Virtual me, writing a virutal novel: art recreates nature recreating art...
In 2008 EA Games announced that it had sold 100 million copies of the Sims, making it the most popular computer game ever created. For those of you unfamiliar with the phenomoenon, The Sims (and its predacessors Sims 2 and Sims 3) is a game in which you create virtual people and their dwelllings in neighbourhoods and then guide them in interacting throughout their long lives. They can do everything that real people can do, even procreate (within the bounds of a PG 13 environment).
It has well and truly surpassed the second most popular game ever, Myst. In this game you find yourself on a beautiful but deserted island, (produced with heart arresting beauty reminiscent of Avatar) filled with puzzles and clues. Solving them is the only way to get away. There are very few instructions - you start the game knowing virtually nothing, and progress through logic and guesswork.
Why did the Sims so spectacularly beat Myst?
Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong was asked what makes a good computer game. Part of his response was "...the game allows the player to experience something they’ve never felt before, whether it’s some kind of new experience in the game or new emotion."
I disagree. If that were the case, Myst would have been a sure winner for first place. To me, the answer lies in the Sims' ability to allow the player complete creativity to control the environment, the protagonists and their relationships. There is almost no circumscription, no end and no winning. It can be as true to life as you like (as an exercise, I've recreated our real house - it actually looks scarily real), or as fantastical.
The game is also successful (to my mind) because it allows for great emotional identification with the subject of the game. There's enough flexibility in the avatar creator that you can make yourself - in that case the emotional identification is complete. Interstingly, Maxis attributes one of the game's great strengths to capturing the female audience, typically not devotees of the genre.
Borrowing from Wikipedia, "creativity is a mental and social process involving the discovery of new ideas or concepts, or new associations of the creative mind between existing ideas or concepts." The key is that it's new. We love to do that, to build something new, and we reward opportunities for doing that with our loyalty. Those who can tap into that, and better still create an emotional connection, have had enormous success in their endeavours.