Will Wright and a Smartbomb

Matteo and I went to a book reading for the new book Smartbomb : The Quest for Art, Entertainment, and Big Bucks in the Videogame Revolution.

Steven Johnson describes the book like this:

If the video game industry is now eclipsing Hollywood in both financial and cultural power, it's about time someone introduced us to the people behind this amazing revolution. SmartBomb is a fascinating and inspired tour through this new creative class-the coders and evangelists and visionaries that are changing the face of entertainment.

This emerging mainstream literature about games is certainly a clear sign that the world is waking up to just how strong this cultural phenomenon has become. The book is authored by Heather Chaplin & Aaron Ruby and they are now on tour promoting it and even have a new blog.

The mail I got announcing the book reading also said that Will Wright and John Romero would be there for a discussion after the reading, so I really couldn't miss this. Romerro never showed up for some reason, but Wright who I heard here for the second time was very very interesting. The first time I heard him was at his Future of Content presentation at GDC 2005 here in San Francisco, which I will warmly recommend that you check out.

Smartbombs more broad appeal motivated the discussion and Wright talked about the differences between games and film. In his opinion the discourse in today's gaming environment with the powerful next gen consoles around the corner is more on film terms than it should be.

His explained this distinction with how you look at the subject. A person looking over the shoulder of someone playing a game will view the events on the screen more like a film. Films are strong when channeling feelings of empathy through the linear narrative, but this is not what the person playing is experiencing.

When playing you are more focused on what Wright refers to as your possibility space. Understanding that games are agency driven is something that we as game designers should be very aware of. What we do with this agency often depends on whether you are a child or an adult.

Whilst adults will often start out by reading the manual; children will just jump in there with trial and error because they have not yet developed our fear of failure. This understanding of how players play differently has inspired Wright's vision of games for the future.

He sees games to come as being more aware of how players play, so that they can adapt to the individual. This exiting vision comes almost naturally when the discourse about games is framed by games. I have actually always really liked how he describes his games as toys. The fact that the Sim City had no winning condition was very controversial with his publisher when Wright originally pitched it, but was a major factor in the durability the game turned out to have.

I was just reading these words through and thought I was kind of rambling. My first thought was to edit it, but my mind was really overflowing with ideas after hearing Wright on this rainy November evening, so I thought that this post should reflect this.