MDA & 8 Kinds of Fun: Spore

Courtesy of Steam

Spore was a PC-game that allowed a user to control the development of a species from its infancy as a bacteria to its full-grown development as a massive species. The game was praised for its wide scope of potential, where your species can start as a single bacteria cell before fighting to become an established civilization on both Earth and in space. Some reviewers went as far as to compare the feeling of playing Spore to being God.

The game employed a number of mechanics to keep users invested in the progression of their species.

  1. Evolution

Perhaps the most engaging portion of Spore is that you are constantly fighting for ‘survival of the fittest,’ attempting to make your species stronger and more capable than it was previously. This continuous improvement is deeply satisfying, as it does not require spending hours-upon-hours at a certain ‘level’ like similar games. Instead, you can watch as your species grows and evolves throughout each of the game’s segments, giving the user the deeply satisfying visualization of their growth and change. Because you can spend quite some time at any given stage, this visualized growth keeps characters interested. While I may still be on the Earth stage, I can see in every moment that my species has grown to take over more land and reproduce more often.

2. Creative Control

The ability to alter your species to fit your goals — do you want more legs or fewer? Should you have one eye or many? What will be most advantageous at any given point in evolution? — gives the user incredible creative control over the aesthetic of the game. This mechanic allows the user to cater their aesthetic experience towards their desires, closely tying together these elements of game design and creating an individual experience for every player. Rather than just changing the clothes on a character in an assassin game, you have complete biological control of your species! Unfortunately, eight year old me had no eye for design, so perhaps I should not have been granted that much control.

3. Fantasy

Many might argue that the game aesthetic’s actually make up for some of its mechanical failures, as there is not a clear narrative at each level of growth. However, I’d argue that the element of fantasy truly is what makes Spore so special. Behaving as the God-like creator of this species, there are no set structures or tools you need to utilize in order to let your species grow — it is up to you to decipher what the species needs in order to flourish. This incredible freedom allows the player to feel that they are actually nurturing and caring for a species, all while getting the opportunity to think about how creatures actually evolved on Earth. That God-like feeling can be addictive — and makes Spore uniquely itself, allowing users to run an interesting scientific experiment from the safety of their PC.

Courtesy of The New York Times

Ultimately, Spore was an incredibly fun play as a child. While my species is likely no longer thriving, I enjoyed the many hours we spent together in our pursuit of evolution!