Will Wright?s having a good week so far.
On Tuesday night he picked up a Fellowship at the BAFTA Video Games Awards, the first of its kind to ever go to anybody in the games industry, and last night he gave the inaugural annual BAFTA Video Games lecture at BAFTA?s swanky HQ in London?s Piccadilly.
Wright?s fascinating talk focused on the key differences between ?linear? and ?interactive? media, with Will giving a short potted history as he warmed to his theme:
"We first had books, then we had live theatre, we went to radio, movies, then television, and people have been interpreting games through this lens, as though they're the natural evolution to this.?
Not so, according to Will, who thinks that "games have a very different evolutionary heritage from what I call linear storytelling media?games are rooted as far back, if not further, than the printed word, and sports as well, then the idea of toys and general play.
"Play evolved for a reason. Animals play in the wild, it's a form of education ? they play out little scenarios which help them survive into the future.
"And then you can look at babies and one of the first things they do is to start interacting with the real world, they wave their arms around and at some point they understand that they can control this thing that's beating them in the face, that they can pick up things and manipulate them - then interactivity with the environment is their first natural form of education.
"Storytelling is a little bit different, it's based upon these functions that we have as humans ? language, imagination and empathy, and these are all prerequisites for story, and in some senses it's learned behaviour."
Wright went on to address the dominant concerns of non-gamers and certain aspects of the mainstream media, noting that there is a "a continual cultural concern with videogames.?
Will makes the following observation: ?I heard a story a while back, which was interesting. There was this guy, and he walked into a room, and he saw a person sitting on the other side of the room, absorbed in this device. And he was so fixated on this device that he didn't even notice this fellow walking into the room ? he could tell, it was like he wasn't even there, and he'd displaced himself to another time and place.
"And it creeped him out, he thought this guy was possessed by the devil. What this was, it was the sixteenth century, and it was the first time he'd seen somebody reading a book."
Aaaah! See what Will did there? That old chestnut of tricking us into thinking one thing, then shocking us by smashing our received preconceptions of reality right in our FACE! Bam!
It?s a point worth making though: one which SPOnG will no doubt use in the pub this weekend at some point. Wright goes on to record similar reactions to literature, the waltz, movies and rock music. Again, arguments that many of us are at least vaguely familiar with, but it?s great to have them pointed out with such clarity by a master such as Wright.
Moving onto game design, Will thinks that we are "at this old stage that I'd call the apprenticeship level. If you go back some centuries most professions, like architecture, were actually learned through apprenticeship? with a master, who'd actually have you practice gardening, or bricklaying, or building, or whatever it was, for many years.
"Game design still doesn't really have any quality theory, so we're still very much on the apprenticeship mode."
Will Wright. Modern day genius. Fact.