Ask a random person in the street about their favorite hobbies, and it’s unlikely that they’ll say “urban planning and traffic management” – yet when video games began to take off in the late 1980s city-building was one of the first breakout hits, in the form of Maxis’ SimCity series. The huge success of the “Sim” series in general drove conversations about the value of simulation, as part of the general 1990s optimism about virtual worlds being the future. Sim games became the subject of academic critiques of their philosophy of the world, while city builders became a lot more than a game: in 2002, SimCity 3000 was used as a semi-serious test for mayoral candidates in Warsaw.
After a slump caused by a difficult transition to 3D graphics, city builders are back in vogue. Following what is widely considered as a disappointing SimCity reboot in 2013, Finland’s Colossal Order recently released Cities: Skylines to critical and financial success. But simulations require assumptions; they are, after all, written by people who have their own conscious and unconscious views on how and why cities work. The limitations around designing a video game – the fact that each asset must be modeled and textured, and that each transport option requires a huge amount of work to simulate – mean that Cities: Skylines is as stripped down and streamlined an articulation of urban philosophy as Le Corbusier’s Ville Radieuse or the New Urbanists’ models, and just as interesting. We investigate 10 things this game tells us about 21st century urbanism, after the break.
Remember spending hours of your fleeting youth in front of the computer screen, building lively and complex towns with vibrant neighborhoods, schools, shopping centers, industry, power plants.. only to have them all destroyed by an unforeseen asteroid or UFO?
That’s right - SimCity is back, full force, with its latest version debuting just last Tuesday. Although the game series has been with us since 1989, it’s certainly not getting any less exciting or challenging; in fact, it has transitioned from a mere childrens’ computer game to an educational simulation that anyone at any age can learn from. The new SimCity is subtly teaching its players the pros and cons of serious, real-life issues such as renewable energy, preservation of natural resources and cooperation between neighboring cities – all within an entertaining virtual interface whose fate rests at your fingertips.
Read more about the new game and what it has to teach us about city planning.
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.
Find out how SimCity makes Urban Planning and Sustainable Design fun, after the break…