Let me just say at the start that I am not a gamer. I’ve never been in World of Warcraft or any of the other popular destinations, and to be totally honest, the whole concept escapes me on some level. (Maybe I just don’t think I would have the time to dedicate to something to get to the point where I would have some fun with it.) So when I heard that Spore was coming out, and that many thought it was going to be a big deal, I thought that maybe I would be a good opportunity for me to get my brain around what gaming might mean and, in some roundabout way, what the learning implications might be.
It arrived yesterday, and I’ve spend a total of about 90 minutes playing so far, and I’m pretty much blown away. I have little or no idea what I’m doing, I’m sure, but my herbivore (you didn’t really think my spore would eat meat, did you?) paramecium has now evolved into a two-legged, funky-eyed, green, fruit-eating creature who’s growing a family and trying to figure out how to survive in a world with equally funky looking creatures who might be friend or foe. And while getting past the cell stage was pretty easy, this creature stage is already proving to be much more challenging. Just a few minutes ago, I was killed by some purple dudes who ganged up on me and seemed to chew my head off. Luckily, rebirth is almost instantaneous.
The 3D graphics are amazing to start with. On my Mac Book Pro, it’s literally like sticking your head into the screen. The controls are pretty easy to use even with the track pad. And the ethereal music that continuously loops in the background sets a great mood for “evolution”. You make babies by calling out for your mate and doing a cute little love dance (complete with little pink hearts floating up into space) that leads to egg laying. And when you’ve done that (and it appears only when you’ve done that) you can evolve your creature based on the new parts that you’ve found as you travel around the world you’ve created.
What I’m finding interesting already is that I’m evolving my happy little creature into a pummelling fighting machine by adding all sorts of claws and horns and other tough stuff. I mean, now that I have a family with little ones and all… I’ve been trying to make a lot of friends by singing and dancing at them when I meet them. Some sing back. Others ignore me. Maybe I need some more rhythm, I don’t know. And I’ve made one buddy with someone out there in the Spore playing universe although I have no idea exactly what that does.
And let me just note the way the game teaches you how to play. At various points, it pauses itself and gives you some coaching. As a paramecium, it’s all about eating algae. But now, it’s getting a bit more complex. I have all sorts of icons on my screen that I don’t have much of a clue about. At some point, I’m going to just have to spend some time reading and figuring out what all of it means. And while it’s interesting to get a sense of the evolutionary process, not quite sure yet what I (or my kids) would be learning from all of this yet. It’s fun, it’s engaging, and I guess on some levels it’s constructivist in terms of building the creature from scratch and making decisions about how to best keep the thing alive. It’s pushing a part of my brain that doesn’t get a lot of exercise, which is a good thing.
Anyway, I’m off to a pretty good start with Spore…I’ll just have to learn to sleep a lot less if I want to keep up with the rest of creatures.
John Pederson says
Jennifer Whiting says
I’m having the same experience with Spore. I’m wondering what this might be teaching me (other than buy better weapons), and how we might modify it to teach something significant to children. It has such an Intelligent Design bent to evolution, I’m not sure how I could teach what the state wants me to teach with the raw form of the game.
Gary Stager says
Sometimes a computer game is just a computer game.
I don’t know about that. Will Wright seems to want Spore to make a whole generation more aware of life around us, and life that could be around us up there in the sky.
we need to quit looking at tools and saying, “How can I make this educational?”, we need to look at an educational need and say, “What tool that exists can fill this need?” or “What needs to be built to fit this need?”
So many posts about, “trying to figure out how to get twitter into the classroom.”
Don’t try to cram every cool new technology into the classroom … it’s bad for our cause!
Doug Spicher says
Very well put. We have needs to fill in education and I feel, as you appear to, that all “games” and simulations do not have educational implications. Let’s use the web 2.0 existing tools, get them unblocked by short-sighted school boards, and use them where appropriate in education.
