Saturday, September 22, 2012
If SimCity Was Real
The Lion City from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.
The tilt-shift photography gives everything the Matchbox car vibe, of course, but that's not it. Singapore is SimCity for real people.
Singapore is a country; a sort-of city state, like Venice in the Middle Ages. It was a British protectorate for a good long while, and after that it used to be part of Malaysia, but that only lasted a couple of years. By any measure of anything, it's gone on a tear for its entire history.
My children like playing building games. They can be as ham-fisted as Minecraft, or as sophisticated as Age of Empires. They design mud huts and rollercoasters and everything in between, rendered in pixels. I liked that the programs have a heavy budgeting aspect to them. Even Doom is sort of a budgeting game. You can't run out of shotgun shells before you run out of imps.
SimCity was always the king of all the planning games. It was a pretty good representation of life, too; you couldn't force people move to the city you were laying out, you had to coax them there by setting up a situation that made the place attractive in the first place. They'd bug out without hesitation over taxes or droughts or whatever, too, just like real people. The buildings in the game had a nice visual vibe to them as well -- coherent but variegated. Real cities can only achieve that vibe by having all the buildings burn to the ground at the same time, and then being rebuilt by Victorians. And SimCity had a pleasant sense of humor about itself, which is more than one can say about Detroit.
There is an element of real life that most building and budgeting games can't, or won't simulate: people are very unpredictable. People act crazy. Sometimes people are entirely put-upon by their surroundings, and stick with it and flourish anyway; others live in a cossetted wonderland and pee in the corners. People are strange. They're sometimes strange and wonderful, it's true; but the wonderful part doesn't keep regular hours, and the strange part works overtime.
So you look at Singapore, and it certainly looks strange and wonderful. If you read about who lives there, and how they behave, and how they're housed, and how they are governed, and what they do for a living, and how they manage it with nothing but an equatorial mudhole for ground zero, you realize that every nostrum for the behavior of humans you've been told is essential for a successful civilization is contradicted there -- probably because there are competing visions of how the world works, and neither one works on its own while the other vision hangs off the back of the applecart and drags its heels. Singapore looks like you can just move the sliders back and forth and the humans and the buildings shift like numbers in a ledger. It's wonderful and a little unnerving. It doesn't seem real.
By the way, I have a nine-year-old son, and if I ever find the person that invented Minecraft, he better have major medical.