Back in 1983, during the information processing Cretaceous Period, Maxis developed a new genre of educational, yet entertaining computer games. The latest version will be released next year.
SimCity allows players to build virtual cities by zoning land, adding buildings to enhance the needs and desires of Sim-citizens, adjusting tax rates, building power and transportation networks, and making other municipal decisions. Players don’t win or lose. They employ their knowledge of city life and urban planning to determine whether their SimCities thrive – or become uninhabitable urban deserts.
Sim-citizens are essentially helpless. They don’t populate your city unless you, the benevolent dictator or mayor, give them what they need and want. You can zone land residential, but citizens cannot live there unless you create commercial land nearby, so that a supermarket can be built. They can’t get to the supermarket until you build a road. Now they are happy but have nowhere to work. So you zone more commercial land and create jobs, by establishing businesses, highways and rail lines. To keep them happy, you, the all-seeing, all-knowing mayor, build stadiums and parks. And on and on it goes.
The beauty of SimCity is threefold. First, players get to be overseers of growing virtual communities, calling the shots and having the citizenry respond to their decisions. They really can tell their Sim-citizens, “If you are successful, it’s because I invested in roads and bridges, and created this Sim-system that allowed you to thrive. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. I made it happen!”
Second, the lives of every Sim-citizen are completely dependent on the actions of the players/mayors, who succeed only if they are intelligent, thoughtful and responsible. However, no matter what happens, the virtual citizenry can’t assemble, protest or vote them out of office.
Third, even if players make monumental mistakes, create a fetid urban cesspool, or even kill off their virtual populations, they just start over, without accountability or penalty. After all, it’s only a game.
The problem with SimCity game theory is likewise threefold.
First, it has intruded into our real world. Far too many politicians, planners, bureaucrats and judges see themselves as intellectually gifted rulers, who know what’s best for us citizens. They treat communities, businesses, families and people like let’s-pretend virtual realities in a SimCity, SimState or SimNation – helpless, ill-prepared to make our own decisions, and in need of constant, pervasive “guidance.”
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