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Toy Game

Entry updated 20 December 2011. Tagged: Game, Theme.

Term used by this encyclopedia to describe a form of Videogame in which, unlike most Games, the player is given no explicit goals to achieve. Such games are typically simulations of a complex technological or sociological system which can be experimented with in the manner of a Toy; the US designer Will Wright has described his own contributions to the form as "software toys". The earliest Toy Games modelled vehicles such as aircraft, as in Flight Simulator (1979 subLOGIC, AppleII; 1980 TRS80) designed by Bruce Artwick. This variant remains moderately popular today, and is represented in sf by Spaceship simulations including Space Travel (1969 Mainframe) designed by Ken Thompson – a game credited with spurring the initial development of the UNIX computer operating system – Microsoft Space Simulator (1994) and the freely available UK game Orbiter (2000 Schweiger InterActive, Win) designed by Martin Schweiger. A separate line of development is primarily associated with Wright, who has created a number of games which model Biological, Economic and Sociological systems, allowing their players to manipulate the scenario as they wish while observing events from an overhead view. The first of these was Sim City (1989 Maxis, Amiga, Amstrad, C64, DOS, Mac; 1990 AtariST, Spectrum; 1991 SNES; 1992 Win; 2006 Wii), a game partly inspired by Stanisław Lem's "The Seventh Sally, or How Trurl's Own Perfection Led to No Good" (in Cyberiada, coll 1965 Poland), a short story in which the artificial citizens of an urban simulation rebel against their tyrannical owner. The game presents a model of a modern industrial city in which the player, in the role of mayor, can set taxes, construct buildings, react to natural disasters and otherwise experiment with the inhabitants' lives.

Precursors to Sim City are rare, but include the "modern life simulator" Alter Ego (1986 Activision, AppleII, C64, DOS; 2001 Web; 2009 Android, iOS) designed by Peter Favaro and Little Computer People (1985 Activision, Amstrad, AppleII, C64; 1986 AtariST; 1987 PC88, PC98, Spectrum; 1988 Amiga) designed by David Crane, in which the player keeps human pets. Later games designed by Wright include the science-fictional Simearth (1990) and The Sims (2000 Maxis, Mac, Win; 2003 GC, Lin, PS2, XBox). The Sims is a kind of digital dollhouse or human Zoo in which the player employs effectively supernatural powers to manage their own private soap opera; it is remarkably effective at creating the appearance of real human interactions among the virtual people who inhabit it. Such games are less works of science fiction than they are embodiments of a common sf trope, that of the artificial world which becomes a toy for its creator, of which the canonical example is perhaps the neoteric civilization of Theodore Sturgeon's short story "Microcosmic God" (April 1941 Astounding). A much later story inspired by the toy-game concept is Ted Chiang's The Lifecycle of Software Objects (2010). [NT]

see also: Pocket Universe.

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