Will Interviewed in NY Times Magazine

Thursday, November 4, 1999 - 22:00

Our own Will Wright was featured in an interview by The New York Times Magazine. Will's best quote? "Well, I like buying toys... I do mean toys literally."

Read the interview.
NOTE: The NY Times Magazine web site requires free registration.


How to Win at Life

The creator of the hit computer game Sim City discusses his coming masterwork — a simulation of family life, in which players compete for love and happiness. By AMY SILVERMAN

Will Wright

Photograph by Robert Cardin for The New York Times

Sim City, which you created in 1987, has sold about eight million games, in all its various versions. Why does a game about, of all things, urban planning appeal to so many people?
Everybody who plays Sim City is building something that no other player has built. It's like playing with a train set — having this miniature world that's yours to control. These things are an outward expression of what's going on in our heads, running little simulations about what's going to happen next — what if somebody throws a rock at me, where's it going to go? A lot of what makes us intelligent and human is the fact that we can very quickly model hypothetical situations in our head.

So the new game, The Sims, extends this train-set concept? Is that how you approached it?
Originally I wanted to do a game about architecture, how you design a house. And I started thinking about how you would score the game, how you would decide if it was a good or bad house. So I came up with a system for simulating people living in a house, and that became the more captivating part of the game. The strategy comes down to time management. You design a house and furnish it. You purchase items for the people who live in it. You decide their careers and how much time they spend at work and with their friends and family and that sort of thing. The game becomes kind of a scaffolding for fantasy. Less like a train set, more like a doll house.

A doll house? Are you concerned that players, particularly the ones already hooked on the master-of-the-universe experience of Sim City, might find that a bit touchy-feely?
It's entirely up to the player as to how touchy-feely it is. I was showing this to a bunch of 12-year-old boys the other day and the first thing that they asked was, "Can you kill the people in the house?" And in fact, you can. Somebody can start a fire if their cooking skills are very low, or if they have bad repair skills they can be electrocuted repairing the television. Or they can starve to death.

Did their eyes light up when you said that?
For them, it had more to do with, "Is this game going to force me to do this, that and the other, or will it let me go where I want to go?" I saw the same thing with Sim City. I would show people the game and they would say, "Oh, that's cool," and then I'd show them the bulldozer and they'd start running it all up and down the downtown area with this maniacal laugh. They just loved it. These were adults, 30-year-old adults at software companies. But they'd get that out of their system within 5 or 10 minutes, and then they'd realize that the interesting part was rebuilding it.

So causing violence is people's first impulse when they sit down to play a computer game, even one that is explicitly nonviolent. Why do you think that is?
I don't think it really has a lot to do with violence. It's about exploring the dynamics of the system. When they start an earthquake in Sim City and see fires and rubble, they see how how alive and fragile the system is. It builds the illusion in the player's head that the simulation is real.

Is it more than a coincidence that you created The Sims after you'd made a lot of money and got married and had a kid? Did your own life influence the game?
Yeah, partially. You gain a different sense of the value of time when you have a child. You know, they grow up. And either you spend time with them now or you don't, and that time will pass and never come back again. So it tends to make you think more closely about it. And that's really what the game is about, making you consider all those unconscious decisions about what you actually do with your time. As far as money goes, the easiest way to make the characters in the game happy is to buy them new objects. But as you accumulate more and more stuff, more things go wrong and pretty soon these things are just sucking up all your time. In my own life, money is important to me mostly because it buys time. That's the one resource that you really have to spend wisely, that you get no more of.

So buying a lot of stuff doesn't make you happy?
Well, I like buying toys, which turns out to be a rather cheap vice. I do mean toys literally. People come to our house and they say, "Your daughter has so many toys," and I have to explain to them, "No, those are my toys."


News Archive

Mastodon - Mastodon