‘SimCity’ is not a model of reality. It’s a libertarian toy land

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Different SimCity Players, SimHealth Players could tinker with the underlying model and adjust hundreds of parameters. Yet altering the parameters was not the same as altering the model, and the game had a clear ideological bias. SimCityThere was really no win situation. But SimHealth‘s values ​​were hard to ignore. Whenever a Canadian-style single-payer socialized medicine plan came on screen, the game played like a mournful funeral procession. As Keith Schlesinger wrote in a review Computer Gaming WorldThere was a simple way to win: “All you have to do is adopt an extreme libertarian ideology, eliminate all federal health care (including Medicare!), and cut other government services by $100-$300 billion a year.” Unfortunately, this can hardly be called a health policy victory, since it deprived virtual citizens of health coverage altogether. Even private insurance companies went bankrupt in the first few months. The game flopped, and even 30 years later, healthcare remains a thorny issue in American politics.

Whereas SimRefinery gave players a new perspective on a complex, albeit defined, process, the US health care industry being so complicated that SimHealth This further complicated the matter. Paul Starr, a health care policy adviser to the Clinton administration, dismissed the game entirely.SimHealth It contains so much misinformation that no one can understand the competing proposals and policies, much less evaluate them programmatically.” He worried that people would misinterpret the game as a valid description of reality. He was disappointed that his daughter, an avid player, accepted the game’s libertarian-leaning strategies because “that’s just the way the game works.”

All simulations are ultimately tied to the assumptions of their creators: they are self-contained universes run according to a pre-programmed logic. They do not necessarily reflect anything fundamental about the world as we would like it to be. When SimCity As players occasionally stumble into a state of stable equilibrium—the closest thing to “winning” in this non-game—they uncover the biases hidden in Forrester’s equations. For example, an artist named Vincent Ocasla created a city with a stable population of 6 million. The only problem? It was a libertarian nightmare world. It had no public services—no schools, hospitals, parks, or fire stations. His dystopia had nothing but citizens and a concentrated police force to populate an endless plain of gloomy city blocks, which were copied over and over again.

But games can still be useful for reimagining society. In his book The Rise of EverythingAnthropologist David Graeber and archaeologist David Wengrow suggest that playful experimentation was crucial to creating the highly creative social structures evident throughout human history. The arena of ritual play, they write, “served as a site of social experimentation—even, in some ways, as an encyclopedia of social possibilities.” Centuries ago, European philosophers depicted people as pawns in chess-like games played by gods whose decisions were as esoteric as the throw of dice. Each person had a predetermined role and rules to follow. The advent of probability theory and, later, decision theory and game theory—once called fate—transformed people from pawns into players.

Although these thinking tools have theoretically granted us greater agency, they have also been used to enslave us. Games are increasingly becoming the basis of the architecture of our economic, technological, and social systems. Participants from every corner of the internet roam invisible marketplaces designed to efficiently extract money, attention, and information from users. Our reputations are scored with social media metrics, dating app recommendations, buyer and seller ratings. The age-old metaphor of viewing life as a game makes its way into reality. SimCity It’s the perfect game for the modern age as players become architects controlling the world of their choice. It’s also a reminder that the illusion of control isn’t the same as the real thing.

From Playing with reality: how games have shaped our worldBy Kelly Clancy, published by Riverhead, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2024 by Kelly Clancy.


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