Etiquette in Spore
Predictive social modeling--just not in the game.
For those of you who aren't yet in the know, Spore promises to be the best thing ever created for any purpose by mankind. Hopefully it will pan out.
It seems like it's most of the way there (to me), and Will Wright has a good track record, so assuming we get something with even a tenth of the alleged promise of this game we'll have yet another chart-topping game encouraging vast adoption rates, and the creation of another The Simsesque community, with it's own interesting contribution to internet society. Possibly *as* interesting as prostitution.
But what really intrigues me is the 'massively singleplayer' experience being thrown around.
It's actually been a long standing idea of developers that player content should be recycled and thrown at other players to enhance the length and girth of the experience. The traditional self-satisfied bullshit explanation for why this *can't* happen is that the general public is of course, far too stupid to weild the mighty authority of design, and if player driven content were allowed in a game, it would inevitably lead to horrendous lowest common denominator, and no fun at all for anyone: burning... crying; ultimately blackest despair. Of course, this isn't the case. In point of fact, the community has shown, over time, even with tremendous obstacles, such as obtuse undocumented developer tools, or no tools whatsoever, a community is capable of creating triple-A work. In fact, in many cases, one person in their spare time has severely embarrassed a squadron of full-time developers. Not necessarily with completely superior original work, but with a dedication to imitating some popular unrepresented franchise (Star wars + your favorite game + dedicated hobbyist = automatic popularity). This is, perhaps, the true source of chagrin. That some special game with a lot of potential can be annexed by the demenses of George Lucas, or Gene Rodenberry, or the Japanese, via the proxy of insatiable fans.
Luckily, in alot of ways, Will Wright is kind of the anti-artist. His approach is fundamentally interaction-based. The games he creates are centered on actions. They never have, and probably never will, represent a graphical achievement in any sense. The civilization games are long famous for being visually drab (but clean and understandable, if occasionally dense). The sims had alot of visual variety, but was iconic for the most part. The figures themselves lacked artistic flair. I'd go so far as to say he's not an artist even in the sense of an engineer, since his approach is one of extensive refinement, and embracing teams which can accomplish the task, as opposed to those squirrely entities involved in cutting edge this or that. Instead, his artistry is focused exclusively on the construction of the system itself, systems that have a certain kind of well-contained open-endedness.
I say luckily anti-artist, only because it encourages the pieces in his game to be artistically generic. The buildings in Sim city were simply a collection of pixels with a few specific tiles to indicate day, night, usage, side, and so forth. Furthermore, they were all isometric. By their nature the simplest kind of art to produce on a computer screen. Eventually, I believe, there were Simcities released with tools to create your own buildings. Who would bother to do this is beyond me. In general, the most accessible part of his toys is the totality. It's easier to use the legos of The Sims to make a disfunctional family with 3 plants, a chair, and no toilets, than it is to hack the game so that the two same-sex parent Sims could beat the child Sim (this twisted vision is arbitrary so keep your outrage in your pants). There are many games which rely heavily on the art and are not open to considerable reinterpretation, since any such attempt would be the construction of a new game. For instance, one of my favorites, Soul Reaver, is Zelda as far as mechanics are concerned. But without the very specific (and exceptional!) aristic contribution to the veneer, literarily and visually, the game doesn't exist. Adding incongruous characters to it essentially obstructs the game itself, wrapped up, as it is, in it's own specificity.
Which is where the facinating new frontiers of Spore *truly* open up.
Taking the lego analogy, and the fact that the WWS (Will Wright Systems) method of game creation is now reaching a point of true flexible self-expression with these algorithimic creatures, the worlds players add to the Spore universe will be as personal as DNA. Or at least, they could be, if not for other people. This will, I believe, herald a kind of new social experiment which will attack art in a very particular way. Do you have a duty to make a creative contribution in the spirit of a commons, or is it unethical to pollute that commons with a preponderance of particular kinds? Actually both those concepts are truncated, but let's get right into illustration.
The WWS is going to challenge the line between DNA and art. In other words, it is a suspended contention as to whether Art *is* the creator or whether it is separate from that creator (Also important in discussions of God). I say suspended because artists are utterly unherdable, and opinions about art are like the high-minded assholes who have them (I think art is like this *thing*, man). We've suspended the argument as a society with vacuous commentary such as 'I don't know art, but I know what I like'.
