Saturday, October 24, 2009

When is "evolution" not evolution?

So you're looking for toys or games about evolution. You casually go online and -- whammo -- you find about a thousand kids' products that use the word "evolution." Hooray!

But look closer, friends. Zillions of fun products use the word "evolution," but they aren't talking about the history of life or science. Here's a sampling.

1. Evolution Board Game: Designed for teens, this involves trivia, charades, and drawing challenges. Nothing about the science.

2. Pokemon: These little guys and their friends "evolve" from one form to another. But it's not about the evolution of life, it's more like maturing: as each individual critter grows, its features change.

3. Star Wars: This package is called "Clone Wars Evolutions Pack - The Sith Legacy." Enough said.

4. TGS Evolution Bones Ripper Multisport Helmet: Rock on, dude, awesome skull!

5. Evolution Dude Rides #007: My personal favorite. Seems to be a green jalopy pickup truck with a high-tech rocket launcher in the back. Yee ha!


  1. There's a fantastic website on board games, called, where you can indeed find and research many games on evolution (as well as on pretty much any topic). My own two favourite games that cover this, though in detail that's probably too much for young kids, are:

    American Megafauna. It's about the evolutionary contest between mammals and dinosaurs, from the Triassic to the present (covering ecology, evolution, and DNA)

    Origins: How We Became Human. It's about the development of early human species from 120,000 years ago through to the near-modern era (covering instincts, langauge traits, and eventually society and culture).

  2. Hi Franco, and thanks for your note! I love boardgamegeek. From what I've seen of the evolution games listed there and elsewhere, some of them model evolutionary processes really nicely, and some not so much. But you're right, the reason I don't really recognize these games is that they aren't really for kids, or at least not for your average wiggly, short-attention-span 4 to 10-year-old. I want there to be simple, fun, wacko, physical, open-ended evolution products out there for those kids.

  3. Yeah, those games aren't geared toward kids -- I should have thought more carefully about my post. And even then I have unsuccessfully tried to get our local natural history museum to stock decent games about science (in particular, those that I mentioned), as they would be good for teens and adults, but as I say, unsuccessfully. The gift shops I've visited in science and natural history museums stock the most irrelevant toys.

    You're right, that for kids, it's slim pickings out there.

    P.S. I like your site.

  4. The Pokemon evolution seems more akin to Darwin's view of evolution, I think: some traits are inherited from parents, but others are picked up during one's life (the acquired characteristics that gives Lamarck a bad rap). It's evolution, but a bit "directed." Pokemon seems to have these flavors, though I admit to not really paying deep attention to kids when they've talked about it.

  5. Ah, Colin, come over to our house one day and we will immerse you in the nuances of Pokemon. I don't think it resembles Darwinian or even Lamarckian evolution. Here's why. Individual Pokemon evolve, not populations; there's no reproduction whatsoever. Also no environments and no differential "survival" to a new form. A Pokemon "evolves" for no reason except the passage of time. As you might guess, I've had plenty of time to think this over during many a heated Pokemon battle...