Playing games with evolution

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Published: 9 July 2020 (GMT+10)
kids-game

With the recent global situation, a lot of kids (and adults!) are spending more time inside playing video games. We occasionally are asked what our position is on games that include evolutionary content.

Because evolution is such a commonly accepted idea, and because science education lobbyists always look for opportunities to promote evolution in education and children’s media, it is important that parents are on the look-out for evolutionary propaganda in the entertainment their children are consuming. While some organizations would take a hardline stance that no Christian parent should let their child consume any evolutionary media, we have always maintained that it is ultimately the parents’ responsibility to make decisions for their family.

Evolution as a gameplay mechanic

One of the most popular video game series of all time—Pokémon—has evolution as a core mechanic (though evolution in Pokémon games bears no resemblance to the biological hypothesis). Many games similarly involve powering up creatures to unlock new abilities. Even though the only thing this has in common with biological evolution is the name, children hearing about evolution over and over may help to persuade them. If you choose to allow your children to play games like these, it may be worth having a conversation to explain how ‘evolution’ in these games is just a fantasy mechanic that has no real-life counterpart. Evolutionary threads are common in video games. Back in the 1990s, a popular game was SimLife, where the players attempted to ‘evolve’ living things over simulated millions of years. Similarly, we reviewed Spore when it came out several years ago. Its evolutionary premise is just as unrealistic as most other video games. There are a multitude of merge game apps that “evolve” objects from single cells to advanced lifeforms through ‘merging’.

Yet games sometimes include evolution in ways that are a bit more subtle. A newly-released game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, is one example of this. It features evolution in a museum that the player can build in the town. Throughout the game, the player obtains creatures and fossils to gradually add exhibits. Running throughout the museum is an evolutionary ‘tree of life’. The curator is an NPC (non-player character) who gives facts about each exhibit when they are donated, and many of the fossil facts contain evolutionary dates. When the player donates an australopith skull, it is said to be an ancestor of humans (“Lucy” is a famous australopith specimen). However, the game itself is about exploration and building an island town, and the evolutionary aspects could easily be ignored as the entire museum sidequest is technically optional. And if the player chooses to participate in the museum quest, not only can the teaching dialogue be skipped, but I suspect many players would do just that.

Games as a conversation starter

Regardless of the decision you make for your own family, you should be talking about creation with your children! Even if you scrupulously pre-screen every game, documentary, movie, and book your children consume, evolution will sneak in somewhere, and the best thing you can do is make sure your children are prepared with good creation information, and more importantly, that they know that they can come to you with questions.

It is common for people to want a clear-cut opinion that “X is bad and we should boycott it”, and it might be appropriate for some families to choose not to play games that include evolution. But as a ministry, we see our position is to equip families with information that allow you to help your own children as you make the best choice for yourselves!

