TANGENT Go ahead, play God --

But DON'T let Britney and Gollum have kids

takes; virtual life to new levels

By Anthony Breznican

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES -- If you could play God, would you be kind, cruel or just careless?


The answer can reveal itself by the way you play "The Sims 2," the highly anticipated follow-up to the "real life" personal computer game "The Sims," which placed omnipotent players in control of the fates of digital people.

The characters in "The Sims 2" -- which was released in stores last week -- are born, grow older, make friends and enemies, struggle for success, and try to become better people before they're finished.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Will Wright, the creator of "The Sims" games, says he hopes the same thing will happen to players.

AP: The original Sims had a lot more to do with survival -- eating, working, cleaning up -- but the sequel puts the chores aside. What are the goals this time?

Wright: The characters have memory now. They have much greater awareness. They age. They now have five aspirations ... knowledge, romance, wealth, family and popularity. ... If their aspiration is wealth and they're poor, as they get older and older, it's really going to be a drag on their self-esteem because they didn't meet up with what they wanted. Or if they want romance, but don't have any lovers.

AP: And if the self-esteem is low?

Wright: That's where it has an impact on how much time you have to spend managing them. With higher self-esteem you can go more and more hands-off and you're basically buying yourself freedom as a player. And they'll make better decisions, minute to minute.

AP: How do you know what will make your Sim happy?


Wright: They have wants and fears. On the fear side traumatic things can happen to them and they can form phobias or negative associations. On the want side, that is driven by their aspirations. The game will tell you, "My want is romance and I want to meet the next-door neighbor." Then if you do that, it'll change and say, "I want to kiss her now." It cascades.

AP: So if you create a family, and the husband's aspiration is romance, he may want to have an affair with the sexy neighbor. His wife and child probably have different aspirations, right?

Wright: That's where you have to make real value judgments. The Sims will frequently have wants that are in conflict with each other. You have to step back and say, 'Where am I going to draw the line? What balance do I want to achieve here? Putting the player in some of these ethical quandaries, that's where a lot of the dramatic interest comes from.

AP: So it's sort of a juggling act of all their different desires.

Wright: This guy wants to have an affair with the neighbor and she wants to get a promotion in her job and the daughter wants to run away with her boyfriend. The wants are relative to their age level. The Sims age very smoothly now from a baby to a toddler to a child to a teenager to an adult and then an elder. At each stage they have very different behaviors and issues.

AP: Fans can create skins through the program "Sims 2 Body Shop" and swap them on the Internet. In addition to creating a lot of naked Sims, they're also making a lot of celebrity look-alikes, like Conan O'Brien and Paris Hilton, famous characters like Gandalf and Gollum from "The Lord of the Rings." How does that fit into the game?

Wright: What's funny is that we have a genetics feature now (which allows characters who mate to have children who share their looks and aspirations). So you can download some of the celebrities that the players have made, put them in the game and have them have kids. You can have Britney Spears living with Gollum, and their offspring would be ... (trails off laughing.)

AP: When you tested "The Sims 2" on new players, what did you learn about them from the way they played the game? Does it reveal child anarchists and punk-rock grannies?


Wright: Definitely, you can look at somebody's house and get a good sense of their personality. It's especially fun when you talk to 10-year-olds who complain that their Sims never get to bed on time even though they have work in the morning, and they stay up all night eating candy. Hearing a 10-year-old become the parent, there's something deeply ironic about that.

AP: How is it different when adults play?

Wright: What a lot of people do right off the bat is they'll put themselves, their family, their house and their neighbors in the game. I talk to a lot of teenage girls who do that, they put their boyfriends in the game and then tell their boyfriend what happened. I don't think they expect the game to predict (their futures) but they enjoy telling their boyfriend what happened. "Oh, you were flirting with so and so in the game."

AP: When you play, are you a kind god or a cruel god?

Wright: I'm generally both. Mainly I like to test all the different boundaries. Sometimes I get to the point where I feel guilty in the game. That's a really great find.

AP: Would you like to confess now what you've done to feel guilty?

Wright: I've done the old, "How many ways can I torture my Sims?" It's easy with kids now, because you can just screw up their childhood and they end up as a really screwed-up dysfunctional adult. That always presses the guilt button.

AP: But the Sims exist in an overall safe world. There's no realistic violence ... The fights are just clouds of dust with limbs punching and kicking, like a cartoon.

Wright: We wanted it to have the feeling that it was a bright and shiny toy. It's not "The Sopranos." So, for instance, babies in the game won't die. If you ever neglect your baby, eventually the social worker will come and take the baby away, but the baby won't die. Older Sims can die.

AP: Do you see much irony in the fact that people are neglecting real life to play a game about virtual real life?

Wright: There's a kind of epiphany that a lot of players go through, when in the game, you can buy a computer for your Sim, and on the computer you can have your Sim actually play little games. A lot of players get to the point where it's 2 in the morning for the Sim and the Sim is up playing computer games, and the player is trying to get him to stop playing because the Sim has to get up in the morning. Then they step back and realize it's actually 2 in the morning and that they actually need to go to work. It's almost a creepy model of the real world.

AP: What happens then?

Wright: A lot of players stop playing the game at that point. Not a lot of them, but I've heard certain ones say, "As soon as I realized I was taking better care of the Sim than I was of myself, I stopped playing the game."

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