Thursday, June 19, 2008

Celia Pearce "Sims, BattleBots, Cellular Automata God and Go: A Conversation with Will Wright"

Celia Pearce's article "Sims, BattleBots, Cellular Automata God and Go: A Conversation with Will Wright" talks about how interactive entertainment and simulation are what gamers want. They don't want a game that tells them what to do and offers little alternatives in the decisions the player can make, they won't wide open situations that the player can structure themselves. Their conversation discusses a lot about how Wright, the creator of the Sims video game, feels about the interactive and simulation characteristics of games and how that makes them so fun to play. Wright goes on to talk about what draws him to video games and that's the interactive environments that allow the player to be creative. When players see what they have created and it's unique to them, they invest in it emotionally. Wright talks about the inspiration behind Sim City, a game called Pinball Construction Set where the player created a pinball game and then could play it. He also talked about a flight simulator game where he would test out what would happen if he crashed or did certain maneuvers. He would experiment with the game because he was free to do so. Then he talks about his favorite board game Go, which is a really abstract game and how it brings people's different mental models into agreement as the game progresses.
Wright also starts to talk about how people personify and identify themselves with the characters in The Sims. Like when planning what job the players are seeking for their character and what relationships they seek, they refer to the character as "I." But when the character fails or rebels, the character is then refered to as "He". This is a real interesting dynamic in that it applies to other situations. For example, when the Badgers win the football game on Saturdays, the fans usually say we won. But if they lose, I usually end up saying they lost. Like I'm putting it on them when they lose, but in a pseudo way accepting credit when they win. Kind of interesting.
They go on to discuss how people pursue different goals and how they're working on a multi-player version of The Sims so you can use the help of other characters to accomplish you goals.
Then, Wright talks about how he wants players to appreciate how connected things are through space and time. His goal is to make the possibilities to be as wide as possible, with as much space as possible. I immediately thought of GTA here, because even though you have missions to complete, you as a player are free to do whatever you want. You choose to do missions, so if you don't want to, you can simply roam about the environments trying new things and doing whatever you want.

Then Wright starts to discuss the blurring of the consumer and the producer which Greg Tracy talked about yesterday with regards to Sharendipity. Wright thinks that there are media like the internet where the interaction between both is a "smooth ramp." The Sims has that same blend in that you create your character and are the audience and you can put your storyboard and what you've created and put it on the web.

The final big topic of discussion is that in games time isn't always linear. You can always go back and load a saved game, etc. He compares it to films like Run Lola Run, which is pretty good, I suggest you check it out. Basically, the film replays the same scenario in which Lola is trying to get money for her friend Manni who is in trouble and needs it. The whole scene replays with things being different every time. It's a good example, because the entire scene starts with Lola waking up to an alarm and goes from there playing the whole scene, instead of just rewinding and starting from a specific spot in the story.


Sarah. R. said...

As a fan of Sim City since I first played it in the late 80s, I thought this interview was informative and insightful - and it was obviously done from the perspective of one gamer to another. I found it especially interesting that Will Wright clearly had been intrigued by world building and model building his whole life, and decided that computers were an excellent way to extend simulation This reminds me of the article on the early hackers, many of whom were interested in what the authors of that piece called "marginal" toys such as Lego, or, in this case, the Erector Set-like toys that Wright mentions. I also liked the references to Memento and to Run Lola Run. Here's a link to Adventure Construction Set which, for me, was a precursor to Sim City and Wright's games. I was totally into them all (except for Sim Earth). Sim Tower was another cool one.

Adrian said...

Perhaps this is silly, but I found myself wanting to see more of WW's feelings about games in general. I can TOTALLY see the emergent nature of Go that he is talking about being a major element in Sim*.

Just in general, as when looking at Greg's kids' fave new game, I was struck by all of the games that it was a descendant of. Similarly, we can see things that are clear descendants of other things - take Doom. So many games clearly owe their existence to it.

We all stand on the shoulders of giants, certainly, but I want to see which shoulders are stood on by whom.

Nick S said...

This article was a good break from the normal essay form. I always get a kick out of reading things like this. I loved the part where he talked about how he and his daughter built a battlebot. I think I remember watching that one TV, or maybe there were many shows of robots attacking one another.

Using Apples since i knew what computers were, Sim City was one of few games I could play everyday. And although we didn't get it until it was on the clearance rack it was still a solid waste of my time. I've lost interest in the Maxis games, but this new Spore game might catch my attention.

Jasun said...

I wouold have liked to hear more about Wrights relatiionship with other visioaries within the "god games" field (i.e. Sid Meier of Civilization and umpteen "Tycoon" games fame). I wonder how much interplay exists between the competing players with in the market.

I also enjoyed this article because it reminded me that, contrary to Greg's comment in class about the transient nature of video game popularity, there are some exceptional games which stand out from the rest and retain their appeal for generations.

Jon72585 said...

Its funny, I can remember playing SimCity on my old SNES when I was kid too. All of my cities ultimately failed, because I would always click the "disaster" button eventually. I remember my favorite thing was that I could have bowser come through and trash the town. Or, I would go on my brother's saved cities, and destroy them (of course I wouldn't save once I had, but it was fun to smash something of my older brother's that didn't involve legos).

But beyond just waxing nostalgic about SimCity, I found the most interesting comment made by Will Wright to be his statement about "being a god who surprises even himself." Unfortunately, I never found this to be true while playing SimCity or even SimTower in middle school. It is a pleasant thought though. And after playing "Spore" yesterday, I think that it might be possible in that game. Can I just stop for a second and say how excited I am for that to come out? I also remember though when the Sims first came out. It seemed like there was almost as much of an uproar about that game as there is about GTA (uproar, not outrage), due to the "is it healthy to play God" debate. But I think its fine to "play" in a game where you create (like God)...especially if that god can call down Bowser to destroy your city. The 8 year old in me still likes explosions.

Anonymous said...

Although I have never been an avid player of The Sims, I do have my experience with it. I think it is great that someone such as Will Wright could take such an abstract idea for a "game" and turn it into such a phenomenon. I would never have guessed city planning would have turned into a classic. It is also cool to see how one game can turn into several different variations of a main concept: being godlike I guess.

Reading this article in interview form was refreshing as well. One part of the game that I find interesting is how they go about dealing with sexual orientation and racial sensitivities. Obviously it is in Will's best interest to please everyone, but I'm sure some conservative parents out there would be disturbed with the openness that their child might encounter.

Marlon Heimerl said...

My favor part about this article we talked about in class in comparison to the phenomenon about the use of "I" or "they" "we" depending on the outcome of the game at hand. Someone used the example of the packers and I have come to realize that especially in the case of simulation games such as Civilizations I found myself saying "I" if I won the war or "the French" for example when I lost the war. That is so very interesting on an egotistical level. I feel like this can be related to our discussion earlier in the course as evidence pertaining to the catharsis experience. Clearly, if I am able to separate 'them' from 'me' in terms of 'good' and 'bad' outcomes, then I should be able to differentiate between real and fake violence and to release when gaming and to leave it all behind.