The 21st Century Urbanism of SimCity 2013

Twenty-three years have gone by since the release of the first edition of SimCity, the city-building simulation game that placed unfathomable power at the fingertips of children young and old. Those days, our collective visual culture was still somewhat pure, and we were willing to believe that neon green 8-bit squares could be grass, while axonometric geometries stood for entire socioeconomic institutions. The consequences of a player’s godlike decisions were delivered in unfeeling lines of text and distorted charts and graphs: a tornado has been reported, an explosion detected (meanwhile, mom is screaming for you to come to the dinner table). Those were simpler times.

The SimCity of today is an entirely different city, one filled with the same contemporary anxieties that have had Americans loudly sighing and massaging their temples after watching an Obama-Romney debate.¬†As Ariel Schwartz reported for Fast Company, the newest edition of SimCity (to be released in February 2013) presents a tilt-shift, multi-player world, where no one player can Robert Moses his way through the game without negotiating with neighboring cities and deliberating the costs of clean energy and education. The 2013 SimCity is a city with solar, wind, oil, and nuclear energy options,¬†variable models of socialized healthcare, and interlocking networks of mass transit. Decisions must appease a mixed constituency of upper-, middle-, and lower-class Sims, a society with variegated discontents. And, true to the game’s history of absurdist interludes, the latest version will have its handful of terrorizing monsters, asteroid showers, and other fanciful freak accidents.

A much more lushly illustrated world is at our fingertips today, but also one fraught with a new bevy of problems. “When the world pushes back,” the trailer for the game asks while flashing clips of protesting citizens, sweeping brown-outs, and panning views of polluted dystopias, “how will you respond?”

- Kelly Chan