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The Artificial Life Simulator Computer Game Genre

written by: Emma Lloyd • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 9/29/2008

Artificial life is a fascinating concept in scientific terms, but it’s also interesting to explore the concept as it applies to computer games.

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    Artificial Life

    The concept of giving inanimate or artificial objects some semblance of artificial life is a subject which has fascinated our species for centuries. This concept has been under study for hundreds of years by scientists, inventors, and philosophers, and these days it is also being applied in some new places, including in computer games and educational material.

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    Types of Life Simulation Games

    Life simulation games allow you, as the player, to live out an artificial life by controlling an artificial life form which can be human, another type of animal, or even an alien life form.

    This is a particularly interesting game genre, as these are more than just games—they are also artificial life simulators which attempt to mimic as closely as possible highly complex concepts such as human social interaction.

    There are a few different types of artificial life simulator games, including the following:

    Biological simulators often come packaged in an educational guise, allowing the player to experiment with ecosystems or genetics and other biological processes.

    One example of this type is called Spore, a game in which the objective is to evolve a primitive creature into an entire nation of intelligent beings. Others include SimEarth, SimLife, and SimAnt, in which the player controls the development of a planet, an ecosystem (including manipulating evolution and genetics of organisms), or a colony of ants.

    Pet simulators include that late 1990s craze, the Tamagotchi, as well as newer variations such as Nintendogs. These allow you to care for and play with artificial pets of various types. You train, feed, and care for an animal, but it will suffer negative consequences if it is neglected.

    Social simulators are based on simulation of social interaction. These include games such as Second Life, a massive multiplayer online game, and perhaps the most well-known example of the artificial life simulator genre, The Sims.

    The key with many of these games is that they’re entirely open-ended. Players can do whatever they like within the boundaries of the game, and there are no particular rules to follow. Often the game has no objective and no way to win. This might sound pointless but in fact this is a big factor which contributes to the addictive quality of these games.