An Interactive Approach to Evolution
My colleague Sean Cavanagh has written an interesting story about Spore--a new computer game designed by the makers of SimCity that focuses on evolution. The game allows users to create organisms by giving them various (hopefully advantageous) traits to help them survive. As these organisms evolve, players continue to build civilizations and worlds.
One of the most interesting parts about this game to me is the wide audience it has attracted--which goes beyond the education crowd and includes the tech-savvy gaming folks as well. To succeed as a commercial game, it has to be a delicate balance of educational fact and fictional fun, which means some parts of the game aren't considered scientifically accurate. Teachers recommend teaching evolution alongside the game, so students recognize which parts are accurate and which aren't, according to the article.
But even if the game doesn't measure up 100% to the textbook definition of evolution, it has the potential to be a powerful tool in shaping the way kids think about the concept. I can't help but draw the comparison to the Oregon Trail, which was a widely played commercial computer game that simulated a pioneer's journey to Oregon. You'd be hard-pressed to find a person of my generation who doesn't have distinct memories of watching pixelated covered wagons forge rivers and cross mountain ranges. I can still remember the gloomy music that played when one of the passengers died of dysentery (which seemed to happen a lot.)
It's too early to tell exactly what kind of impact Spore will have, but I'm looking forward to seeing its effect on the educational gaming field.