Gaming Imitates Life
If you are close to my age — and something of a nerd — you probably played a lot of SimCity growing up. The game simulated running a city with the goal of maximizing its population, and it was fun up until you hit a population plateau — after which it became even more fun, because you could destroy the city that so frustrated your dreams with tornadoes, earthquakes, and Godzilla attacks. Well, a young gamer in the Philippines named Vincent Ocasla “beat” SimCity 3000 (i.e., no city design could ever reach a higher population) with a city he calls Magnasanti. For Ocasla, though, Magnasanti has implications far beyond the game:
I could probably have done something similar – depicting the awesome regimentation and brutality of our society – with a series of paintings on a canvas, or through hideous architectural models. But it wouldn’t be the same as doing it in the game, for the reason that I wanted to magnify the unbelievably sick ambitions of egotistical political dictators, ruling elites and downright insane architects, urban planners and social engineers.
[…] Technically, no one is leaving or coming into the city. Population growth is stagnant. Sims don’t need to travel long distances, because their workplace is just within walking distance. In fact they do not even need to leave their own block. Wherever they go it’s like going to the same place.
The game, of course, is not exactly like real life. Even if we turned over our lives completely to some all-powerful — even benevolent — central planner, he would have insufficient information to properly run a city. The Sims are pure algorithms that operate by observable, static rules, but actual people’s preferences are constantly in flux and often ineffable until the actual moment of choice.
Nevertheless, it’s a stark reminder that city planners often forget that cities do not have overarching goals like maximizing population or density. The goals of a city are as diverse as the individuals that people it, and to the extent that city planning is necessary, it should facilitate people’s individual goals, not impose a preconceived notion of how urban life should be structured.
If you are interested to see the inner workings of Magnasanti, see the video here.