Friday, July 21, 2006

Will Wright's Emotional Investment

Will Wright is interviewed in this month's Discover Magazine. The article covers the rather scientific aspects of the various games he's produced and it seems that Wright is very big on modeling. He discusses how various scientific disciplines have influenced the Sim games (ecosystems for SimEarth, Edward Wilson's study of ants for SimAnt, and astrobiology and evolution for the upcoming Spore).

What caught my eye, however, was not the science, but instead was this quote:

"People talk about how games don't have the emotional impact of movies. I think they do - the just have a different palette. I never feel pride, or guilt, watching a movie."

That's an interesting point, and I think he's right (Wright's right!). It's not that games lack emotion-inducing events, it's simply that they are not stories being told to us in the normal sense but instead unfold as a series of events that we experience. Pride or guilt are two emotions that people feel for something they are expressly responsible for: pride for having achieved or created something, and guilt for messing up or destroying something. Probably the only people who feel pride or guilt when watching a movie are those directly responsible for its creation (director, producer, actors, crew). I'm sure that the emotions Frodo and Sam experienced on their little journey were not the same ones we experienced reading (or watching) the journey unfold.

Pride and guilt are directly tied to both a personal investment and the acts of creation/destruction that are heavily favored in Will Wright's games, where the open sandbox is omnipresent, allowing the player to do what they will (I wonder, as the games have gotten increasingly personal from sculpting city blocks, to sculpting your sims personalities, whether the amount of pride/guilt has changed in the average player when playing a Maxis game).

At some point in the future, the story-inducing emotions we typically experience when reading a novel or watching a film will exist in a game, namely when the creations/creatures that we have helped shape into being come back and tell us a story about their experiences (btw, will my creatures in Spore worship me as a God?). The other possibility is for games that are no longer about "play" (does that mean they are even games at that point?), but are instead created explicitly to make the "player" experience emotion (one is reminded of the empathy machines in the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick) although the mind shudders at the possibilies for abuse that this leaves open.

No comments: