With the 1989 release of the original SimCity, video game virtuoso Will Wright ushered in a new era of computer gaming – one that emphasized learning over losing, and creativity over kill counts. Along with its follow-up hit The Sims, and countless sequels and expansion packs, he inspired players to think abstractly, take risks, and unleash their imagination via the highly customizable construction of virtual worlds – picking up urban planning and system dynamics concepts along the way.
Following the blockbuster success of the Sims franchise, Wright released the real-time universe simulator Spore, a God game that allows players to control the development of a life form from single-cell beginnings, to its evolution into a complex, social and intelligent being that eventually masters the planet and ascends into space. Praised for its massive scope and groundbreaking use of open-world play, the game – coupled with his entertainment think tank the Stupid Fun Club – has only cemented Wright’s status as one of the most innovative and interesting minds working in virtual gameplay today.
In his Masterclass on the art and science of game design, Wright shares his toolset for generating and pitching ideas, understanding player psychology, prototyping, playtesting, and building community. On the importance of reading widely to inspire new game concepts, he says:
“Find new subjects through wide-ranging research. Don’t limit yourself to subjects that have already been explored in games. Seek out areas that are new to you and try to learn more about them, no matter how technical they might seem at first.”
A voracious reader himself – who read more than 20 books on urban planning theory in the research phase of SimCity – Wright’s course includes a list of books that have most impacted his life and work. From accessing flow states to the fundamentals of game theory, explore his recommendations below.
Will Wright’s Reading List
A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander et al.
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Urban Dynamics by Jay W. Forrester
“A lot of the games I’ve done actually were based upon cool subjects, usually books that I read. SimCity was very influenced by the work of a guy named Jay Forrester who was the first person to actually model cities on the early computers back in the 50s. His models were not spatial, they were just like little numbers. How many people did the city have, how much land, how many roads… He was actually the father of what became known as system dynamics.” -WW
Maps of the Mind: Charts and Concepts of the Mind and its Labyrinths by Charles Hampden-Turner
“There’s actually a great book, I think it’s out of print now, it’s called Maps of the Mind. Each page was kind of a visual representation of one psychological theory. It might be Maslow’s Pyramid or Freud and the Id. Each one of them was a different way, a bit different perspective, on the human mind and human psychology and the way it worked. Each one is kind of a tool and has its particular purpose and works well in certain situations and not well in others. None of them are really the right approach that I’m going to religiously adhere to. But each one contains something valuable that might be of use to me in the future. Maslow’s Pyramid turned out to be very useful for The Sims, for instance.” -WW
“SimAnt was very much inspired by the work of Edward O. Wilson, very famous myrmecologist, studies ants. He wrote this great book, won the Pulitzer Prize, called The Ants. But he actually, in some sense, was reverse engineering the way ants work. Little ants are almost like little robots, and it’s pretty simple to figure out in the presence of this pheromone the ant does that, in the presence of that pheromone he does this. He actually reverse engineered that and discovered a whole level of emergence.” -WW
Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth by James Lovelock
The Ages of Gaia by James Lovelock
The Medium Is the Massage: An Inventory of Effects by Marshall McLuhan
Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella H. Meadows
The Society of Mind by Marvin Minsky
Blood, Sweat, and Pixels by Jason Schreier