Militant Atheists Dislike “Spore”

When Will Wright (an atheist himself) created the game Spore, he thought he’d be on the receiving end of wrath from the religious. That makes sense since the game simulates evolution:

Spore could well be the most complicated model ever constructed in the name of interactive entertainment: not for nothing was it originally known as ‘Sim Everything’, depicting the evolution of life from single-celled organism to galaxy-hopping civilisation.

But the largest group of haters turned out to be “militant atheists”:

… I think our bigger fear was that we didn’t want to offend any religious people; but looking at the discussion that unfolded from this thing, what we had was a good sizeable group of players that we might call militant atheists, and the rest of the players seemed very tolerant, including all of the religious players.

And most of the atheists were very tolerant as well. I didn’t expect to hit hot buttons on the atheist side as much; I expected it on the religious side. But so far I’ve had no critical feedback at all from anybody who is religious feeling that we were misrepresenting religion or it was bad to represent religion in the game. It was really the atheists!

We have a number of team members that are pretty religious. And so in design, on the team, in our small, little microcosm of players out there, we tried our best to make sure we weren’t overtly offending any religious people, but yet we wanted to include the idea, the concept of religion in the game.

Why are they mad?

During the civilization stage of the game, players can control groups of creatures, choosing between a militaristic, economic, or (*gasp*) spiritual society.

If anything, I would think it just proves the point that religion can be used to control societies without having any inherent truth to them.

(Thanks to Andrew for the link!)

  • Andrew

    This also goes to show that no group of people isn’t without it’s sect of ninnys.

    Another thing, though: you should put the “permalink” and “comments” link on seperate lines, they look like a single link at the moment. Maybe at least put “|” between them or something.

  • Siamang

    I don’t understand. The game isn’t even out yet. Who are all these militant atheists and what have they done to show their wrath to will wright?

  • jacob

    I thought they would be mad because spore gives people the impression that evolution requires a designer. But it’s just a game people should chill out.

  • Larry Huffman

    I think they addressed their own problem and the clear reason why atheists would be upset:

    “We have a number of team members that are pretty religious. And so in design, on the team, in our small, little microcosm of players out there, we tried our best to make sure we weren’t overtly offending any religious people, but yet we wanted to include the idea, the concept of religion in the game.”
    I could have told them that making an evolution based game that purposely tries NOT to offend the religious is…well, like trying to tell an atheist they are going to hell without offending them. It is not going to work right. In this case, if they try to soft-sell evolution so as to make it palatable for the religious, they are bound to upset anyone who knows anything about evolution.

  • Tom M

    I would like to contend that words like ‘spirit’ and ‘spirituality’ are not necessarily religious terms. I understand that in the context of the game religious is probably what they were going for, but that there is room for spiritual atheists. This doesn’t place any belief in the supernatural or ‘higher beings’. I take it as a mere appreciation of our unique and rare place in the universe.

  • Adam

    It only makes sense for religion to be included. In a tribal society you don’t have any advanced technology and you don’t know any better.

  • http://www.purduenontheists.com Jennifurret

    Heck, when I play Civ 4, I’m always a Spiritual country. I find it the easiest way to make my civilization happy while still taking over others. …Hmmmmmmmm….

    If anything the “militant atheists” should be annoyed that the game is not evolution, it’s intelligent design. Honestly I don’t care because 1) an evolution game would be horribly boring and 2) Spore looks fricking awesome.

  • Dustin

    This already essentially happened with Civilization IV. Religion is essential to keep the cities of your civilization happy and productive. Then again, religion is the cause of most of the conflict in the game, and you are strongly suggested to discard theocracy for multiculturalism later in the game.

    edit: beaten :)

  • http://reasonableatheist.blogspot.com Bart Dorsey

    one of the things that bothers me about Spore is that it really doesn’t represent evolution very well. YOU the intelligence DESIGNS the creatures, and THEN they evolve. Of course, a game where it represented true evolution wouldn’t be very fun, you would just watch it :P

  • http://terahertzatheist.ca Ian

    I almost want to call BS on Wright for this one, it almost feels like (to me) he has a grudge against Dawkins et. al.

    And I’ll plug my post on this since I covered this topic:
    http://terahertzatheist.ca/2008/08/11/spore-attacked-by-militant-atheists/

  • Aj

    There’s no detail to what upset the atheists, who they are, and how many there are, so lets not jump to conclusions. I doubt atheists have a problem with religion being in the game like some are suggesting. One thing that’s troubling with game producers is they cannot take one bit of criticism. It’s likely they sympathize with religion, they probably envy the blasphemy laws.

