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June 8, 2009

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SimCity... Actually a Terrible Simulation

The blog Human Transit outlines the ways in which the original SimCity — the one I spent the most time playing — codified a now-outmoded planning orthodoxy:

In short, Sim City could be hailed as a triumph of reactionary brainwashing — in that it instilled in a generation of 1990s teen geeks all the worst assumptions of 1960s city planning.

But, let’s not not pick on a decades-old video game. Let’s imagine a new Sim-something instead — one that codifies the values we thing are important today, in 2009.

How about SimRegion? It would be all about region-wide transportation infrastructure, water management, food production (big emphasis on that), migration, and more. Hmm. That sounds educational. And boring.

Maybe SimSocialNetwork. Forget geography. This one’s all about tending an online garden of weak ties and attention-feeds. (I’m not being sarcastic. I think, abstracted in the right way, this could actually be fun and instructive.)

Or how about some kind of bifurcated simulation: SimHealthCareSystemAndIndividual. One side’s macro, the other’s micro. You play both, and see how decisions on one side affect the other. I like the sound of that, actually. The trick with any social simulation is that, inevitably, the way you design it says a lot about how you view the world. So the micro/macro sim would play up that tension; the models might even be designed to sort of “fight” each other. SimBourgeoisAndProletariat.

(Via Noah Brier.)

Posted June 8, 2009 at 4:29 | Comments (6) | Permasnark
File under: Snarkonomics, Snarkpolicy, Society/Culture, Video Games


It's not a totally irrelevant criticism, especially in light of more recent developments--see Slate.

How about SimRegion? It would be all about region-wide transportation infrastructure, water management, food production (big emphasis on that), migration, and more. Hmm. That sounds educational. And boring.

What?! No, it could be really fun! I mean, if people can spend hours on Catan and Puerto Rico, I'm sure a well-implemented version of this would be great. Don't give up so easily---or plant the zeitgeist seeds of dismissal. This right here, after all, is the problem we need to solve. Might as well turn it into a game.

I do like your bifurcated simulation game though. It reminds me of some economics/public policy curriculum games I was trying to combine with each other. The idea was to have the students spend a little bit of time getting to know and playing a silly game involving their "family,"--a caste of lovable characters that incidentally represented some income/class/needs demographic, probably pretty different (and much more vulnerable) than their real family. Then they stepped back and became anonymous citizens again, voting for some toy economic and policy decisions. Then they had to go visit the ensuing fate upon their family---maim the baby to represent the increase in infant mortality, take away the house to represent foreclosures, etc.. It was a little more involved than the caricature I'm drawing, but in the very small case I got to implement it, it worked kind of nicely.

I got the idea from our safety demo's---you have the kids decorate and bond with a wig mannequin before doing awful awful things to her with simple chemicals. They find it very traumatic and memorable.

funny, one of my random jobs senior year was on this sim-economy game called capitalism. my job was to tailor it as a management tool for john deere.

perhaps we need sim-corporate governance? with some sort of ethics instruction built in?

Why not keep up the two-sided element of SimRegion, by making it the backbone to the Sims? You zone a region, create a traffic pattern,and then you've got to find a job and a place to live and feed and clothe yourself.

I say don't give up on SimCity. Even though my Columbia Tomorrow students totally made fun of it in their video on zoning (I believe the sentence goes "Your swanky little mixed-use development with its first-floor vintage clothing shops and coffee houses, second-floor office space, and penthouse loft apartments absolutely don't fit in our conventional, Leave-it-to-Beaver-era, SimCity zoning world"). I had at least a two-day spell where I would have killed for an embeddable Flash version of SimCity, to illustrate exactly the limitations of the urban planning philosophy that guided Columbia's development in 1964. (I learned from one of Columbia's planning and zoning commissioners that there's even a name for this philosophy -- Euclidean zoning.)

At the same time, I was struck anew by how remarkable it is that Will Wright got America to enjoy a game about urban planning. And I actually think if you updated the game to give players the potential to try form-based zoning and experiment with crazy financing mechanisms, you could make SimCity even more fun! (I might be wrong here.)

I think taking a Spore approach to traverse the boundaries between The Sims, SimCity and SimRegion could be fun. (Given your description, isn't The Sims basically the beginnings of SimSocialNetwork?)

I *love* the humanization/dehumanization angle, Saheli. That seems deeply applicable to public policy, journalism -- all sorts of things. When is the micro view important? When is the macro view important? How do you reconcile them? Make a game about that.

And Matt, wow -- form-based zoning. Super-interesting. More obscure urban planning links pls.

I am a simple man, and easy to please.

All I want is a highly realistic and nuanced first-person game with a real-estate developer protagonist, that is as fun as Grand Theft Auto but with all of the moral complexity of BioShock.


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