Spore infomercial spawns mad scientists

EA has heavily touted Will Wright's latest game, Spore, as a game about science and evolution, so much so that the game's limited edition included a 50-minute National Geographic documentary about it. However, as reported in the latest issue of the journal Science, some of those interviewed for the...

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EA has heavily touted Will Wright's latest game, Spore, as a game about science and evolution, so much so that the game's limited edition included a 50-minute National Geographic documentary about it. However, as reported in the latest issue of the journal Science, some of those interviewed for the documentary say when they agreed to do the show, they weren't told about its strong ties to the commercial product.

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"I literally never heard about Spore until I saw myself on television in this infomercial about the game," Harvard University geneticist Cliff Tabin told the journal. "It's an outrage."

University of Chicago paleontologist Neil Shubin told the journal he was only told partway through his interview, when Wright showed him the game. Shubin said he doesn't endorse games, "particularly one that claims to be evolution." An EA representative had not returned GameSpot's request for comment as of press time.

The "infomercial" slant of the show can be seen from the tagline on its official site, which invites viewers to "journey into the billion-year history of the human, led by a computer game visionary, who might be revealing the secret genetic machinery behind life."

As for the claim that Spore might be revealing the secret genetic machinery behind life, a companion story on the Science Web site suggests not. The journal's "Gonzo Scientist" correspondent John Bohannon played the game with a handful of prominent researchers to grade its depiction of actual science. According to Bohannon, the game doesn't just dumb down the science involved, but actually "gets most of biology badly, needlessly, and often bizarrely wrong."

"The problem is that the game features virtually none of the key ingredients of evolution as we understand it," T. Ryan Gregory of the University of Guelph told the journal. For starters, there's no splintering of species into multiple off-shoots, no mutations or diversity within species, and no natural selection. And while creatures do change over time, they can completely overhaul size shape, color, appendages, and other features all within a single generation, as if a hummingbird could give birth to a tiger.

However, it wasn't all bad. Just as many reviewers found the game more engaging in its later phases, Bohannon's panel found the science involved improved toward the end of the game as well. While they gave Spore an "F" for its depiction of genetics and evolutionary processes in the cell and creature stages, the game's final space stage garnered an overall B for astrophysics, with an A for its galactic structure.

"Spore is essentially a very impressive, entertaining, and elaborate Mr. Potato Head that uses the language of evolution but none of the major principles," Gregory told the journal.

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