Sim City 5: A classic grows up

Like many Gen Y-ers, my youth before the arrival of the 56K modem was spent on watching endless hours of Road Rules, catering to every physiological need of a tamagotchi that lived within the confines of a 1×1″ pixelated screen, and of course, fulfilling my mayoral duties in SimCity 2000. Little did I know that one day my visions for an economically viable and livable city for the virtual SimCitizens would be put to practical use, as I start my career in urban planning.

Stephen Colbert Urban Planning quoteOften regarded as a planner’s playground, SimCity ranks as one of the most influential and best-selling computer games in history. The task is simple: the player, who acts as mayor, must be the master planner of a city; manage its municipal services; maintain the infrastructure; and balance the budget to achieve the ultimate goal of keeping its citizens happy and healthy.

Much like real-world cities, the resilience of these metropolises is tested at the mercy of random disasters. Unlike a real city, past iterations of the game had only superficial representation of the city’s daily activities, which the new SimCity 5 has greatly improved upon. Now, each and every Sim leads a discrete life, observable at the unit level by simply zooming in, while all the rest of the hustle and bustle – traffic, sewage, pollution, crime, etc., can be tracked in real-time at a push of a button.

The level of detail SimCity 5 has managed to accomplish is as close as it gets to real life: every item on the screen – a trip a vehicle makes, a Sim walking on the sidewalk – has purpose and impact. In fact, mayors will find that their constituents have opinions about their surroundings, and not afraid to express them.

SimCity 5 also introduces the concept of shared municipal services by opening it up to a multiplayer format—no strange concept to MAPC. Our regionalization programs have shown great successes in helping municipalities increase efficiency and decrease expenses through collective purchasing of emergency, police, and fire department vehicles and equipment, as well as collaborative clean energy programs.

However, if Jane Jacobs had the chance to play mayor in SimCity 5 today, she might not be pleased by some of its new features: the game is car-oriented, with subway systems and bike lanes eliminated; density is determined by the type of road built; and despite the urban-centric settings, mixed-use developments are nowhere in sight. As one blogger pointed out, the game “simulates 1950’s suburbia in 2013.”

Like our world, no SimCity is perfect, and no one will ever “beat” the game by reaching a plateau of stability. SimCities are crushed overnight by terrible earthquakes or Godzilla attacks, and must learn to build again; much like in our real city, where we continually find the need to adapt to new challenges, like stronger storms and rising seas.

And so the planners play on.

–Christine Madore, MAPC’s Administrative Assistant and future Urban Planner