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The Computer Game "Spore" As It Relates To "Emergence"

samkaplan's picture

I don't know if anyone has heard about this computer game, but it's being developed by Will Wright, the guy who made the original Sim City games, as well as Sim Tower, Sim Ant, etc.
He's been working on it for the past seven or eight years, and I mention it only because it seems to mirror a number of the issues that this class explores. It basically maps out the entire course of life on Earth—well, not on Earth but on some unnamed planet. The player starts out as micro-organism and evolves into a creature. Then the player controls a tribe, then a city, then a civilization, then a planet. I think eventually the player ends up as some god-like entity.
The game addresses questions like "How do organisms move from unconscious to conscious?" and it's also interesting because in the game's final stage, the player is essentially an architect in the same sense that the creator of "The Game of Life" is a creator: both have no overarching plan and instead can control only a few simple parameters that give rise to uncontrolled randomness.
I'm not sure how well I'm explaining this; here are some links that can probably do a better job:
New Yorker profile of Will Wright that talks mentions Spore a fair amount:
The game's official

biophile's picture

I heard of this game from

I heard of this game from another student here who's interested in emergent systems, but I don't know much of it myself. From what I understand, though, it could still serve as a useful model. Even though the changes in the organisms are directed and their forms are designed, this game seems to allow one to see how certain changes in a system affect the system overall.

Jessica B's picture


First of all, I think Spore is going to be an incredible game. I think it is an interesting account of how creatures evolve over time. However, from what I know of the game, it doesn't seem like it's representing an "emergent" system. While there aren't a great many parameters to choose from, as I understand it you do get to guide the creature's evolution. What you do and what the environment does changes how the creatures evolve. So there is some sort of director.

Still, an awesome game. I hope they port it to Mac.

asmoser's picture

Emergence, Spore, and Procedural Animation

While I think Jessica is quite right that the gameplay in Spore is not an emergent system, I think one can argue there is emergence present in the animations and environments the game creates. In Spore, the player gets to evolve his/her creature over time and has specific options for how to modify it. However, the game uses procedural generation to animate the creature's movement and to some extent its behavior. A three legged creature with a substantial portion of its weight towards its rear will walk differently than a well balanced three legged creature that will walk differently than a 6 legged creature. The game actively creates new animations for movement,methods of attack, etc., by analyzing how the creature is designed and then applying a set of rules to generate the animations.

This sort of procedural generation is part of what makes spore as impressive as it is; it allows the player to "soft shape" and completely personalize his creature without concern for preexisting animations.

Lauren's picture

Spore - not so emergent?

I, too, am looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of this game once it comes out and takes off. I've heard about it mostly through the grapevine, and I am interested in seeing how far it comes from its Sims and Sims2 predecessors. The genetic and behavioral "evolution" feature of Sims2 has helped catapult it to tremendous success by hooking gamers with its seemingly "emergent" premise. Spore, undoubtedly, is poised to do much the same.

In terms of actual emergence, I think Jessica raises a valid point. I would have to agree that while Spore may go to great lengths to pseudo-simulate this phenomenon, there are inherent pitfalls in making it "playable". If a gamer plays Spore, then it is reasonable to assume that some interaction occurs between the person and the virtual reality that is represented on the screen. Once this interaction takes place, a gamer inevitably becomes an overseer or director for this universe, producing a vast array of evolutionary consequences for each and every action or decision made. One way for the Spore to better embrace our definition of emergence is to let evolution unfold after removing all user control. (Wouldn't that go over well in the gaming industry?)

samkaplan's picture

On an unrelated note...

On an unrelated note, can anyone tell me how to get my posts to have nice spacing? I tried to figure out the html but couldn't.

Paul Grobstein's picture

more on "nice spacing"

Different computer/web browser combinations unfortunately interface differently with current Serendip software (drupal).  The combination of macintosh and safari is particularly bad.  If you're working with a mac, try firefox instead.  More generally, try fiddling a bit with whatever you're working with and with options below if you're having trouble getting things to look the way you want them to.

Lauren's picture

For most of the posts

For most of the posts (unless you really feel like going fancy), simple HTML should suffice. Go into 'HTML' and make sure each paragraph is enclosed in p-tags (<p>...</p>). You can add breaks (<br>), blank lines to separate (<p>&nbsp;</p>), or bold (<b>...</b>) for emphasis. Most of this should be done automatically, but sometimes posts have a mind of their own.