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GDC08: Will Wright talks the importance of worlds, community ownership

Ross Miller

Tonight had a chance to attend a speech given by Will Wright at the Mezzanine in San Francisco. "This is the first time I've ever spoken to a drunk audience," he quipped. Before the speech, Electronic Arts PR Neil Young warned everyone that this would not be a speech about Spore. That's all subjective, of course -- Wright's talk, spanning everything from social science to pop culture, show an insight into his psyche and drive for Spore better than any video game session could.

The point Wright started out was the negative connotation in the use of words such as franchise, brand and property, instead preferring the term "worlds" (though, we should note, he used franchise and brand a few times). Star Wars is presented as an example of a fractal timeline, with smaller iterative stories adding to fill in the gaps in between and around the major arc originally presented. Other successful worlds include LEGO, James Bond and Godzilla.

Gallery: GDC08: Will Wright party | 17 Photos

Wright was not without humorous observations, including disturbing Playmobile toys (e.g. toxic waste recovery), crazy match-ups of 007 vs. Bin Laden, and a story involving Wright's earliest memory, where he saw Godzilla on TV, thought it was real, and ran behind his living room couch until the movie was over. ("The news was black and white, the news is real. Godzilla was black and white, and therefore I thought Godzilla was real." Q.E.D.)

Video games, he said, were our escape. He then pushed himself into a series of real world events and fictional universes that at the time seemed disjointed, only to culminate into his over-arching point at the end. What do the fantasy worlds have in common? A sense of ownership, that fans immerse themselves and give themselves a feeling of unity with the worlds, or even synergy in the sense of LOST. Wright pointed to the three-second blip of the diagram in the Hatch from Season 2, that was quickly picked up by fans and discerned.

"The point I'm trying to make is this: the best stories are inherently deconstructable and lead to the largest variety of play, and those are inherently generative and lead to story. All these elements [story, deconstruct, play, generation] are inherently interdependent." This, of course, is what he calls model building, the fundamental thought of all his games, including The Sims and Spore.

As for the use of fantasy and science fiction, Wright gave a quote from Twilight Zone creator Rod Sterling, who said that his show was the only place that you could deal with reality back in the day. The show could tackle subjects such as civil rights more than any other program. How ironic.

One could argue the accessibility of the games add to the ability to use it as escapism, and that the fantasy setting can tackle issues in way more realistic worlds can't. "Worldview. Filters. Perspective. Hopefully at the end, we can make fun and make communities," he said, concluding his talk.

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