An article in Science magazine discussing why Spore flunks various kinds of science after close scrutiny by a variety of scientists reminds me of history buffs that get hysterical when a movie is historically inaccurate. While a couple of them had a few nice things to say, Spore in general got poor marks in organismic and evolutionary biology, squeaked by with barely sufficient grades in cultural anthropology, physics, and astrobiology, and was reasonably highly rated in sociology and galaxy structuring. But they're not just trying to grouse, really:
In spite of its marketing, Spore clearly has little in common with science, especially evolution. That's a pity, because with very minor tweaks, the game could live up to its promise. Gregory and Eldredge's critique provides several good ideas, such as incurring a developmental cost for making radical body-plan changes. Another easy improvement would be to weave relevant science into the fabric of the existing game. In the game Civilization, for example, you learn a great deal about the history of ancient cultures through a series of pop-up mini-articles. When you stick a limb on your creature, wouldn't it be nice to have an optional pop-up window that explains the real (and fascinating) science behind limb evolution?
Spore flunks, but there's still hope for its future. Once released, games often improve over several generations through downloaded software patches and new editions. Let's hope that noncomplacent families and science educators provide some selective pressure. Then Spore itself might evolve.
I can understand the desire of scientists to see a 'fun' game that is educational, but still — I'm not sure a game that got high marks on organismic biology would actually be fun. Herein lies the great truth of education and 'educational materials': it's frequently not the least bit fun. And really, that's OK much of the time. Sometimes it's OK to let a game be just that.