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Will Wright: Gaming feeds egos

At the Web 2.0 Expo, the Sims and Spore creator talks about how the mainstream future in gaming is in letting users transport their real identities to the virtual space.

Will Wright
Will Wright, creator of the Sim City and Sims franchises, is interviewed by John Battelle at the Web 2.0 Expo. James Martin/CNET

SAN FRANCISCO--Are video games really all about feeding your ego? Maybe, suggested legendary game designer Will Wright in a keynote interview at the Web 2.0 Expo on Thursday morning.

"Most people are very narcissistic," said Electronic Arts' Wright, creator of the Sim City and Sims franchises and now last year's avant-garde Spore, onstage with Federated Media's John Battelle. "The more you can make the game about that person, the more interested, the more emotionally involved they will get."

Advancements in technology have made it possible for the customization craze of the social-networking world to permeate the console and PC gaming sectors, and that has begun to open up the industry to new users who didn't see the appeal in hardcore gaming or immersive role-playing virtual universes.

He suggested that virtual world Second Life was on the right track by making it possible for members to create elaborate in-game items, but they were too difficult for most members to partake in. "The sophistication...was pretty high," Wright said. "For a lot of people, programming does not sound like entertainment."

Even though games--especially role-playing games--have a reputation for being a lonely form of escapism, Wright suggested that mainstream appeal can be found in, well, getting to be yourself. And that's where it gets back to the narcissism.

"The more this game can be about me, and my real life, and my real experiences and where I live, and my real friends (can mean more than) 'I'm going to go to the game and become an orc and get a real sword'," he suggested. Granted, Spore is all about building and growing strange creatures in a bizarre, science fiction universe. But there's a lot more out there, he said, as we're seeing a "Cambrian explosion" of ways to play and interact.

"The Wii, to me, represents the idea of non-immersive gaming," he said. "When you think about the Wii...most of the entertainment is not happening on the screen, it's about watching your friend act like a doofus swinging the thing around and maybe throw it into the TV set."

So maybe gaming can temper that ego, too.