A single ant’s life may not have meant much to the overall colony, but it still had a modicum of individuality. An individual ant might zig when the others zagged, or veer off to the left where all the others went right. The player got the sense that ants’ real intelligence emerged from the combined behavior of the colony, yet each ant simultaneously had a mind of its own.
While I spent the next few years messing with digital ants, Will Wright continued to think about what else he could do now that he had discovered this new scale. If people messed around with ants and kept ant farms because, on a certain level, it was easy to see ourselves in them, why not make a digital “people farm”? This, of course, led to the ant-farm-by-way-of-doll-house know as The Sims, the best-selling PC game of all time.
Through these games, Wright struck upon something essential in humanity. Messing with ants is the original “god game.” Software simulations are both an extension and a refinement of this behavior. They let us focus our frustrations and desires onto something smaller than ourselves, something over which we can feel supremely powerful. We can single out a few digital people and decide if we want to make their day heaven or hell. Or we can simply watch them go about their tasks, gently nudging them along, content in the knowledge that we have the power to tear it all down at any moment. For beings that often feel powerless in the face of a vast, harsh universe, this is extremely cathartic. And after we’ve had our fun playing god, it becomes just a little easier for all us workers to get up the next day, march back to the office and try to not think about whether the magnifying glass could be aimed at us.
I’d be lying if I said I didn’t mess with ants when I was a kid. I never did get a chance to burn them with a magnifying glass but I did flood the crap out of them. Not to mention all of the crazy things I did to the ant hills (one in which I made a huge mistake and became covered in fireants – ouch!). However, I never was able to enjoy messing with the digital ants of SimAnt. If you have some spare time, visit the following article to get to know the original god game that Will Wright created.