Since it launched 23 years ago (to the day, oddly enough), SimCity has been inspiring would-be urban planners to design, build (and, if the mood so calls for it, blow up) the cities of their dreams. The lasest edition of the game, coming out in February, is no exception – however, it does have a bit of a twist.
In the words of Fast Company reviewer Ariel Schwartz, the newest version ”retains most of the game’s previous elements (including its addictive quality) while bringing a whole new level of complexity to the tilt-shift inspired world. You might not even notice how Maxis is subtly teaching you about the pros and cons of renewable energy, preserving natural resources, and cooperating with neighboring cities. But it is.”
With over 180 million copies of Sim games sold worldwide, and players spanning ages, nationalities, and genders, SimCity could be a powerful way (and by far the funnest) to impart to the average citizen the simple fact that Urban Planners have known for years: Sustainable Design is the future.
One of the central quandaries of this SimCity is how you’ll acquire your energy: go for solar, and give up lots of valuable land; go for nuclear, and deal with snooty, complaining Sims; go for coal, and you’ll see things get dirty. Fast.
Not only are spillover effects like traffic and pollution more visible, but they’re also more “globally” relevant; in this multi-player version of SimCity every environmental decision you make affects not just your own town, but, potentially, those around you. If your power plant leaks pollution into drinking water, say, that can make Sims both near and far very sick.
And while pollution may be the most obvious consequences of poor resource management, there are less visceral ones as well. As one of the software engineers at Maxis, Dan Moskowitz, wrote: ”overdependence may imperil those that don’t eventually diversify their energy supply. If you’ve built up an entire city on the economic basis of extracting a certain resource, when that resource runs out your economy will collapse.”
However, the truly fascinating thing about the new SimCity is that sustainable design essentially becomes the only feasible way to build a healthy, prosperous city. In a recent online forum, the creative director of SimCity, Ocean Quigley, noted: “I don’t want to enforce sustainable design principles in the game — I want them to emerge as natural consequences of your interaction with the simulation. If you don’t deal with your sewage, with traffic congestion, with walkability and transit, with ground and air pollution — your city will reflect that!”
Indeed, the game’s developers have made sure that public transportation, bike-only streets and energy-efficient building codes will be viable options for players. And while players can of course choose to ignore all such options and create a good old-fashioned, car-ridden, contaminated, and power-guzzling city to call their own, SimCity 2013 nevertheless offers a fascinating peek into the real-life decisions and consequences that come with urban design.