    Sounds like they spend a lot of time making sure they didn’t offend religious people. That doesn’t sound like it would present a fair representation. They could connect religion with being good or something. If that’s the case then Will Wright should take criticism for that, he shouldn’t whine when people note that his shit stinks. If you’re in a creative industry you shouldn’t freak when people have opinions about your work.

    The game doesn’t simulate evolution, the scientific theory, it’s very much a game about intelligent design although the player doesn’t have to be a god. I don’t have much of a problem with that, I don’t have a problem with playing a priest in World of Warcraft. I didn’t like any recent Maxis games but SimCity 2000 is still one of my favourite games, I’m looking forward to Spore.

  • Karen Brown

    Well, it depends on what comes along with a ‘spiritual’ society.

    If it is strictly rites, rituals, idols, etc, then not much to object to.

    If, on the other hand, it is implied, or even directly stated that the characteristics of the religious or spiritual society is that they are more moral, or peaceful, or creative, then that could be the basis for the objection.

    Because if it takes a religious society to be a peaceful one, or a creative one, that DOES imply something about the nonreligious.

  • Gullwatcher

    Will Wright said in the full interview:

    I’d probably be best described as an atheist. I’m open to the idea that there is some creator somewhere.

    and

    But if I can imagine that humans might one day have that power to create these universes, there’s no reason why some other intelligence above us created ours. That’s not to say that was the original designer, or the designer at all – maybe it was just an accident.

    So at that level I’m open to the idea that our universe was created; but probably there’s not a guy with a long white beard looking at everything we do, just personally those are my beliefs.

    He sounds more like a believer in Confusionism than an atheist.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com miller

    If there’s anything to be unhappy about, it’s that all their marketing sells it as a simulation of evolution, but it gives every appearance of not being evolution at all. I haven’t seen so much as a hint of anything even resembling natural selection yet. Which is just too bad, because genetic algorithms are a ton of fun.

    But it’s very hard to get worked up about what is essentially fiction.

  • Josh K

    an evolution game would be horribly boring

    It was called SimEarth. All of my games ended up with repeated use of the Monolith.

    Could have called it SoupEarth. :)

    I haven’t seen so much as a hint of anything even resembling natural selection yet.

    Isn’t there a PvP component to this? If so, the natural selection is coming. :)

  • llewelly

    *rolls eyes*
    Is there even a shred of evidence that ‘militant atheists’ already hate a game that isn’t even out yet? Do the people making the claim realize that PZ (big, bad, toy-panda wielding militant atheist prophet) gave the creature creator a favorable review?

  • http://omega-geek.blogspot.com Spook

    Huh? Who are these militant atheists? Where is this outrage?

    It honestly sounds too stupid to be real.

  • http://calenotkale.com Cale

    I actually caught this article yesterday on a gaming website and contemplated posting a response on my own blog. I would assume this ‘militant atheist’ claim is taken out of the context of the situation. You would think the link between religion and societal control would offend the believers but thinking isn’t their strong suit.

  • Andrew

    The problem that some of the reviewers brought up was that choosing the religious path gave the player’s species unrealistic advantages.

    For example there are religious abilities which by any other name would be called magical, such as faith healing which actually works.

    That kind of un-realism is what these people were complaining about, not simply the inclusion of religion.

  • TheDeadEye

    Has anyone found this supposed “outrage” from these militant atheists? Anyone?

  • Aj

    I have also heard from second hand sources that the atheists were complaining about the inclusion of “faith healing” and “plagues” i.e. raining frogs (or pikachus, whatever). Religion was in Civilization IV and many other games, atheists didn’t complained about those. I smell bullshit.

    Will Wright is knowingly lying when he said that it was the inclusion of religion caused complaint, since he read the posts and responded to the authors. I don’t believe someone as intelligent as him could genuinely read and not understand the feedback he was getting. Wright needs to apologise for misrepresenting the situation, and the gaming “news” needs to write corrections to their “reporting”.

    I can now see why religion in the game pissed some people off, because people like Will Wright go around implying the game “simulates evolution” and it’s about science then do the opposite. World of Warcraft has faith healing, I have no problem with magical powers in games, but I wouldn’t be happy if they popped up in Ghost Recon or Rainbow Six, games promoted for “realism”.

    Here’s the original post from the thread (author: SpongB6F1):

    From the thread “In Game Text dumps found on xSpore!”

    “The Religious Super Weapons include the Faith Heal, Black Rain, and Messianic Uprising.

    The Faith Heal is unlocked after capturing 3 Religious cities. You can use the Faith Heal on your own vehicles or buildings to heal all units in the area.

    The Black Rain is unlocked after capturing 5 Religious cities. If you use Black Rain on a neighboring city, it will cause a large Black Storm to appear over the city, raining diseased creatures on their city. This causes extreme unhappiness making it easier to convert their city.

