battered with endless versions of Madden NFL (also put out by Electronic Arts). In the end, that's also why Spore leaves such an impression. It's more than just fun. It's worth arguing about.

Luke O’Brien is a writer in Washington, D.C.

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