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Business - Written by on Thursday, July 31, 2008 13:02 - 13 Comments

The Underbelly of Open Source: SPORN

Last month, Jude Fiorillo wrote about a new video game called Spore. Spore was created by EA and is unique because it lets gamers participate in the design process of the game. Users get to create their own detailed characters from scratch. As mentioned in Jude’s blog, this feature was pre-released to give gamers a sneak peak of the game and to get some early feedback. In addition to creating new characters, users are encouraged to share their new creations via YouTube.

An article on CNN.com today announced some recent developments in this story. There has been widespread participation in the game’s pre-release. This comes with an interesting twist though: Along with the normal characters created and shared on YouTube, many people have created pornographic characters also known as “sporn”. For a more detailed (and vulgar) description of the “sporn,” see the CNN article. YouTube and EA have already removed most of the pornographic content from YouTube. This was achieved with the help of the YouTube community, which has the ability to flag content that they feel is inappropriate.

Whenever users are given the freedom to create what ever they want, it is clear that they will do just that. This is always a risk when initiating an open source project. Luckily an open source community is just that: a community. Community members monitor the content, and keep the environment enjoyable for all. This is why Wikipedia and YouTube have been so successful. Administrators are necessary to have the final say in what content stays and what goes, but it is largely a community affair, which is nice to see.

It is upsetting that a few perverted minds have tried to ruin the fun for all, but it is great to see the greater open source community triumph over the few social deviants.


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Daniel J. Pritchett
Jul 31, 2008 13:55

Doesn’t Youtube have a “flag as adult” feature? I would think it better to hide Spore critters flagged as “adult” behind a “you must be 18 to enter” wall than to eradicate it completely.

I guess it’s EA’s and Youtube’s collective right to decide what stays and what goes, but I don’t think this Spornish Inquisition is doing anyone any favors.

Jul 31, 2008 14:06

As someone who is endlessly amused by hentai, i find this spectacular.

One of my favorite hentai spoofs is this ‘interview’ with two hentai characters. The real life dynamic between the school girl and the tentacle monster is quite different than what you’d expect. Poor guy is totally brow beaten.


higher quality version:


“I need to find myself a real squid”

Jude Fiorillo
Jul 31, 2008 14:35

I enjoyed reading that for the laughs, but also for the truth behind your words. I agree with you that when people are enabled with tools, they’ll use those tools entirely as they want. I remember when the Mii creator was released before the Wii, people were making things like hitler and stalin avatars.

Can’t stop laughing at ‘sporn’ and ‘Spornish Inquisition.’ Good read.

Justin Papermaster
Jul 31, 2008 16:07


I completely agree that there is no need for a “spornish inquisition.” The adult feature on YouTube is a viable solution to the controversy. The problem I have with the sporn is that creators didn’t pick a proper venue to display their “art.” A large portion of the audience searching for spore characters on Youtube are children well under the age of 18. Many people who posted their sporn didn’t distinguish it as anything different from a normal spore character. As a result many children were exposed to the explicit characters. The reaction by EA and YouTube may have been a little strong, but I applaud them for ensuring that YouTube remains a place suitable for all to participate in.

Daniel J. Pritchett
Aug 1, 2008 10:03


I talked this over with my wife (big Spore fan) and she reminded me that the creatures were supposed to automatically show up in other players’ games. EA will have to validate each kid-safe critter they release into the general population now if they want to avoid a “Hot Coffee” crisis when Spore launches.

It’s good for them that they are proactively handling this, even if it is a heavy-handed approach.

Mark S.
Aug 1, 2008 10:35

I think EA should create an adult setting. This way kids won’t be exposed to explicit content during game play, and adults can have complete creative freedom.

Lawrence Chen
Aug 1, 2008 12:58

I agree with Daniel. There definitely needs to be some sort of flag for these pornographic characters so young children won’t be seeing them.

Jeff DeChambeau
Aug 3, 2008 0:19

Mark: I don’t think that that’s possible. People aren’t actually creating explicit content, they’re just making creatures that look a lot like various organs. The system can’t tell that monster X looks like body part Y. Trying to put an explicit content filter on a game like this would be the same as trying to say that play-doh should have an adults-only setting.

Justin Papermaster
Aug 4, 2008 10:44


That is an interesting point. There is no way for the system to filter the sporn by its self. I think it would be possible for the game creators to designate an area for 18+ year old gamers and one that is family safe. Users could then flag inappropriate characters that are in the family area for removal. They could employ a system similar to the YouTube community. This way everyone can be happy…

Brittany Creamer
Aug 4, 2008 10:56

Maybe YouTube is not the right place for sporn. Perhaps sporn would be better suited for YouPorn. Though it would be a little more awkward to show your colleagues the ridiculous little dancing body part you found, the adult content would be available on a site a child has probably never even heard of instead of on a site where anyone (the children) can simply check yes that they are of age to gain access to the material.

Callie O'Neill
Aug 4, 2008 11:44

I agree with Brittany. Youtube’s adult feature isn’t secure enough… any kid can just click the “Yes, I’m 18″ button. Another site would be much better for hosting the sporn.

Jeff DeChambeau
Aug 4, 2008 13:39

Justin, you’re right that it could be flagged by the community and you could split things up into 18+ and family friendly, but I think that’s a mistake. So what if the kids are making things that look vaguely biological? I don’t think it’s going to rot their minds or turn them into deviants. The whole thing strikes me as a bunch of people just looking for something to get worked up over.

Brittany Creamer
Aug 4, 2008 15:19

While I agree with Jeff that the images are comical and hardly biological looking, I think the point is that we aren’t concerned with whoever chooses to make them (to each his own), but rather the young kids surfing YouTube unsupervised who view them. Maybe a dancing, cartoon phallus will not corrupt the minds of children, but who knows what else they may find once they are inside the adults-only section?

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