Quick: What is an artificial life game? Many Creatures players likely know the concept behind artificial life, and what games are correctly classified within the genre. My perusal of several sites today made me realize that artificial life is often confused with virtual life. Both may sound similar, but it seems increasingly common for these terms to be used interchangeably. The trouble with that is the types of games that then are associated with artificial life. Take a look at Creatures: It features very complex biological processes designed to mimic life. There is a real scientific basis behind it. Not many games also fit this bill, yet Wikipedia has a list of artificial life simulations, all of which correctly seek to explore life. Virtual life simulations, on the other hand, have a much different sort of goal. They seek to mimic real world instances, especially related to everyday life. There is minimal to no science involved with these games. So why the confusion?
From my own experience, virtual life simulations appear to be much more popular and approachable. They put players in fictional situations where they can be practically anyone they want to be. And I’ll be very careful to say that I’m not saying that artificial life is better than virtual life, or vice versa. My point is that these two game genres are completely different, yet “artificial” has apparently become synonymous with “virtual.” I personally do not enjoy many virtual life simulation games, although I understand their appeal. Artificial life games often require a different sort of mindset to get into: They’re not about making virtual friends or selling virtual items, but about getting down to the core elements of life. And they’re not always easy!
What happens when one searches for “artificial life game?” There are some very useful links that appear, yet one of these is an article about life simulation games. This appears to be a blanket term to cover all artificial life and virtual life games. Yet I find that this makes things even more confusing for potentially new players. Part of the explanation makes it sounds like Creatures is all about controlling a virtual life form. From the previous Wikipedia article:
“[A] life simulation (or artificial life games) is a subgenre of simulation video games in which the player lives or controls one or more virtual lifeforms. A life simulation game can revolve around individuals and relationships, or it could be a simulation of an ecosystem.”
Does that sound like an accurate description of Creatures in general? It could certainly apply, although I seriously question part of the description of Creatures: “The Norns are semi-autonomous, but must be trained to interact with their environment to avoid starvation.” This completely overlooks the instincts and problem-solving that Norns have! Granted, they’re no geniuses, yet they can be left alone to learn how to care for themselves.
I had been pondering this idea of artificial life vs. virtual life for several weeks, when I discovered that the wonderful GOG.com was having a sale on artificial life games today! I rushed over, hoping to buy a few gift codes for the Creatures games. And then… I found out that the sale was all about virtual life games, incorrectly advertised as artificial life games. At least I wasn’t alone: Several others commented on how disappointed they were that Creatures wasn’t even mentioned!
To make matters just a little worse, the statement used to advertise this promotion confused the game genres even more:
Now, I appreciate GOG.com because it’s a wonderful site to pick up games, including the Creatures series. It just felt like a rather grim day for Creatures when a major promotion about artificial life didn’t even mention our beloved Norns… Nor anything actually related to them! It’s very important that artificial life and virtual life remain exclusive of one another, since they represent such different gameplay. Hopefully we’ll have a proper artificial life promotion in the near future, and Creatures can regain its recognition as one of the best artificial life game series!
A final little bit of interesting information: Inside Creatures Official Strategies & Secrets by Toby Simpson, page 149 states:
“Artificial life is about modeling populations of living systems inside a machine, with the aim of getting true life-like behavior that can be appreciated without being understood. The technology inside Creatures creates an entire living system, complete with all the parts you would expect to find in a real animal.”
Last Two Images Credited to GOG.com