This is EXACTLY what I’ve been trying to incorporate into the classroom for about 2 years now. I’ve based everything I’ve done in the classroom off of the standards, and always tried to find the most effective way to close the achievement gap.
Sometimes it’s with technology, sometimes it’s not. Instead of trying to say, “Hmmm, everyone else is using GoogleEarth, so I should, too,” you need to say, “Hmmm, they’re not understanding the relation between the UK and the colonies during the Revolution. I wonder if there exist markers in GoogleEarth that will better help them master that standard.”
It’s nice to see I’m not the only teacher who doesn’t try to cram every new Web 2.0 resource they see at a conference into the classroom. Some of them have their merits (in fact, most do), but those merits aren’t — and shouldn’t be — known until you ask the most important question: “How can I close the achievement gap?”
Louise Maine says
Isn’t it great?! My son is having a blast. I have not played spore, but have been side by side with my son as he plays. He is having fun using his creatures from Creature Creator which came out earlier this year (and a great way to make us drool and count down the days to spore).
I would love to see how this would work in education, but not the way we are structured, etc. Creature Creator has more opportunities (free download but limited options than the purchased version). I can see it used for many things but obviously not as exciting as spore itself.
Gary Stager says
My copy of Spore and the BOOK just arrived. The same day I got Mathematica. I fear that I’m not smart enough (or patient enough) for either.
I also got a manual for Madden 2009 because it was making me feel stupid too.
Thankfully I got new CDs by Lou Donaldson, Kenny Barron and J.R. Monterose as well. I know what to do with them!
Some gamers are boycotting Spore because of the strict DRM.
The DRM, in this case, is code that restricts you to only ever installing the game 3 times. (For example, if you have computer problems and have to revert to a backup and re-install Windows, you wouldn’t be able to install Spore when you buy a new computer, even if you un-installed it on your old computer.)
The people who just want to play the game without paying for it are still doing so — the DRM doesn’t stop them. The concern is that the DRM only hurts casual buyers like you, and it only hurts you far enough in the future that if when you run into that 3-install limit and complain publicly, it won’t have any effect on profit, as they’ve already made their sales numbers.
I really think bringing in something different like this as a teaching tool would be awesome, so it’s pretty frustrating to me that in the middle of a discussion about using the game as a learning tool, I feel obligated to point out the debate about DRM. 🙁
If your computer crashes more than three times you have other issues.
DRM IS only bad for the legit consumer, but if people didn’t steal, we would not have the DRM.
When we complain about DRM we should also complain about the multitudes of pirate thieves in the world. We have DRM BECAUSE of them.
On second thought, if you enjoy the game at least your money’s worth before you hit that limit, maybe it doesn’t matter? Lots of people will never run into that limit or will lose the disc or don’t have any interest in un-installing and then selling the game to a friend when they’re done playing, so it’s not necessarily a big deal. 🙂
OH NO….one of the top Educational Bloggers has fallen into the endless pit of computer gaming. Will this be the end of Will? I hope not. I too have never taken to games, but now you may make us all spent 1,000s of hours in the learning curve. I guess we should, after all…our students are!
Luckily I was required to start teaching video game programming last year … excuse to buy an Xbox!
I’m glad to see you’re enjoying it!
The buddy option simply means you’ll be more likely to see their creations in your game than those of others.
