Game Eaters

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Will Wright receives the Ivan Allen Jr. Prize at Georgia Tech

So let's start the entries of this blog in style.

Today was the day for the main events of Founder's Day in the Ivan Allen College, at Georgia Tech. The morning was dedicated to a panel on Community and Games, and the afternoon was dedicated to the award ceremony to Will Wright, as this year's recipient of the Ivan Allen Jr. Prize. These events are part of the Living Game Worlds Symposium here at Literature, Communication and Culture, today and tomorrow. As someone who missed GDC, I'm happy my department is organizing the symposium :)

The morning panel was really interesting: Ian Bogost compared videogame communities with soup (he actually has something for food and computers, as the students in his class can testify). He continued with the culinary example by showing The Grocery Game, where people compete to save the most in their grocery shopping in the real world. Then Celia Pearce did a presentation on how a group of gamers from Uru, the on-line version of Myst, have recreated some of the spaces in that game in other on-line games, such as There She did her whole presentation through her avatar in There, and the final touch was that she got to interview one of the players in the game, and he greeted the whole audience. In her configuration she could talk and be heard by the other player, and we could hear the other player too; if it had been rehearsed if would not have resulted so well. Finally, Michael Mateas spoke about code and expression, and put his finger on the question of how to make digital expressive tools accesible to people who can't code. Will Wright joined as a respondent to the panel, agreeing with the necessity of filling the gap between hard-core modders and casual gamers that Mateas highlighted.

Some of the questions got very interesting responses from the speakers, starting with the statement that virtual enviroments may not be real, but the communities that are built around them are. Pearce spoke about how MMO players seem to be first attracted by the game and the ideology that its procedures propose, to then shift their focus to the people they meet in the game. Copyright was also tackled, given that players are given the tools, but also the opporunity to modify the game--The Sims is famous for fostering this, though they have had to add a clause to sort of waive some property rights in order to allow these modifications. It was also mentioned that the MMO Second Life has actually granted IP to their players of whatever games or objects they built within the game. Finally, it was also pointed out that game designers do not really have the capacity to control what the players are going to do. As Wright mentioned, the fist thing that some players did in the happy-happy Sims Online was to organize a mafia that hit and harassed other players. He said that there is no need to design any crime-oriented activities in MMOs, because grievers will find the cracks in the rules and terrorize the gameworld.

The award ceremony at noon was a nicely organized event, where other people received recognition for their work at and after Georgia Tech. Will Wright was the star of the event, with a presentation where he talked really fast (and those of you who have already heard him talk know that he's a fast speaker already). The title of his talk was 'Stealth Communities', a flashy name for a great talk on how to reproduce real world events and systems in a computer, reviewing different theories that have been applied to computing (from Math to Chaos theory), and making it actually interesting. Will Wright armed with a Powerpoint is a guarantee of a good, enjoyable talk.

For those of you who want to emulate Will Wright, here are some hints:
- if you're getting a lifetime achievement award, dress elegantly, but do not forget your black sneakers. You're a geek, but you're also a genius, so it's okay.
- change your university major at least four times. If you also change your school, that's even better.
- Look for inspiration in movies. Watch 2001: An Space Odyssey, because that's what the future was going to be like when you were born in the 60s. The movie also teaches you that computers can be potential psychotic killers. Watch Earth vs. the Flying Saucers too (yeah, it's an actual film).
- make jokes about llamas in your games. It's a Monty Pythonesque reference (the original was probably the moose in Monty Python's Holy Grail).

We need more people like Will Wright. So start working on it.


  • The llama reference is from Monty Python?

    Wow. I thought it was an obsure reference to Jeff Minter, a British garage coder from the old-skool days. (he has something for llamas, his company is called Llamasoft and his most recent project was Unity for GC)

    By Anonymous Jose Zagal, at 1:07 PM  

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