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Gaming as a Lens on the World

Will Wright
Thursday, May 2, 2013 - 6:00pm
Media Theater (M110), Theater Arts Center (UCSC)
Presented by: 
Arts Division

With ever expanding demographics, themes and accessibly, games are now becoming as ubiquitous in our cultural landscape as storytelling has been. Pioneer game designer Will Wright's epic SimCity helped put contemporary game narratives on the global map.

We don't just consume games for entertainment, we also use game ideas and structures to parse and decode the world around us. Gaming as a conceptual framework better "fits" the world of high interactivity, connectivity and personalization that we are rapidly entering. In a broader sense games + the communities that evolve around them have proven to be powerful tools for problem solving, education and creativity. How can we harness the power of this new media in the future? 


Part of the 2013 Arts Division Lecture Series "Engaging the Mind"

The talk is free and open to the public.

Parking $4


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Will Wright (born January 20, 1960, Atlanta, Georgia) is a well-known computer game designer, and is co-founder of Maxis. He created groundbreaking games such as SimCity, The Sims and Spore. He is known for his unusual ideas and projects, which have become groundbreaking hits sealing his reputation as one of the most important game designers in the world. Currently CEO of “Stupid Fun Club,” he is now working on new concepts to expand the realm of gaming into our everyday lives. When asked what he does he says “I design stuff.” Rolling Stone magazine called him “one of the 100 people that changed America.”


Twenty years ago, a video game that you could neither win nor lose was inconceivable — unless you were Will Wright. With five years of college under his belt and no degree, twenty-something-year-old Will had the idea of creating a game based on designing and building cities. In achieving that goal, Will created a new genre in gaming and within it, one of the best-loved game franchises in history, establishing him as a visionary within the world of video game design.

The idea for SimCity struck as will was designing his first game, Raid on Bungeling Bay (1984), a game in which helicopters attacked islands. Realizing he preferred building islands to piloting attack 'copters, Will partnered with "idea guy" Jeff Braun to create a company known as Maxis, and they released SimCity in 1989. With SimCity the mass market got its first real taste of a simulation game, and they were hooked! The word-of-mouth acclaim swirling around SimCity ultimately attracted the attention of Newsweek, and a full-page story on the game cemented SimCity's place in entertainment history. An entirely new kind of video game genre, focused around open-ended, non-violent gameplay was born.

Maxis followed up the surprising success of SimCity with a string of popular simulation games throughout the 1990s. Titles such as SimEarth: The Living Planet (1990), SimAnt: The Electronic Ant Colony (1991), SimCity 2000 (1993), SimCopter (1996), and SimCity 3000 (1999) introduced simulation games to hundreds of thousands of new fans, demonstrating the genre's true potential.

Still nobody was prepared for the phenomenal success of The Sims. Will, who studied architecture in college, originally conceived of the game as an architectural design simulator. To "score" the quality of the design, he added tiny people who would inhabit the buildings. These simulated people quickly stole the spotlight, and Will realized that watching the lives of the Sims unfold was the real entertainment. Again, his instincts were right. Released in 2000, The Sims was the best-selling PC game of of 2000, 2001, 2002, and 2003, until it was dethroned by its own sequel The Sims 2, which quickly established itself as the best selling PC game of 2004. Popular console, handheld, and mobile phone versions of the game have contributed to the huge success of the franchise, which has sold more than 58M games, life-to-date.

The Sims and its expansion packs and sequels have become a cultural phenomenon and solidified Will's position as a gaming industry legend. His honors and accolades include making Entertainment Weekly's "It List" of "the 100 most creative people in entertainment" and Time Digital's "Digital 50" in 1999, receiving a "Lifetime Achievement Award" at the Game Developers Choice Awards in 2001, being named #35 on Entertainment Weekly's Power List in 2002, becoming the fifth person to be inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences' Hall of Fame that same year, receiving the PC Magazine Lifetime Achievement Award, and being honored with the first-ever Spike TV Video Game Awards’ Gamer God Award in 2008.

SporeTM, Will’s latest achievement in video games, has been the recipient of numerous awards and honors such as Popular Science’s “Best of What’s New Award,” Popular Mechanics’ “Breakthrough Award,” PC Magazine’s “Technical Excellence Award,” and TIME Magazine’s “50 Best Inventions of 2008.”