Far be it from me to take a cynical view on things (cue crickets and an Edna Krabappel laugh) but am I the only one who thinks that the release of this season's most eagerly anticipated video game experience is surreptitiously constraining its players under the guise of freedom and creativity?
Spore, for those who don't care for video games at all, is a Massively Multiplayer Online game that allows every player to be the god of their own world from the "pimp my bacterium" stage all the way up to their own private Death Star. It promises the freedom to create shared environments that go beyond anything before. It sells itself with the self-gratifying narrative hook: "What they never realized was that all along the way, from humble microbes to starship captains, someone had guided them at every turn... and that someone is you."
Now I suppose my following rationale will all come down to construct of reality that are probably far better left for a professor of metaphysics or Jeff Spicoli, but since neither of them are around, try this on for size. Spore is selling itself on three core ideas: 1) that you will have freedom to exercise your creativity, 2) that your ego will be so satisfied by the fact that you made a creature with a phallus sticking out of its chest, you will have no choice but to propogate your species, and 3) that the game itself holds more creative license over your time and energy than your actual life does.
Let's really take a critical look at a product that's supposed to "foster" creativity.
I realize that the creative process in most aspects of life is frought with parameters that we must learn to live with or submit to in frustration. While a piano player is limited by the instrument and the painter is limited by the canvas, we certainly applaud the pursuits of those artists and craftspeople who, within the boundaries of their fields, work creative achievement to levels we never thought possible. A game like Spore (and Civilization, the Sims and Sim City before it) may work as a noble attempt at entertainment (as subjective as the appreciation for various media is) but it is certainly a step down in basic creativity from even the act of picking up a crayon and coloring outside the lines.
I apologize in advance, but I'm gonna go all aesthetic here (and that doesn't mean I'm getting my eyebrows waxed). The artistic process must be unabridged, untethered, unfetterd and any other "un-" word you care to include. Spore, as any game, is like a giant jigsaw puzzle that needs to be assembled to complete the experience (and I'll admit, in Spore's case, the puzzle look wicked cool and contains millions of pieces). The only way to exercise individual creativity in assembling a puzzle is to screw it up to the point that the picture on the box becomes irrelevant.
One G4TV review of Spore includes: "Just as The Sims tapped into the human need to interact, Spore taps into a very deep and similar experience that few games dare to touch - to create and share." No matter how successful the marketing demographic is for this game, think of how restrictive the concepts of creation and sharing in the manner have become. Players are exercising constrained "creating" and "sharing" with one type of person (other Spore players) in one type of environment (sitting in front of a monitor) with a mouse and a keyboard. While, to some, this might be entertainment - and party hard Spore-style with your mating dances if it is - the only artistry and creationism I see is on the part of the gamemaker. He has begun to create an unmatched piece of concept art which includes screenshots of millions of people with glazed eyes and carpal tunnel syndrome playing virtual gods. Will Wright, I doff my cap to the master artist whose powers of manipulation may outstrip most world leaders. Other gamemakers may have more people staring at screens for entertainment value, but you've actually convinced many of your players that their doing something fruitful. You are indeed a master.
The review of Spore in PC Gamer UK reads much more interestingly, "Spore's triumph is painfully ironic. By setting out to instill a sense of wonderment at creation and the majesty of the universe, it's shown us that it's actually a lot more interesting to sit here at our computers and explore the contents of each other's brains." In one sense, I completely agree; it is a lot more interesting to explore the contents of each other's brains... although I would rather say minds so as not to sound zombie-like. It's just a shame that where the platform of interaction used to be face to face, the new exploration consists of keystokes and double clicks.
I've really got nothing against Spore. I do, however, hate the fact that someone, somewhere is going to beatify the game as manna from the heavens when it's hardly that different from the days I used to jack up the taxes in Sim City by one percent so I could build a football stadium... what an artist I was back then!