Will Wright: Mental video game playing and the merging of virtual and real

[From Kotaku (“The Gamer’s Guide)]

Are You Playing A Video Game Before You Are Playing It?

By Stephen Totilo
Feb 23, 2010

Last week, Will Wright was talking in New York City and saying brainy things. Among them was an idea I’d never considered before, that people will play the virtual reality that is a video game before they physically play it.

Specifically, Wright, while speaking about toys [see below], was exploring the concept of model-building, in the context of how playing with toys and using our imagination allows us to mentally model how the world works. Play with toy cars, for example, and you’re maybe modeling traffic patterns.

Wright brought in an example from the lives of video gamers. This one involves a gamer going into a store intending to get a game. Maybe they’ve heard of the game. Maybe they’ve read about it. Maybe they know just what the back of the box they’re holding in the store tells you. But as soon as they’re thinking about it and considering it, the potential gamers are…. playing the game. “They are already playing this low-res version in their imagination of what the game is going to be like.”

If they then buy the game, and play the higher-res version that shows up on their computer or TV screen — and if it’s not as good as the one they played in their head — that’s a problem.

If the game they play is [a] prettier or better version of what they played in their head, that’s great.

I never thought of it that way before, that we’re essentially mentally demoing a game in low-res mental graphics before we play it on a console or computer. Does that notion ring true to you? Does it explain your reactions, either of satisfaction or disappointment, to games you’ve played?

[An excerpt from a related Kotaku article]

Barbie Doll Destroyer Will Wright Visits Toy Fair, Hints Toy Plans

By Stephen Totilo
Feb 17, 2010

Some people think of toys and video games, the virtual, as two amusement fields that are at odds, PlayStation and Nintendo robbing kids’ youths from Barbies and Hot Wheels. But Wright believes the tools for physical and virtual play are merging, a sign of a generation growing up comfortable with the virtual and the real and likely a hint of where he’s going [with his new projects]. After the talk, he said to Kotaku: “As I go around meeting toy people, they all kind of recognize that these two things are going to merge — and they are very quickly merging. There might have been a lot of resistance a while back but now I think everybody I talk to recognizes that kids see the world that way — That to them the virtual is almost indistinguishable from the physical and they are just as meaningful.”

The other hint at what Wright could be up to might be in the fascination he showed in his talk for toy-like elements in things we don’t expect to be toy-like. He showed the Roomba vacuum robot, which he said “doesn’t vacuum worth shit” and is instead “really a social toy for your home.” He joyfully described “The Pod” car, a Toyota-Sony hybrid of a vehicle that has swiveling seats, colored exterior lighting that displays the car’s “mood” and a stubby rear antenna that wags like a dog’s tail when the car is turned on.

But at the keynote’s conclusion, the moment when Wright might have revealed what’s on the Stupid Fun Club agenda, as he pondered aloud what his involvement could be, he instead shifted to an enunciation of trends he finds exciting in the realm of playful technology: Intelligence, the construction of play devices like the guesses-what-you’re-thinking 20Q ball that actually isn’t that sophisticated; Awareness, the ability of objects like the Wii remote to identify their physical location and orientation; and Memory, as exemplified by the fictional Teddy Bear in the movie A.I., a toy capable not just of remembering all the times it was played with but that could have relationships with other toys, something, Wright said, that he considers “a very real possibility.”

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