Let me just say at the start that I am not a gamer. I’ve never been in World of Warcraft or any of the other popular destinations, and to be totally honest, the whole concept escapes me on some level. (Maybe I just don’t think I would have the time to dedicate to something to get to the point where I would have some fun with it.) So when I heard that Spore was coming out, and that many thought it was going to be a big deal, I thought that maybe I would be a good opportunity for me to get my brain around what gaming might mean and, in some roundabout way, what the learning implications might be.

It arrived yesterday, and I’ve spend a total of about 90 minutes playing so far, and I’m pretty much blown away. I have little or no idea what I’m doing, I’m sure, but my herbivore (you didn’t really think my spore would eat meat, did you?) paramecium has now evolved into a two-legged, funky-eyed, green, fruit-eating creature who’s growing a family and trying to figure out how to survive in a world with equally funky looking creatures who might be friend or foe. And while getting past the cell stage was pretty easy, this creature stage is already proving to be much more challenging. Just a few minutes ago, I was killed by some purple dudes who ganged up on me and seemed to chew my head off. Luckily, rebirth is almost instantaneous.

The 3D graphics are amazing to start with. On my Mac Book Pro, it’s literally like sticking your head into the screen. The controls are pretty easy to use even with the track pad. And the ethereal music that continuously loops in the background sets a great mood for “evolution”. You make babies by calling out for your mate and doing a cute little love dance (complete with little pink hearts floating up into space) that leads to egg laying. And when you’ve done that (and it appears only when you’ve done that) you can evolve your creature based on the new parts that you’ve found as you travel around the world you’ve created.

What I’m finding interesting already is that I’m evolving my happy little creature into a pummelling fighting machine by adding all sorts of claws and horns and other tough stuff. I mean, now that I have a family with little ones and all… I’ve been trying to make a lot of friends by singing and dancing at them when I meet them. Some sing back. Others ignore me. Maybe I need some more rhythm, I don’t know. And I’ve made one buddy with someone out there in the Spore playing universe although I have no idea exactly what that does.

And let me just note the way the game teaches you how to play. At various points, it pauses itself and gives you some coaching. As a paramecium, it’s all about eating algae. But now, it’s getting a bit more complex. I have all sorts of icons on my screen that I don’t have much of a clue about. At some point, I’m going to just have to spend some time reading and figuring out what all of it means. And while it’s interesting to get a sense of the evolutionary process, not quite sure yet what I (or my kids) would be learning from all of this yet. It’s fun, it’s engaging, and I guess on some levels it’s constructivist in terms of building the creature from scratch and making decisions about how to best keep the thing alive. It’s pushing a part of my brain that doesn’t get a lot of exercise, which is a good thing.

Anyway, I’m off to a pretty good start with Spore…I’ll just have to learn to sleep a lot less if I want to keep up with the rest of creatures.