God Games February 14, 2008

Below is a video-review by Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw of The Escapist‘s popular Zero Punctuation column regarding “God Games,” games where you can (for example) design entire societies.

He doesn’t seem to like them…

Blog reader Andy says this:

With games like Spore (by Maxis the creators of Sim City games), evolution guided by god, in this case you, I think it raises questions about how these games affect our views on God. It seems popular now, to describe the platypus as “God having fun”, and Spore is based on that type of thinking, although the makers are evolutionists.

When you believe in God, and when you don’t, how does it affect how you play these games?

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • Mriana

    OK, I maybe the only one who says this, BUT WHAT THE HECK IS HE SAYING? With how fast he is talking it sounds almost like Spanish . I get bits and pieces due to the fact he put some of it in writing. I didn’t get through 2 1/2 min of. I gave up just before that. 🙁

  • Tolga K.

    I’ve never thought of myself as a god in those games. I just play.

    As for the game Spore, it would be cool if the other animals on the planets would evolve. I’m sure it wouldn’t be hard to implement, considering the AI required is already there. Maybe not over billions of years, but at the rate of a new species a month would be pretty cool.

    Unfortunately, the fundies will see the quick evolution and be like: “Look guys! Now we have proof that super-fast evolution is possible!!! We finally caught up with science!” *hi-fives all around*

  • valhar2000

    Tolga, have you played Spore? I haven’t, but in the video of the speech Will Wright gave at E3 he said that the game would connect to the internet and randomly download animals from other players. This would result in each player experiencing animals that change, even animals that change to adapt to an environment consisting of all the other animals people create. This could make a pretty interesting analogue of natural selection in ecological systems.

    Obviously, it is NOT a perfect, or even good, model of how animals evolve in the real world, but it was never meant to be. And, on the other hand, it doesn’t make you “God”, because most players will be quite unable to predict how their well creations will do until they actually let them compete, which puts the player at a level lower than that of a normal engineer, much less a god.

    At any rate, it sounds like a great game!

  • Tolga K.

    I’ve been following the game since I first heard of the concept many moons ago.

    The thing is, the life that comes to the planets is probably not some set number. To keep the programming simple, they’re probably going to spawn at a random rate as your animal traverses the planet.

    If evolution happens, it will be at the will of whoever created the specific animals, because they don’t talk about the animals having slightly different characteristics as babies come out.

  • I like tea

    The Zero Punctuation videos are funny, but I honestly dislike Croshaw and most of his cynical and haughty opinions. And now he even has a column in PC Gamer, the only gaming magazine I subscribe to. 🙁 I’m not even sure why you put this video up, Hemant. Does anyone think there’s a serious connection between god games and religion?

    Actually, there’s at least one series of god games where you literally do play as a god – Black & White. It’s pretty cool being a god, though to avoid any religious insensitivity, you’re just a nameless god over a fictional island, fighting other fictional gods. Though I suppose a Christian who’s really ardent about the “false gods” rule might still find it offensive.

    But games like SimEarth or Spore, while referred to as god games, don’t actually presume to bestow such titles on the player. So my belief in God or lack thereof doesn’t affect my play style at all – I even played B&W back when I was Christian, and I’ve played it as an atheist, and I saw it no differently.

    (Oh, and hint to blog reader Andy: there’s no such thing as an evolutionist.)

    EDIT: Whoa, Hemant, you misled me. Now that I’ve actually watched the video, where the hell do you get off saying, “He doesn’t seem to like them”? He doesn’t like SimCity Societies, and I don’t blame him. It’s a shitty game. Wasn’t even designed by Maxis. But he doesn’t even talk about the god game genre in general.

    I still don’t like him, but that was a hilarious video.

  • I’m a big fan of The Sims and The Sims 2, where you are kind of a second-rate, really wimpy god that can only do so much for/to your creations, and you still sometimes have to bow to powers greater than yourself.

    I enjoy the power, but I want more of it! Maybe in The Sims 3… 😉

  • cautious

    I tried running SimEarth without ever touching the planet to see if it would evolve intelligence.

