Chapter 4 of 21 from Will Wright

The Relationship Between Story and Games


Games are capable of producing emotions that other media cannot, since they allow players to create their own stories. Will teaches you how to create a sense of agency and responsibility in your players and offer them expressive tools.

Topics include: Empathy vs Agency • Enable Players to Become Storytellers

Will Wright

Will Wright Teaches Game Design and Theory

Collaboration, prototyping, playtesting. The Sims creator Will Wright breaks down his process for designing games that unleash player creativity.

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Games and story I think have a very interesting relationship with each other, and I see a lot of game designers that really are aspiring to be storytellers. And I've always thought that the coolest stories are always coming from the players. I mean, it's nice to have a backstory or here's the world and all that, but really you want every player to basically encounter their own story, create their own story by what they do in the game. That's the really interesting story for me. But as creatures, as organisms, we are faced with this kind of fundamental dilemma, which is that we're here, the world's out there. Basically, we have a limited bubble of experience, things that we know about the world, will experience directly about the world. Basically, we take this in through our senses. We see the world, we perceive it in certain ways. It goes into our imagination. We actually start building little models of it. And based upon how we interpret the world around us, it influences our behavior, how we act out there. Now, that limited bubble of experience is not really enough for us to build very effective models of the world. And it's that experience that we're building these models of the world from. So over time, actually through evolution, I think we've discovered two other methods. One is to have toy experiences, where we have symbolic experiences and kind of abstract that back into the real world. The other one is to learn from other people's experiences. If my friend the cave man comes back and says, a tiger almost ate me when I left the cave, I didn't have that experience, but I know the next time I leave that cave, I'm going to look out for a tiger. I was able to learn from his experience without having that experience directly myself. Now, over time, through our culture, we've come to call one of these things play, these toy experiences, and the other one story. These are both, though, fundamentally educational technologies. I think this is why we enjoy consuming these things, because they actually help us build more elaborate, more detailed, world models with a limited experience base. Now, story and play I think have a really kind of interesting two sides of coin relationship here. Some of the really cool stories, the ones that really capture your imagination, you can deconstruct into characters, worlds, locations, objects. I watch my eight-year-old playing with Star Wars LEGOs, and he creates his own stories with the storm troopers and all the components from Star Wars-- and he kind of understands that universe-- but now becomes kind of a set of things for him to play with. I think some of the best games where players have a lot of freedom, creativity, lead to really cool stories. The games are actually generating stories as the players play. So in some sense, I think really good stories can generate play and really good play can generate stories. So I think the two are kind of self supporting, but they're very, very different...

Explore the Possibility Space

Learn the art and science of game design with Will Wright, the mind behind some of the most popular simulation games of all time—SimCity and The Sims. Will teaches you how to design games that empower players and unleash their creativity. You’ll develop a toolset for understanding player psychology, as well as learn Will's approach to generating and pitching ideas, prototyping, playtesting, and building a community.

The Sims creator Will Wright teaches you his personal strategies to design fascinating games that engage players and enable their creativity.

A downloadable workbook accompanies the class with an exclusive Game Design Document template to use in your own work.

Upload videos to get feedback from the class. Will will also critique select student work.


Will Wright

Will Wright Teaches Game Design and Theory