Robin Heyden says
I’m so glad to hear you posting about Spore, Will. I’ve been reading about it and plan to buy it soon. I’ve been a reluctant gamer as well – watching my kids but not wading in. It’s been my recent experience in Second Life that’s convinced me to dip into gaming world and give Spore a try. I know, I know….SL, avatars, play acting – ugh. But here’s my new ah-ha. I tried Second Life a year ago and got completely frustrated. I arrived, built my avatar and the rest seemed like a big so-what? Other avatars with silly names wandering around, looking for new hair or animated eyes – what’s the point? But then, at the urging of an educator I respect, I took a class in Second Life. Yup, that’s right. A real honest-to-goodness class (Boise State University – Dr. Lisa Dawley – http://edtech.boisestate.edu/ldawley/web/). We met twice a week for four weeks – in Second Life. Dr. Dawley (SL handle: Mali Young) taught us how to build, how to create an educational experience, how to think about students/visitors and how they approach learning in a virtual world. We each had a parcel of land for the duration of the course on which we built an educational project. I decided to build an experience to teach students about the electron transport chain (a part of cell respiration – particularly tough to understand – hey, maybe it’ll help you with your paramecium?). It’s a series of platforms that the students would visit, make biochemical intermediates, descend and work their way through the chain as if they were the electrons. It was so much fun to do – and like you with Spore, I found myself in there working away for hours. From that experience, I am thinking that there’s something important in this communal building thang. Students working in a virtual world – or on Spore – to build something that explains. And in the building, in the sharing comes the learning. It certainly fits with everything we know about constructivist learning – my only hesitation is the relative learning gain for the time invested.
When you think about what games teach, you need to think about both the content as well as the process.
In Spore, specifically the creature level, you’re operating in a system. You have a set of constraints: DNA points, and the number of items you’ve collected. Your creatures can only be as complex as the resources at your disposal. One of the things you need to master is creating a creature that succeeds at gathering resources. Are all the other creatures near you aggressive? How can you explore if you can’t defend yourself? Are all the creatures friendly? How can you interact socially if you have no social skills?
As you build out your creature you learn the pros and cons of specialization (I’m an awesome dancer, but I can’t protect myself). You learn to fit pieces together to gain new abilities (what happens if I add jumping feet with wings? ). You’re exploring a complex system, learning what the variables do, and then you’re manipulating them for success.
I’m not sure that I agree with the intelligent design comment. Within Spore, if you had intelligent design, why wouldn’t you give yourself level five aspects of all skills so you could dominate everything? You can’t do that. You can only evolve your creature based on the DNA/items you’ve found.
Will, please continue to update us on your progress with Spore. I’m totally curious about how you’ll proceed.
Graham Stanley says
As Jason says, Spore is all about operating in a system and in particular, it’s about making choices and learning to live with the consequences of those choices. Perhaps this could be the starting point for educational use?
For instance, Will decided to be a herbivore, which means it’s easier for him to find sustenance (he doesn’t have to kill any creatures to eat, there is an abundant source of food all over the planet). If you decide to be a carnivore, then you can’t make friends with everyone you meet unless you want to starve. So, I think carnivores in Spore generally end up having fewer friends and being more aggressive(I know because I have tried being both). You can also try being an omnivore, but this will be at the cost of DNA.
Playing the creature phase (there are six phases of the game)of Spore as an omnivore, you find it’s easy to make friends with other creatures (that’s the way it should be – you are not a threat to them, right?) but you will reach the point when you find certain species who are naturally aggressive (usually carnivores) and who will refuse all your efforts to impress them (which you do by dancing, singing, showing off or using your natural charm – probably the most fun part of the game). That’s when you’ll find yourself going back to the Creature Creator and looking at the parts that give you the ability to bite, charge, spit, etc.
Conversely, playing as an aggressive carnivore, you’ll have fun at first wiping out different species (you literally make them extinct from your planet) that you meet, but life is very lonely without friends, and it becomes hard (if not impossible) to progress in the game if you don’t try to make allies. When you do try, if you have so far adopted an aggressive nature, then you will find it very difficult to persuade other species that your intentions are honorable.
I have also noticed that your choices through the game determine the kinds of parts you find (which determine your abilities to sing, bite, dance, charge, etc). At the end of the Creature phase, you have one final chance to fix the way your creature looks (changing the parts, etc) before you move onto the tribal phase.
So, I do think there’s an opportunity here for a great discussion about the kinds of choices that the creatures make during the game, and how this affects the planet they live in and the kind of life they have (is the planet harmonious, where you have lots of friendly neighbours singing and dancing all the time? Or is it a dangerous place, where you have to be always on the lookout where you walk in case you are attacked?
