A bizarre comment from John Hawks

If you don’t read John Hawks‘s blog, you probably should. He regularly has interesting posts about human evolution, and he appears to be someone who is sincerely interested in research and education. You can imagine, therefore, that it would be puzzling to me that he so badly missed the point about a recent review of the video game Spore in Science magazine.

John’s basic points in the post appear to be:

1) The scientists who critiqued the scientific basis of the game are “whiners”.

2) Dude, it’s only a game.

3) He hasn’t played the game, but there is no reason to criticize it from a scientific viewpoint.

4) Science shmience, the review should have told us how fun it is instead.

Some context is perhaps necessary here. The game has been promoted as being about science, in particular evolutionary processes. You can check out part of the documentary that was produced by National Geographic here. SETI has endorsed it on their webpage. A representative from the developer was quoted in the article as noting “Since the game’s release we’ve received a lot of interest from various schools and universities around the world, so that’s a good sign that there’s a lot of interest in [the] academic/education community.” Dude, it’s not just a game.

Within this context, a scientific journal contacted several researchers to provide comments on the game from the perspective of the science. It would seem reasonable, therefore, that the comments we gave were about science. If you want to see a review of how entertaining or interesting from a gaming perspective it may be, Science is not the right publication.

John also dislikes some of our ideas about how the game could be made more realistic, if indeed the goal was to simulate biology. We suggested some things like having consequences for design choices, a cost for major physical updates (e.g., less than 100% refund for exchanging parts), and some limitation on how much you can change in any single upgrade. All of these features can be found in other games.