    The Messianic Uprising is unlocked after capturing 7 cities. Launching the Messianic Uprising creates a large holographic image of your priests chanting over your city and sending your religion across the globes. Awestruck, all cities immediately convert to your nation. “

    If this is true then I am severely disappointed. Such rampant mysticism should have no place in a game so explicitly scientific in nature. When I think of how much they’ve trumpeted their scientific credentials, making such a show of the sophisticated technical science behind their tutorials–and especially when I think of Mr. Wright’s remarks about the inspirational potential of a science-based toy in fostering a rational outlook and a passion for the investigation of nature, I can’t describe this as anything but hypocrisy.

    Clerical healing powers are something out of dungeons and dragons, and have utterly no place in a science-based game.

    One would hope they try to give this some kind of sciency veneer to integrate it with the rest of the Spore setting (e.g. they described the “Messianic Uprising” as involving a hologram), but I can’t see how it would work.

    And a further, related point–I’ve read that adopting a social strategy in the earlier game results inexorably in having religious cities in the Civ phase. This has no rational justification.

    I am appalled.

    Will Wright’s reply:

    I do read the threads here when I get the chance (though been a bit on the busy side lately).

    As you might know I’ve been very interested in using Spore to motivate an interest in science. At the same time we want to make a fun, humorous, playful game. The superpowers in the game were added both to make early decisions you make in the game (cell, creature, tribe) continue to have consequence in the later levels and also to add more humor and playfulness to the overall experience.

    If you look at the Civ superpowers they are more realistic for the economic and Military strategies than they are for the religious. We could have labeled the religious powers differently (maybe enhanced memetic transmission or fundamentalist jihad) and given them the same rough effect but they would have felt a bit more gritty and out-of-character with the rest of the game.

    Usually when we hit design bumps like this we like to fall back into humor, it’s something everyone can relate to and most tend to then view it as a metaphorical solution to something that’s below the simulation level of detail.

    A good example of this was in The Sims when the characters needed to do things that would have been messy to simulate. For instance when a sim needs to change clothes they jump in the air, spin around and are redressed. That’s obviously not the way it works in reality. Also if they need a small object they always pull it from behind their back (the “everything comes out of your butt solution”). Most players understand these methods as a humorous metaphor for what would really happen.

    The space level of Spore has a number of abilities that I guess you could argue might have technology solutions but that I personally view as highly unlikely (such as traversing a wormhole). Again these increase to playability and narrative density of what’s possible in the game.

    At the end of the day I think the “educational” impact of Spore is less important than the “motivational” impact. In other words, I’d rather promote an interest in the larger world around us instead of downloading known facts. To have the largest impact we first and foremost need to make a game that’s compelling and fun to play.

    This is a fascinating debate though (which is why I felt like I had to comment a bit) and I don’t mean to end it. In fact I would love to hear everyone weigh in on what they think about the creative license that we’re taking with these subjects.

    - Will Wright

  • Aj

    Edit button didn’t appear so I can’t correct my glaring grammatical mistakes. The site also borked when I tried to add the link to the thread with tags (they wouldn’t close). So here’s the link in plain test:

    http://forums.ea.com/mboards/thread.jspa?threadID=396975&start=0&tstart=0

    I didn’t have time to read past page 5 but I didn’t read any completely stupid comments apart from a creationist and the usual “it’s a game” idiots who didn’t get the point. The same points were raised about how Will Wright promoted the game dishonestly, but that must have slipped Will’s mind when recounting the incident to Eurogamer.

  • Emily

    Shit, given those options, i’d probably opt for spiritual! Nothing wrong with being spiritual (i see the word as meaning someone who is very connected with the universe and believes that the whole is greater than the sum of all its parts when it comes to life)…

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Isn’t there a PvP component to this? If so, the natural selection is coming.

    PvP != natural selection :P
    I mean real natural selection, like in this free game. Simulations of natural selection are Fun Times, and Spore is simply missing a whole lot of potential if it doesn’t have it.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Aj, thanks for providing an example of this “outrage” Will was referring to. I suspected it would have to do with how it’s marketed as a scientific simulation. I can sort of sympathize, but I find Will’s reply all-in-all satisfactory. The game is basically soft sci-fi, and gameplay takes precedence over realism. There are worse things that happen in “realistic” games.

  • Michael
  • stogoe

    I liked Spore better when it was called SimLife. At least my computer could actualy run SimLife.

    Anyways, the article seems to be trying to pick a fight without any evidence or even anecdotes.

  • Gabriel G.

    Wow, that’s just sad. It’s those kinds of athiests, that want absolutely nothing to do with religion and live the fantasy that religion wasn’t a necessary part of the evolution of human society, that I’d rather not be associated with.

    I for one can’t wait for Spore, and will probably make one or two spiritual based societies just for the fuck of it.


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