I think ideally, you could only have this discussion after the kids had played the game 5-10 hours or so and were able to have tried different strategies – if your pupils do have access to the game, tell them to experiment with trying to be either totally aggressive or to play the game without killing a creature and see what they say. I’m sure the resulting discussion would be highly educational.
Glenn Wiebe says
I spent part of the last week watching my son play and talking with him about the decisions required in the game. And Graham, I agree completely. He’s having to make some fairly high level choices about more than just what size claw to attach to his creature.
There are lots of decisions regarding tribal and global interactions, for example. As a social studies curriculum guy, my mind went to the indicators and benchmarks and began to think of ways to use the tool. I appreciate Ryan’s comments about not trying to “fit” cool tools into the classroom. But I believe that by using epistemic games like Spore, simulating real life decisions in ways that engage kids, can be a great teaching strategy.
Well now I have something new to try since my interest in Mario Kart is starting to wear thin.
Oh, forgot to talk about “Spore!” I’m loving it. I am a gamer, and in fact have just finished reading a great book, .
It talks a lot about how this is the medium through which kids are going to get the most amount of exposure to the basic elements of reading and storytelling. I am a gamer, and on a purely “buy-in” level, have found it to be a miraculous skeleton-key to engagement in the classroom. Once I utter the words, “Super Smash Bros. Brawl,” they’re listening, and then I hit them with an analogy between Mario and Wario (mirror opposites) and Prince Brat and Jemmy from “The Whipping Boy.”
Anyway, about Spore. I’m very impressed with how much is conveyed, though subtly, about our societal norms (ie, you can succeed in life by either compromising, dominating, or converting). Now, those are lessons that might be lost on the random teenage kid playing the game; but, they are values that can easily be pulled to the front by any parent who is more aware of videogames’ potential to be a tool, not a barbiturate.
Mike K. says
It’s always amazing to see a child dive into a very complex game and learn from it. I’ve seem children play various incarnations of Civilization, and retain more information on human history than many adults received from school.
Due to a prioritization on the fun of the game, the overall accuracy and scale is sometimes lost to the users. Both spore and civilization may leave users with a poor concept for the passage of time- but they may not have had one anyway.
So in trying to use similar technologies to teach – are we ok distorting things, or leaving parts out to make it more fun?
Gary Stager says
You point out a problem with simulations and computer games as “learning tools.”
History and even physics are routinely manipulated to make gameplay better. If your army has nuclear weapons, then my slingshots will be a drag. Not only is time “tweaked” but laws of motion and historical accuracy are often sacrificed in order to make the game more fun.
IT is not just a computer game its a fun
I can’t say how a game of this type might fit into the educational environment of our public school system. I can testify to how helpful World of Warcraft has been to my son. Through this game my son has learned about banking (his character can’t carry everything he owns so he must deposit it in a bank, if he wants to buy something he has to earn it first, etc), career choices (some options are only available to certain character types–engineer, tailor, etc.), cooperation (he teams up with other players for a common goal), competition (sometimes its the best man who wins), and most importantly social interaction. Initially my son would only type brief responses to other players, then he graduated to an audio headset where he could listen to other players, and now he is actually conversing with them through a microphone.
What has been most important is that I have spent numerous hours sitting with him, asking questions, and giving input. My son is eager to tell me about the latest updates and quests, and is just as eager to respond to my questions meant to engage critical thinking about the game and how it might apply to a situation in real life.
Gary Engler says
Spore is fun. Spore is a great game. Spore is not a teaching tool.
Evolution does not have a place for insertions of “found” DNA for the adaptation of species. Evolution is a completely, totally random process. The selection of DNA that is “found” in order to elicit a particular trait smacks of creative design.
“I do think thereâ€™s an opportunity here for a great discussion about the kinds of choices that the creatures make during the game, and how this affects the planet they live in and the kind of life they have” – living organisms DO NOT make choices!
Either they’re successful or they’re not. And any teacher who believes that his or her students will learn about evolution by playing spore will not be successful.