Review by Chad Sansing, Common Sense Education | Updated May 2013
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Spore

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Kids play mad scientists to design fantastic creatures

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Teachers say (1 Review)
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Grades
4-12 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: These robust digital-creation tools grab kids' attention and sustain it across multiple stages.

Cons: In the game's later stages, the imaginative creatures and vehicles get bogged down in mundane tasks.

Bottom Line: Spore is a great game for digital creation and design, wherein kids experiment with biological adaptation.

Though Spore doesn't accurately represent evolution, it does capture basic ideas about biology, organisms' needs, and how they organisms with their environments. The creation tools can also help kids understand how 3-D models are built inside graphics engines.

You can use Spore to teach discrete lessons by having kids play one stage at a time. For example, in a computer drafting or graphics class, you could ask kids to create a few creatures, buildings, or vehicles, and then ask them to reflect on how composing in 3-D differs from composing in 2-D and how compositing digitally differs from composing physically. In a biology or sociology classroom, you could ask kids to iterate several creatures or civilizations to discover which designs make for the best predators or military societies and which make for the most viable consumers or religious or commercial societies.

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If you could design your own unique species, what would it look like? In Spore, players guide the "evolution" of a creature across five stages: cell, creature, tribal, city, and space.

In each stage, the player has to collect resources such as food or spices, Spore's late-game currency, to purchase upgrades that help the creature or its society colonize worlds and conquer or co-opt other organisms and groups. Players can choose to use violence or social measures, such as religious conversion and trade, when evolving. Each stage ends after the player has met the game's growth goals.

The best part of Spore is its creation mode. Players design all of the creatures, buildings, and vehicles they use in the game. The creation tools offer a generous variety of body, building, and vehicle parts that are further customizable by scale, rotation, and color.

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Spore isn't meant to teach the science of evolution or biology. However, the game is great for digital creation and very useful for talking about how people and societies meet their wants and needs, as well as for comparing and contrasting gameplay against scientific definitions of evolution, biology, and ecosystems.

Since players act as guiding hands, they influence how creatures and societies change over time according to their own agendas, not any scientific law or theory. There's plenty of room to experiment. Designing buildings and vehicles is enjoyable, but it's not as wondrous as designing a creature. Teachers should note that the game changes about halfway through from being an engaging animal sim to being a real-time strategy game that's about species evolution in the universe. Players can choose to be aggressive (read: violent) or diplomatic.

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Overall Rating
4

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?
4

Kids will return to their favorite stages to create design after design using the game’s intuitive tools. These creatures are a hoot to watch.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?
3

Decision-making is based more on players’ wants rather than on learning scientific, economic, or political principles. But there is lots to explore about digital creation and design.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?
4

Each stage begins with a tutorial, and the game keeps track of the player’s history and progress.


Common Sense Reviewer
Chad Sansing Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

4
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Featured review by
Catherine B. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
4
Designing Creatures and Features to Explore Evolution

For my third graders, this is just a fun game for creature design, thought I understand that it is often used in a more education way with high schoolers, particularly in teaching evolutionary theory, even if the game creators do take quite a few liberties with the actual science of it all. My students enjoyed experimenting with some of the different creature features and it encouraged some great conversations about why different features might be advantageous for survival. For students in upper elementary and middle school, there is not a whole lot of education value to the game, though it does seem to encourage cooperation and communication when students play together on it. I think the education payoff may be more evident for older students.

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