The reason for this is that the system is somewhat static, in terms of the practical performance of some organism. So what happens when somebody starts building creatures to deliberately imitate pop culture that they particularly favor. For instance, can you build a storm-trooper out of Sporeponents? Most likely, with appropriate time and effort you can not only do that, but give them an imperial city to live in, replace the spear model with blasters, or, better yet, light-sabers. No wait, the *truly* juvenile choice is the dual-bladed spear-saber from episode one. And it's a race of Darth Mauls. Regardless, having accomplished this, someone *else* who has spent hours faithfully recreating disney characters such as Donald, Mickey, and Goofy has their characters downloaded to your ecosystem. And guess what. As it turns out, Donald's jaws can crush a full-grown Maul without much afterthought. In fact, as it turns out, by sheer coincidence (hypothetically), the Disney Ecosystem is a *far* harsher construct than anything vaguely terrestrial. Think about it. They all have huge mouths. Gigantic oversized sensory appendages capable of searching out prey. Their limbs are flexible and sinuous, like pythons; their paws massive. Pluto actually has huge claws. Many times the size of a normal dog's claws. In fact, they're like railroad spikes. His long tail is like a prehensile whip. If it weren't for his harmless friendly nature, one would think that Pluto was bred in a laboratory deep underground for war.
Thoughts of Goofy stalking and killing Mickey, and feasting on his innards in a manner similar to that shown on the Spore preview videos are horrifying in and of themselves. But when that intellectual property turns its deadly gaze upon your race of spider-chainsaws, engineered within an inch of their lives to be top predator, and starts to tear them apart, the nightmare will be just beginning. We're not merely discussing a few hilarious aberrations, but an entire structure in which popular icons will compete. What about some kid who has nothing better to do but make Pokeplanet? The Yu-gi-oh galaxy? Your carefully cultivated as-realistic-as-possible dinosaur world will be in contact with something which is incongruous and maddening.
Interestingly, the situation will harken back to two childlike states of satisfaction. The one being the idea that all your favorite icons should do battle (Gi Joe vs Transformer vs plush triceratops), and the other being the frustration of being thwarted in your own attempts to play. As a child, I remember that, for some reason, the idea of including plastic monster in the Toy Boxing Federation's sanctioned match between Lego spaceship and the Micromachine squad, refereed by Ghostbusters figure-without-backpack-or-left-arm, was completely impossible considering the intricate story being told. Especially if that introduction was part of some other filthy sandbox midget's concept. Keep your Teenage Mutant Ninja turtles *out* of my carefully choreographed army men vs giant insect battle, bastard.
I can imagine otherwise happy people flying world-to-world in their UFO perpetrating genocide to clear the universe of unwelcome pop-icons, or even just creatures of an undesirable nature. It will be a perverse playtime equivalent of European imperialism. We must 'christianize' the newcomers. And if they don't take to it fast enough, we may be forced, despite deep seated misgivings, to burn them all alive in a giant pile. Can you imagine the frustrated screaming at the monitor as some intellectual infant finds a whole solarsystem tainted with someone else's creativity? I can only imagine.
But this only adresses tab A to be inserted in slot B. What of the notion of successful designs? Is there a peculiarity of the system that says that 5 beaks, 12 legs, and 3 feeding tubes is by far the most efficient way to get a civilization started? And so we see a galaxy in which this sort of creature is rampant? Crushing other, perhaps more creative, but less viable life? It's certainly an interesting thought. For starters, there's a biological argument to be made along the lines of the demands of this specific universe and an imagined homogenaeity to life forms (the Star Trek version of the narrative where everybody is a humanoid with varying levels of bumpy forehead syndrome). Isn't it a matter of art itself that pure lowest common denominator rules? Is the cockroach going to win?
Obviously the implicit attitude behind WWS is that you shouldn't have to deal with some asshole's impositions on your universe if you don't want to. If you don't like somebody else's creatures, you can bomb the world, strip it of life, and start over, or simply move to something unpopulated and put your own creatures on it. Of course, the guarantee of the chimpanzee is that, free with every social interaction of any kind, you receive one (1) pain in your ass for every minute spent engaged in said interaction. In The Sims, ostensibly a game with no means of murder, there are confidence games to play. No way to be sure that someone won't make a city with buildings shaped like tits or cocks, or better yet, a species of highly advanced cock-shaped aliens. I imagine lesbians would gain a certain satisfaction from making war personally on the dick-planet, and personally, I wouldn't mind letting them have at it, but some people would inevitably blow a gasket. Of course, the mere idea encourages censorship of some kind. So will the WWS kill the open-ended options in the game because some people might abuse it? Probably not. After all the Sims has officially sanctioned sex-related expansions. It serves a real need. That need being to pretend to have fake sex using dolls rather than go out and try it for real. I'm sure there will be similar needs fulfilled in Spore. I can already imagine requests for functioning wing-appendages which then progress into angel and demon sporeganisms, which then trigger some psychotic religious pushback.
And then there are the legal ramifications. It will probably run along the lines of the Napster argument. If the company doesn't make an actual effort to weed-out copyrighted characters or pornographic (illicit!) sporeganisms, then clearly, the only purpose behind Spore *must* be to traffic in trading of Donald Duck-like sporeganisms, and then watching them eat things in a violent orgy of incongruous predatory instinct. Clearly this violates Disney's family-friendly image, and Spore, as well as all non-Disney forms of fun must be brutally excoriated from the earth, in a manner *VERY SIMILAR* to that of a UFO nuking a planet in order to cleanse it of unwelcome forms of creativity.
back to the news...