    In a limited sample run (n=10), intelligent life never happened. Neither did vertebrates. My planets evolved jellyfish, sat around for billions of years, and then were swallowed by their local star when it became a red giant, boiling away those poor cnidarians and the oceans they lived in.

    In that game, at least, the programming was very inclined towards allowing life to form abiotically, sometimes fairly soon after the planet coalesced, but randomly evolving eukaryotes and metazoans seemed to be out of the picture. Maybe with a larger sample size it woulda happened. Which, uh, strangely enough, sounds a lot like real life, or at least what we know of it.

    All of this makes sense from a game design viewpoint; if you want the player to be interested, then their participation is needed. Doing nothing in SimEarth is marginally more useful than doing nothing in any other game.

  • Huffy

    Well…I think it is OK as a skeptic to play a game where you ‘play god’ by guiding the evolution of whatever sim-society you are building. I used to play sim-ant many many years ago…same concept except with bugs. But it is not anything against the skeptic nature to ‘play god’ in these games. Mainly because, well, it is a closed and personal experiment. What if I deny this part of the city water or cause a tornado to tear up this part of the city? Experimentation. Cruel humor.

    In reality, it allows us to see just how silly it is to assume that there is a guiding power over our existence. It allows us to see that if there were a god sitting over our world as in the sim-game world…he would not be anything like what the religious view him. He would be the cruel puppeteer making his creations experience his whims with no regard to individual feelings or circumstances.

    I played Sim City and at one point I wiped out an entire section of my town with natural disasters. I was taking great pleasure at the destruction, and finding humor in what would have been tremendous pain and suffering were my sim world real. After the dust settled I looked at my existing town…where the people who survived were still in their traffic clogged streets trying to get to work or home…which were now gone…and realized just how horrible it is to think that any ‘intelligence’ could do or even allow such a catastrophe over something they created. I even felt a little remorse for my actions…wondering if that made me a bad person.

    No…I knew it was just bits and bytes in a computer game and that I would not cause any real suffering. But the implications were quite marked. I think about a god or intelligence watching as tidal waves rush headlong towards a shoreline where, much like in my little sim-world, real people unwittingly were about to meet their demise by the thousands. I think about how any creator who allegedly loves his creations could allow such suffering and death. I think about the glee and fun I had (momentarily) and realize that if there were a god the implications about what kind of personality he would be do not come close to what the religious think of him.

    But…I then look at the event as random natural happenings with no control or powers guiding it other than laws of nature, weather and the elements…and I see that my playing god in a sim game actually stands to support my lack of belief. Playing a game where one ‘plays god’ could actually be one of the best ways to see clearly that there is no god.

  • I think Croshaw doesn’t like any games. That’s his style or something.

    If you’re worried about the philosophical implications of a game, my initial reaction is that you should get your priorities straight! Video games > philosophy of God.

    Sometimes the philosophical implications are actually part of what makes a game fun. For instance, there are a lot of playing styles in a sim game. Some people are goal-oriented. Others like to explore. Etc, etc. And personally, I always felt bad about hurting my Sims…

  • I just want to say that I may become an atheist soon. If there really was a god, he would not have made me wait this long for the release of Spore.

  • Aj


    With how fast he is talking it sounds almost like Spanish . I get bits and pieces due to the fact he put some of it in writing.

    The further North you go the faster people talk. I’m listening to an America and a Canadian right now talking just as fast, sometimes faster.

    I like tea,

    Does anyone think there’s a serious connection between god games and religion?

    A connection between god games and the idea of deities is obvious, and those ideas obviously come from religion. Deities more like Yahweh and Zeus, not obscure, abstract, meaningless descriptions that amount to word play.

    (Oh, and hint to blog reader Andy: there’s no such thing as an evolutionist.)

    There’s definitely a word, that’s years old, that has many meanings, and one of them definitely applies, I think it’s the OED one. If you’re worried about it being labelled religion or ideology, I’m an atheist but I don’t feel that’s an ideology. If you accept science, you should accept evolution, so perhaps it’s more apt to say they support science.

  • Doesn’t anyone remember Populous?

  • Valhar2000

    Hell yeah! That was an awesome game! Hmm, I think I’m gonna go see if it is available in an abandonware site…

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