Video game designer Will Wright changed the entire landscape of gaming with his hit game Sim City, and follow up The Sims and Spore. It’s clear he looks at the world with a unique point of view and that is reflected in his song choices – whether contemplating how robots reflect humanity, his favorite Bond theme song or the most beautiful concept album ever made. Wright is currently at the helm of a think tank for the future of games, toys and entertainment called the Stupid Fun Club.
For More: http://stupidfunclub.com
1. “Imagine” – John Lennon
2. “Thick as a Brick” -- Jethro Tull
3. “You Only Live Twice” – Nancy Sinatra
4. “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” – The Flaming Lips
5. “Telegraph Road” - Dire Straits
Eric J Lawrence: Hi, I’m Eric J. Lawrence, and I am here with legendary video game designer and Sims creator Will Wright. Today we’re going to play some excerpts of some songs he’s selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. Will, thanks for joining us.
Will Wright: Thank you Eric. Thanks for having me.
EL: What’s the first track you got for us?
WW: The first one is “Imagine” by John Lennon. You know, in some sense, I think it captured the whole gestalt of the late sixties, kind of the hippie, counter-culture movement, but also kind of revisiting all of these basic assumptions about the way we view the world, you know, that materialistic possessions, religion, just all these things we hold near and dear, he was kind of stepping back and saying, can you imagine a world without this stuff?
Where the most basic thing is that we get along, we’re not fighting over these things that, when you step back, they seem pretty arbitrary actually. I think it’s just one of the most eloquent statements of the sentiment that’s ever been put to music or pen.
Song: “Imagine” – John Lennon
WW: When you hear it, obviously it’s John Lennon signing the song, but it doesn’t really seem like a typical Beatles song, it’s almost this pure vision. Yet the style and everything makes it kind of stand out on its own, you don’t even think of any other songs that are in the same neighborhood as this song.
EL: That was “Imagine,” as selected by our guest Will Wright. What’s the next song you got for us?
WW: The next one, you can call it a song, it’s “Thick as a Brick” by Jethro Tull.
In fact it was one of his almost parody, conceptual albums that were popular in the mid-seventies. And really this song is a 45 minute song, it was the entire album, you know, the whole Thick as a Brick. But it’s a wonderfully flowing melody that just goes through all this different musical territory, from very intense and discordant to very harmonious and melodic and peaceful.
And wrapped inside of this is this poem that becomes the lyrics for the whole thing, talking about the angst of growing up and all these issues, some of them kind of culturally English but, yet, transcendent in terms of moral dilemmas and struggles that this person is kind of going through in their adolescence.
Song: “Thick as a Brick” -- Jethro Tull
WW: I think of this album as a tour through this intricate little world that has all these different moods and paces and sentiments and associations and visualizations. So for me, it’s almost like getting on a 45-minute ride that takes you through this emotional landscape. And even though I think he kind of intended it as a parody, it’s still, I think, one of the most beautiful conceptual albums ever made.
EL: That was an excerpt from “Thick as a Brick” from Jethro Tull, selected by our guest. Will, what’s the next song you got for us?
WW: The next one’s going to be a bit unusual. It’s “You Only Live Twice” by Nancy Sinatra, which was the theme song for a James Bond movie of the same name. It’s a song that has resonated with me at different points in my life.
I was always a big James Bond fan, and in fact that was my favorite James Bond movie. This is the one that was set in Japan and involved rocket ships, and it had the coolest evil lair of any James Bond movie, this hollowed out mountain that they launch their rocket ships from.
And it also has a lot of weird cultural things. I’ve always been fascinated with Japanese culture, and there was kind of this Western view of Japanese culture that, in some senses, kind of reflected in this song very subtly. But in a totally different way, my life kind of went through a major turn many years ago where I got divorced and got remarried, and the lyrics of the song kind of talk about living a second life. So this song has so many different subtle associations with me and so many different dimensions, it’s almost hard to describe.
Song: “You Only Live Twice” – Nancy Sinatra
WW: One of the other associations is that people that go into these online worlds, online games, whatever, in some sense this is what they’re doing, is they’re creating another life, crafting it from scratch, and they have the opportunity to be whatever they want, whomever they want. And I think that that’s something that has always had this kind of ineffable attraction to us, and that’s kind of one of the sentiments of this song is that there’s this dream life that we all kind of have in our heads, that different people can realize to different degrees. If you realize it a little bit too much, it’s kind of going over the edge, and you become insane, but there’s almost this balance we strike, I think, between our real life and our dream life.
EL: That was “You Only Live Twice” from Nancy Sinatra, as selected by our guest Will Wright. What’s the next song you got for us?
WW: The next one is “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” by Flaming Lips. Now, I’ve always really loved robots because, in some sense, they’re an alternate representation of humanity. You know, of course in popular fiction, it’s always the robots are going to rise up against us and we’ll have this kind of Terminator-type scenario play out. But I think, in some sense, that when we react to robots that we’re kind of reacting to ourselves. When we build robots, we’re trying to instantiate various aspects of humanity, whether it’s the ability to pick up a cup or the ability to have a conversation, we’re really deconstructing ourselves as we talk about robots. And there’s something wonderfully playful about this song, that, you know, it’s just kind of a whacky, offbeat song. And for me, it’s the playfulness of it, I think it really kind of captures my imagination.
Song: “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” – The Flaming Lips
EL: That was “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” from The Flaming Lips, as selected by our guest Will Wright. So what’s your last song you got for us Will?
WW: “Telegraph Road” by Dire Straits. I’ve always loved Dire Straits and, in fact, in my mind, this was like the unofficial theme song for SimCity.
I actually ended up listening to this song a lot while I was working on SimCity, and it really kind of describes the growth of this town -- how initially it’s just some little grassy crossroads where the travelers would walk by and stop at a stream, eventually someone builds a cabin there, and from that point on it just kind of builds and builds and builds until at some point, people are sitting in traffic on the freeway listening to the radio.
Song: “Telegraph Road” - Dire Straits
It’s interesting because it kind of puts something that we take for granted - the environments that we live in - in this time based context, you know, that if you could just be wherever you are, driving home from work in your city and stop and think, ‘what was this city, what was this place like 200 years ago?’ And it was probably grassy fields, and there might have been a few cabins around, and it really was not that long time ago, and there was a very clear story as to why it grew up and how it built, and yet, we’ve utterly transformed the environment in these places. And if we could only kind of look back in time a few hundred years, we would understand what an incredible impact we’ve had in such a short period of time. So that’s one of the associations. It’s also a very nice melody, and I love the way that it builds over time.
EL: Talking about music and the way it develops, the architecture of a song, have you ever made that kind of a connection between game design and songwriting?
WW: Yeah, I think almost any entertainment experience is taking you through something of an emotional journey. Games it tends to be a more user driven emotional journey, where the user is at the controls and they can kind of steers it in different directions, music, almost more than anything else, feels like this collaboration between the listener and the musician. A song is something that different people will make different associations with it. And well written music, especially well written lyrics, are things that you can kind of map into your own life and, so, in some sense it becomes a very unique song to every person that hears it, because everybody’s going to make different associations with it, it’s going to mean something slightly different.
EL: That was “Telegraph Road” from Dire Straits, as selected by our guest Will Wright. Well Will, I want to thank you so much for joining us here on KCRW.com.
WW: Oh, my pleasure, thanks for having me.
EL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online, go to KCRW.com/guestdjproject.