Will Wright speaks – We listen

9 Jun

Pieter Parker / June 6th 2008

Will Wright is introduced to the stage, and the crowd goes silent so that they may hear his words of wisdom. Mr. Wright takes the podium and raises the fundamental question of game design; “Are video games an art form?” Will starts the discussion off by pointing out that video games are a new medium, and are not as established as the other mediums that look down upon them; and compared the starting period of video game as a form of expression to other common forms of expression, such as the telephone and writing. Mr. Wright pointed out that all mediums share a specific and functional purpose at their inception, and that it is the people that take the medium and evolve it to the form of artistic expression.

Mr. Wright then begins to discuss video games as a new innovation upon
the long established tools of story and play. He also covers the
concept of Schema, or the ability to explore our possibility space,
build models of experiences, and turn it into reference knowledge in
order to help us better navigate our reality. Mr. Wright then
explains why a video game can’t tell linear stories in the way films
can because the future is far less certain to the player. “Groundhog
day was one of the most game like movies I’ve seen [it features], a
glimpse of infinity, and the ability to restart reality.”

He talked about how fiction can alter our perception of reality, as is
seen by the idea that when a car explodes, they always get away just
in time. This does not happen in reality, yet we expect it because of
fiction. Possiblity spaces were also talked about in his
presentation, and how “The trend now is to go into open ended worlds (gameplay landscapes); Possibility is now a metric that we can
measure.” He also mentioned that the key difference between reality
and a video game as possibility spaces is that in reality we can’t
‘reset’ and go back and choose another possibility space; whereas in
video games we can. Video games also serve as an imagination
as to what a possibility space of the future could be like.

Mr. Wright then discusses how “reverse engineering is one of the most
educational aspects of gaming.” And that pressing buttons and
exploring the possibility space are all methods of reverse engineering
that are used to gain a complete understanding of the workings and
limitations within the game world. He also pointed out the fact that
game design is the reverse of other forms of media in that while they
tend to create rules to limit and force a predictable outcome, game
designers conceive rules that can be developed to emerge into the
widest variety of experiences.

One of the biggest points of Mr. Wright’s presentation was generative
play, or the concept that designers provide a platform for player
expression , from the tales of a sister’s abusive relationship retold
in The Sims to a Trip to Liberty City machinima that features the
player pretending to be a Canadian in Grand Theft Auto 3.

Mr. Wright then turns his regards to player choice and generative
gameplay in Grand Theft Auto 4 by mentioning “I do a bit of remorse if
it is my choice to kill a civilian, but if it’s to progress the story;
then God told me to do it.”

Mr. Wright then discusses the perceived limitations that gaming has in
terms of evoking emotional responses from the audience, and points out that it is not that games can’t evoke emotional responses; it just
evokes a different response from the player then movies do. Movies
can never cause a player to feel pride, guilt, or accomplishment; but
video games can.

Switching to the advancement of technology, Mr. Wright discusses the
change that is occurring across the world of entertainment right now,
and that “Convergence of media is causing lots of complications and is
reversing the flow”, as consumers are now producers of media as can be seen on Youtube, production of entertainment is becoming less of a one way street. He then talks about the potential of a computer being an imagination amplifier, and how it immensely improves our long view
perceptions. By creating sims we are able to map out possibility
space that in reality would reach far past the average human life span.

He finishes the illuminating presentation with one final lesson “Gaming
allows us to develop instincts for things so far outside our realm of
experience that it will profoundly change the world if we handle them properly.”
The lights go back on, and the possibility space that Mr. Wright has escorted me into for the past hour and a half slowly fades away as I find myself returning to reality.

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