Sim City and Markets

SimCity 4 Deluxe Screenshot 2_656x369

This afternoon, I watched a live broadcast celebrating the 10th anniversary of Sim City 4, an excellent and fun game to play. I tweeted that I was watching this broadcast, which in addition to celebrating SC4, promotes the upcoming Sim City title to be released next month.

A few of my friends started g-chatting about how cool the video was. It was well produced, interesting, and revealed a lot about what went into making the new Sim City an improvement over SC4.

While Sim City 4 isn’t perfect, people who play it tend to realize its flaws, but do so anyway because it is fun. I realized that I tend to be friends with these people, because they’re analytical thinkers. After all, doing well at SC is kind of like succeeding at defeating a simulated, changing puzzle. People who hate Sim City and do not think analytically, well, aren’t usually my friends.

One of the developers pointed out how in the new game, people have to get to hospitals instead of being magically beamed health based on their proximity to a facility like in SC4, no matter if they lived on an unconnected island across the way. In short, the new game is a little more realistic.

In talking with a friend, I wondered whether the CVS-like stores in the new SC will have minute clinics — a market reaction to flaws in our current health-care delivery economy. We concluded this is unlikely.

As an advocate of open markets, that bothers me about Sim City — in the game, the only way people receive education, healthcare, garbage removal, protection from fire or crime, is basically through your (the government’s) doing. Of course, that’s not the way the world actually works.

In Sim City 4, for example, one of your earliest perks is that you’re asked whether you’ll grant a denomination lacking “House of worship” the ability to exist. I don’t know anyone who says no to the church, but had I not built a school, how am I to know the church wouldn’t have built one? Or a private-sector actor? If I didn’t build a money-sucking university, how am I to know the Jesuits wouldn’t build one, complete with a hospital? Or that both might exist, along with the University of Phoenix or the University of Southern California.

When I build a residential district in a high-end part of town, how am I to know the residents won’t form their own Home Owners Association — replete with private trash, snow removal and security? You get the point.

In real life situations, the market responds. One of the beauties of unintended consequences is that good things often come from them. (Some also bad.) Of course, nobody who has played the game extensively would argue that SC4 lacks unintended consequences.

What does excite me about the new Sim City is that trade is a much more important part of the game, whereas in SC4, it’s more of a last minute add-on. Trade, of course, is important for any society and economy. The actions that people take in the online version of the game will impact neighboring cities. In the broadcast, we’re told that you can sell water (like in SC4) to your neighbors, but you can essentially make it so that you’re exporting polluted water if you want. This will make the interactivity quite interesting to be sure.

Is Sim City perfect? No, the amount of work that it would take to replicate the market as it exists in real life in a video game would be exceedingly difficult, practically speaking, not possible. (Which might explain why Keynesians have such a difficult lot in life.) Then again, Sim City is just a game. A fun one at that.

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