Videogame (1990). Maxis. Designed by Will Wright. Platforms: DOS, Mac, Win (1990); AtariST, SNES (1991); Amiga (1992); MegaCD, PCEngineCD (1993).
SimEarth is a Toy Game which simulates the evolution of a terrestrial planet, using a model influenced by James Lovelock's Gaia hypothesis, a description of the Earth as a self-regulating system (> Ecology). Players have access to a wide variety of options, including the ability to control the rate of mutation for living species, the level of greenhouse effect in the atmosphere and the planet's degree of volcanic activity. It is also possible to trigger mass extinctions, by such means as greatly increasing the frequency of meteoric impacts, and introduce artificial devices, including an intelligence-increasing Monolith modelled on the Alien artefact which appears in Stanley Kubrick's and Arthur C Clarke's film 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968). As is generally true in Toy Games, players must set their own goals; a commonly chosen one is to evolve intelligent life and create an advanced civilization. Amusingly, all taxa are created equal; it is entirely possible to generate a planet populated by sentient carnivorous plants or (as a successor civilization after the first has suffered a nuclear war) self-reproducing machines similar to those described in Poul Anderson's short story "Epilogue" (March 1962 Analog). Available starting worlds for the game include Earth in the Cambrian era, Mars and Venus (which the player can attempt to Terraform), present-day Earth and "Daisyworld", a simple simulation used by Lovelock and Andrew Watson to illustrate the Gaia hypothesis when it was first published in 1983. Unfortunately, SimEarth lacks the intuitive responsiveness of such related games as the urban simulator Sim City (1989 Maxis, Amiga, Amstrad, C64, DOS, Mac; 1990 AtariST, Spectrum; 1991 SNES, Win; 2006 Wii) designed by Will Wright; it is often difficult to understand the relationship between a player's actions and events in the simulation. The end result is a game that is hard to learn and harder to master; SimEarth is generally more admired than played. [NT]
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