Skip to main content

The Spore Metaphor

A perfect illustration of the mix of positives and negatives - mostly positives - that is the user-driven Web: the debut of Spore.

A perfect illustration of the mix of positives and negatives - mostly positives - that is the user-driven Web: the debut of Spore. There's a whole lot to Spore - entertainment, education, strategy, creativity, savagery.... And everything's represented in its media story: a gamemaker's (Will Wright's) world-class creativity; old-style mass-media marketing; social Web viral marketing; and users' creative ways of playing with marketing features - creativity that producer Electronic Arts had in mind and creativity it definitely did not have in mind.

In Spore you start as a microbe but you also play God and create whole worlds. Part of its genius is creator Will Wright's collaboration with evolutionary biologists and other scientists in developing the game (don't miss this fascinating New York Times piece about that science/entertainment cross-pollination, including the video on that page). In Spore, Scientific American reports, "gamers must make crucial decisions that affect the entire world in which they operate, and must then deal with the consequences of their actions. Whereas the Sims series [designed by Wright too] focuses on what happens in societies created by gamers, Spore also gives control over the evolution of an entire universe."

In the "Give Them an Inch, They'll Take a Mile" Dept. of the user-driven Web, there were the unintended consequences of Spore's pre-debut marketing tool, Creature Creator. MSNBC games editor Kristin Kalning reported that in among all the creative little organisms spawned by users of this free activity were some that violated Spore's Terms of Service: "fantastical creations of a less imaginary, more [humanly] anatomical nature" created by "pervy 13-year-olds" (developmentally speaking), Kristin wrote, and falling into a new category dubbed "sporn" (EA says it takes these illicit creatures down upon notification but of course EA has to depend on the Terms of Use and customer-service departments of other sites such as YouTube for deletions in those sites). I suspect EA may wish at times that all creature creation were tied to the actual game, where its storyline has a role to play in creature development.

Meanwhile, "there were over 400,000 creatures on SPOREpedia," the creature showcase, Kristin reports, "coming in at a rate of 1,000 per minute."

Recommended for You

MSNBC's Kristin had fun creating three creatures herself, "my favorite being Jinx, named after my cat. It’s blue and spotted, with wings (my creature, not my cat). It has 'palmwalker' feet, a fierce bark and horns to ward off enemies. I enjoyed making it do the hippety hop." A tech educator friend of mine is already using the Creature Creator in his classroom. He reported on Twitter this week that he just installed it "on my 26 lab PCs. Can't wait to see what the kids do with this thing!"



The Teenage Brain & The Social Web

Two articles about the teenage brain and juvenile crime have a message for the way we think about the youth-driven social Web.

The Latest Technopanic

No comparative study has been done, but - having recently traveled around the world for 10 months and talked with people involved with children's online safety in a number of countries - I can tell you more than impressionistically that no country has experienced an extended technopanic about predators on the social Web quite the way the US has.

Top 8 Workarounds Of Kid Virtual-World Users

It stands to reason that bullying happens in kids' virtual worlds (e.g., Club Penguin, Webkinz, Neopets, Nicktropolis, etc.), because, well, it happens in school, instant messaging, and social-networking sites. But I hadn't learned how it happened until Sharon Duke Estroff called me about it.

UK: 2 Valuable Views on Net Safety, Part 1

Two milestone documents out of the UK - one requested by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and the other a set of guidelines for social-networking-service best practices - have just been released. Both are relevant wherever young people are online, including in the US, and haven't seen a comprehensive Net-safety report since Web 1.0 days.

Cyberbullying and The Dark Side of 'Flash Mobs'

There seems to be an increasingly uncivil, angry tinge to exchanges between people who disagree and members of opposing political parties on Capitol Hill, the airwaves, and online. Is it possible that all these adults publicly modeling disrespectful, degrading behavior are creating a new, very destructive social norm?

Fresh Videogame Findings

Though eclipsed by the terrible news of violence in Virginia and Iraq, there has been some notable news in the videogame space of late, including findings from research on both sides of the Pond.

Missouri cyberbullying: Case not closed

There have been two new developments in the tragic cyberbullying case in Missouri that broke last November

What mobile carriers need to do for kids

US cellphone companies have made impressive headway with parental controls lately. That's great in terms of preventive measures, but this country's mobile industry has quite a ways to go, compared with those of some other countries, on support for kids and families after bad stuff happens.