First released in 1989, the computer game SimCity is “arguably the single most influential work of urban-design theory ever created,” according to this gushy 2006 New Yorker piece. The game has gone through many iterations over the years, but the latest — released last week — appears to be the most beloved by wonks and also the most loathed by players.
New SimCity has been plagued by so many epic fails since its launch last week (DRM problems, corporate lies, no freaking undo feature) that gaming site Kotaku created a special “disaster watch” section for it and Amazon stopped selling it entirely. Yet the game has “city wonks downright giddy,” according to Fast Co.Exist, which set up an urbanist tournament to find out who could build the best pretend city.
Nearly every team planned to create a city independent of finite energy resources and the help of other cities. … Every city was solely focused on economic autonomy. There was no talk of creating mutually beneficial partnerships. In fact, teams merely saw one another as potential buyers of their wealth of goods and services. The easiest political philosophy is, apparently, Western European mercantilism.
“I would’ve expected everyone to come together and cooperate,” [said SimCity game designer Stone Librande].
While the planners didn’t exactly go in for the whole sharing economy thing, they did focus on creating sustainable cities. But Librande, who built the new SimCity “over the past three and a half years with Netflix documentaries on urbanism as his only academic resource,” insists that sustainability was not his focus with the game. From Popular Science:
The creators of the legendary urban planning series SimCity told PopSci they never intended for their game to have any political leanings or secret messages, but we could sense their environmental beliefs a mile away. From evil factory owners to not-so-subtle pokes at the food industry, developer Maxis has crafted a relatively heavy-handed take on how the world is and how it ought to be.
By “heavy-handed,” Popular Science means that if you build a coal-fired power plant in your fake city, you end up clouded in pollution. The PopSci folks also appear to be offended by the factory named “Baby Formula and Lead Paint.” Sounds pretty accurate to me! Maybe they should check out those more conservative fantasy urbanist communes? Oh wait, they’re sustainable too.
Looking for an urbanist computer game that actually works and has a less-than-secret green agenda? Check out Perma Cities, where you can shut down the banks, turn parking lots into pedestrian squares, and take bike-lane revenge on the roads. The game is set to launch with full features later this year.