Readers’ comments

Luke M.
We have 'Spore' on our computer, the kids think it's funny, they asked about how the creatures change etc and it opened up a great discussion. I told them it was the only place where Evolution belonged, in a fictitious sci-fi setting game, because God created the world and universe. Perfect talking point.
Courtney K.
I don't know if it's a good idea to not expose them to anything with evolution. They'll find out later about how the world views evolution, and wonder what they were missing. I think letting them watch or play something knowing it's fantasy is better than not allowing them to watch or play it at all. They'll get exposed to it eventually, either through friends or adult life. If they see both sides of the issues, from both perspectives, maybe they'll be less likely to seek out answers later in life. Same with homeschooling. I think they should be taught the evolutionary curriculum, but have the errors pointed out and see an alternative viewpoint. That way maybe they won't feel like they were missing out or something. I just don't think sheltering works in the long run... I'm not saying that's what this article is saying. I'm just saying it because there have been people who grew up like that and were looking for answers later in life because the alternative viewpoint wasn't shown the way the world viewed it, but with only the Creationist perspective... I think Creationist commentary is fine, as long as they know what the world thinks...
Lassi P.
Indeed. I've often pointed out, that "evolution" in Pokemon game series should be called "maturation". Wouldn't be a very "media sexy" name change, would it. And indeed! It's not so much whether your children see or hear evolutionary introduction or not. It's whether you can prepare them for it or not. Thank God for CMI!
Lita Cosner
"Metamorphosis" would also be an appropriate term.
Heather S.
I played Pokemon as a child. Still do, actually. It's a pity that the mechanic is called "evolution" within the gameplay, because what it ACTUALLY is, is more akin to "metamorphosis". Like how a caterpillar becomes a chrysalis becomes a butterfly. It's not evolution. I can't actually think of a single example of *metamorphosis* used by evolutionists to support the idea that, oh, a caterpillar could become a sparrow over many generations.
Bud B.
I like your approach to allowing gamers to be exposed to evolutionary ideas. As you have intimated, context is everything. If we give our children the context of the science in the bible and point out that animals are so complex that a simplistic “merging” of two kinds of animals that magically produces offspring Is as unlikely as a building complete with plumbing, electric wiring, HVAC and structural integrity just appearing, they will be more prepared for the “bait and switch” teaching of evolutionists.
Let’s face it, when they go away for higher education, they will face much more persuasive arguments than games offer and if they are prepared, they will have a better chance of surviving that onslaught.
Keep up the great work!
Egil W.
They should make a Real-Time simulation-game of abiogenesis, that’d fun
Edmond C.
You take a child to just about any zoo or any museum, other than the very few creationist ones, and they are going to be exposed to Darwin's Theory of Evolution. I believe that it is best to equip Christian children for the world in which they live rather than try to hide them from it. Culture shock is a real problem for children who are sheltered from reality and then suddenly go off to a secular college or set out in a secular workforce. The thing is that the more Christian children are exposed to evolution and taught what is wrong with a particular idea, like long ages, the circular reasoning of dating methods, the impossibility evolutionary mechanisms creating novel information, DNA containing information like computer code, Irreducible complexity and the impossibility of transitional functions, the fine-tuning of the universe and the fine-tuning of biological systems, the list can go on and on. But that is the real tool in our arsenal, shielding them from it is not. If you give a soldier only a shield he can only run, if you give him a sword and a shield he can stand his ground.
William B.
Your comments re games teaching evolution, it will not work with parents who already believe in it. The "Christian" views is what they need, but this has already been refused in most cases. We are living in a sad world!
Lita Cosner
Hence why the article was aimed at parents who are creationists.
Seathrún M.
I understand that THE WATER BABIES by Charles Kingsley was written by a friend of Darwin's with a subtle evolutionary theme. I was about six years old when I encountered it and the message was subtle enough that I fortunately missed it! I have since heard that it represents a type of evolution in reverse - babies changing (back?) into fish instead of fish evolving into humans. Even if parents must make up their own minds on the matter, I wonder whether you should draw more attention to this part of the story line.
On the side of positive action, what about someone devising video games with a creationist theme?
Phillip C.
I'm surprised you didn't mention games like the Mass Effect franchise, Starcraft 1 and 2, and Halo. While evolution per se isn't a true game play mechanic overall it still has an important role to play story-wise. On top of that, these games have far more influence than the ones you mentioned except for Pokemon. In Mass Effect, the protagonists fight the Reapers, which are an ancient alien race that assimilates sentient life before going back to sleep to await the evolution of their next generation of sentient victims. In Starcraft 1 and 2, one of the factions present are the Zerg, who assimilate other races by killing them and taking their most desirable genes. This makes them more effective killers in a wider array of environments. If a species is just impressive overall, they'll be corrupted and used as a template to create more Zerg that resemble them. (The infamous Hydralisk unit owes its genetic ancestry to harmless giant caterpillars with impressive spines.) They alongside the Protoss faction were created by an advanced alien civilization to further that race's evolution, too, so there's that to think about. Finally, we have the Halo franchise. Evolution is considered fact and you can find biblical references scattered throughout, too. John-117, the protagonist, is a reference to two passages from John, while the Flood parasites are an obvious allusion to Noah's Flood. What I find so sinister about the Flood is that its aggressive evolutionary beliefs (logic plague) are what helped it defeat the Forerunners, who also believe in evolution and couldn't refute it's extreme ideas. Obviously, a creationist take on this would render the game stories listed here non-viable. Still, a deconstruction by CMI would be interesting and I wonder what you guys think?
Lita Cosner
I'm not personally familiar with those games and the article did not attempt to exhaustively list every evolutionary video game.
David G.
I'm reminded of a joke where a scientist tells God he can make life. The scientist picks up a handful of soil. God immediately stops him: "you get your own soil'.

And so it is for computer simulations of evolution...let's seem them 'evolve' their software first. Starting with the micro code, boot loader and kernel of the OS. Off you go.
David C.
Adam and Eve would make the perfect video game. Two players max in the beginning. Eve morphing from Adam’s rib and then the task is to avoid the fall. Maybe player three is the serpent.
Lita Cosner
But to be theologically accurate, the game would always end in the Fall.
Seth C.
Not just video games, but popular culture at large is a gold mine of teachable moments dating all the way back to Inherit the Wind that just do not get the thought-provoking analysis and critique they should be receiving. CMI's Spore review linked in the article is nicely in-depth and thought-provoking. It is also, unfortunately, a rare gem. Other works that only contain solitary episodes or fleeting moments where science is abused all too often get a free pass.
Kristin R.
I played SimLife as a kid because it was part of the SimCity group of games. Even as a youngster I was a creationist, so the evolution theme bugged me. Aside from that- it was as boring as watching paint dry and stupidly difficult. You could make just about anything “sentient” using a monolith (a la 2001: A Space Odyssey), so 8 would make prokaryotes and other one-celled critters sentient and they would leave my planet; it was pointless. I think I played it for a couple of weeks and went back to more interesting games.

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