Playing games with evolution
Published: 9 July 2020 (GMT+10)
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!