Spore and educational opportunities: evolution

For the last few weeks, my 7 year old daughter, Willow, and I have intensely been engaged in Will Wright’s newest game creation, Spore.

First, this is one of the most incredble games I’ve ever played. I cannot begin to express how much fun I’ve had playing this game with my daughter, much less how much I’ve enjoyed it after she’s gone to bed! It is a blast! If you haven’t checked it our fot the entertainment value, it’s worth every penny.

Second, it has been a fantastic educational tool! That really is the focus of this post and future ones about the game. First, a bit on educational gaming theory. The engagement level of this game is profound. As a teaching tool, is does need mentoring to fully gain the educational value of the game. The game was designed for entertainment first and the educational value works when you bring external knowledge into the gameplay.

With that said, Willow has been learning about evolution. We’ve discussed theories of how life started (the game shows an asteroid breaking open in a “tide pool” to reveal your first single-cell organism). We’ve discussed DNA (provided as “points”). We’ve discussed the difference between how creatures evolve in the game (you, as gamer, decides vs Darwinian evolution vs God. And we’ve discussed how Will Wright has unfortunately left out the “fish” stage of evolution: what happens between the tide pool and land creatures (ok… so this is up to debate, but you do see what appears to be a very complex microorganism swim right up onto land).

The game provides an evolutionary timeline, although Willow hasn’t quite grasped the time scale, so that is an additional lesson outside of the game. We’ve spent the last week up on land and have been discussing animal behaviors and what it means to get bigger brains (social behaviors and species eradication by your own species correlate to bigger brain sizes… your creature is learning). The game lets you decide wether to attack another species or befriend them.

Next up: the tribal stage. And due to some events in Willow’s real world, we’ll be discussing race relations and addressing the natural apprehension we feel when encountering tribes that look and act different than we do.

One of the game design elements that I find brilliant is the user-invention facet of the creature pool. Users submit the creature designs to the Spore portal, and the creatures are used to populate gamer’s planets. The creations can also be find on the Spore web portal (look under our username: qgecko).

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