Video Game Lets You Play God

The video game "Spore" allows a player to control the evolution of a single-cell organism into a creature, a tribe, a civilization, and, finally, outer space.

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LIANE HANSEN, host:

If you ever wanted to play God or create your own species from scratch, now you can. Weekend Edition essayist David Kushner discusses the next generation of video games.

DAVID KUSHNER: I've played the future of games, and it's called Shklitza(ph). Shklitza is the name I gave to the blue-skinned, four-eyed, polka-dotted carnivores I created in the new computer game "Spore." The object of "Spore" isn't just to win, it's to evolve through five stages of existence. You start with a single-celled organism of your own design. Then it grows into a creature, a tribe, a civilization, and finally outer space itself. Along the way you can share your creatures and objects with other players online. "Spore" marks a tipping point in the culture and commerce of fun. You don't just play games anymore, you create worlds.

Yeah, this is ambitious, but so is "Spore's" iconic classic creator, Will Wright. A collector of Russian space junk and an amateur BattleBot competitor, Wright is the guy who gave us a game in which we could create towns, "Sim City," and another for creating people, "The Sims," one of the best-selling computer games ever. Wright believes a game shouldn't aspire to be cinematic. Instead it should embrace the uniquely interactive experience that can only be had in this medium. And there's nothing more interactive than making a universe come to life. By empowering consumers to design and share content, games like "Spore" are chipping away at the wall between creators like Wright and players like you and me.

Since the 1960s, game making has been the province of erudite geeks. And that has limited the potential growth of the art form. Imagine if only an elite group of people had the tools and knowledge to write books, make movies, or compose music. "Spore" exemplifies a new generation of software, including music franchises like "Rock Band" and "Guitar Hero," as well as a PlayStation title, "Little Big Planet," that's giving power to the people. It's doing what YouTube did for video, providing a platform and community for consumer-created content. And it's only going to evolve exponentially from here.

As Wright once told me, in some sense we're kind of co-designing "Spore." Fans are going to drive future directions of it. Oh, and Shklitza, my species is evolving just fine, thanks. In case you're wondering, I took the name from my favorite sound effect in Don Martin's old Mad Magazine comments. But hey, it's my world. I look forward to visiting yours soon.

HANSEN: David Kushner is a writer who covers digital culture.

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