Tuesday, April 02, 2013

COLUMN: Sim City

In the beginning Maxis created the sim heavens and the sim earth. And Shane said, "Let there be a sim city": and there was a sim city. And Shane saw that it was not at all good. But he didn't care so much.

I'm a fan of video games -- but I am NOT a gamer. A gamer lives and breathes the lifestyle, doesn't care how long it takes to beat a boss, and generally has the patience of a saint. I, meanwhile, peek at all the latest and greatest games, buy a few of them, and play them precisely until the moment they become difficult. Then I either get bored or frustrated and wander away. I'm the kind of guy most gamers hate.

That said, there are a few video games that I've been able to play for hours on end without giving up. What are my favorite video games of all time? Well, there's SimTower, where you rule over a 100-story skyscraper and its inhabitants. There's Civilization: Revolution, where you start by managing a primitive village and win by conquering the globe. I was a big fan of Ultima IV, where you take a simpleton and turn him into the religious leader of Brittania. Then there's Skyrim, where your goal is to take a penniless prisoner and turn him into a sort of dragon-lord scary guy.

Now that I think about it, perhaps I have a bit of a God complex, or at least God envy. I don't much like fighting games or shooting games or racing games or sports games. In fact, pretty much the only video games I do like are the ones where I get to lord over simulated populations with a cold iron fist. It's not all bad -- I'm usually a fairly benevolent ruler, I swear. I only smite those simulated townsfolk who stand in my path to greatness... or look at me funny... or catch me in an especially bad mood.

What can I say? I enjoy ruling the world, sue me. It's a stress reducer. So maybe I didn't hit that big sales goal at work. And so what if I hit every red light on my way home and then got caught behind the little old lady with 17 coupons in the checkout line. No big deal. I'm as cool as a cucumber. Know why? Coz I can head home, turn on my X-Box, and torture fake people until they beg for my simulated mercy.

And never has a game existed with as much potential for torturing innocents as the legendary "Sim City." Last week, game designers Maxis unveiled the sixth and latest installment of the epic Sim City franchise, and like any good aspiring omnipotent ruler, I couldn't resist picking it up right away.

The premise of Sim City is simple: You control the destiny of an entire community. You start the game with an empty parcel of land. Build some roads and sooner or later sim people start showing up and building little sim houses. Zone some of your land as industrial and commercial and watch little sim businesses come to life. Your job is to make sure the little sim people stay happy in their little sim city. You're in charge of water, electricity, transportation, and the basic essentials. If you do the job right, your little sim village will quickly start escalating into skyscrapers and factories and suburbs. Don't forget to build little sim schools for your little sim children or they'll turn to a life of sim crime and you'll have to start building sim police stations. I'm not kidding. There's even a little sim Superman who flies around your town thwarting evil. It's like owning the most complicated Sea Monkeys you could ever imagine.

It's also a brilliant new way to commit sim crimes against sim humanity. Last night, I was furiously working on my paradise sim city of Shane Francisco. I was barely keeping the town out of the red, but we needed more classrooms in the schools and a second fire station to protect my ever-growing population. That's when the sim people started yelling at me that taxes were too high. Great, just what I needed -- Simpublicans.

Alright, little buddies, fine. I'll lower your taxes. Too bad the city's operating in the red now. Looks like there's just one cost-saving measure I can do -- temporarily shut down the sewer system to my 8,400 residents. Did I get a victory parade down Main Street for my low taxes AND second fire station? Perhaps a statue built in my honor somewhere? Nope. Instead, the little needy sims took to city hall and starting protesting the lack of sewers, little sim picket signs and all. Fine, you little sim ingrates. I'll build you a brand new sewage outflow pipe... right in the middle of town square! You want septic? Now you have it, flowing freely down Main St. Enjoy sim typhoid, my friends.

All told, it's a great game, albeit missing a few key elements of real life. For instance, I've yet to see any sim apathy. Every one of these little sim-ians seems overly concerned with finding gainful employment, advancing their station, and picketing city hall any time their feathers get ruffled. Where are the lazy sims? Surely there must be some sim burnouts who'd rather hang out in their parents' sim-basement playing Sim-Simcity and listening to sim-dubstep. Plus the seedy sim-underworld isn't very creative -- thus far the only crimes I've witnessed are robberies committed by little zoot-suit-clad sims who look like they've watched too much Simbonnie & Simclyde. I want sim knife-fights, indecent sim-exposure, and unnecessary repetitive sim-driving. All told, Shane Francisco is pretty boring. Maybe they'll come out with a Sim Weirdos expansion pack.

In the meantime, I can't help but fantasize about how I'd sim-manage the Quad Cities if given the chance. First off, no more four towns and no more arguments about what 4 towns those actually are. In MY world, it would just be Modavendorf Island and everyone can deal with it (besides, how much fun would it be to hear every band at the iWi scream, "Hello, Modavendorf!!"?)

I opened the question to Facebook and discovered I'm not the only one on my friends list with God envy. If my FRIENDS ruled the Quad Cities, we'd have things like bike bridges over the Mississippi, state-run record stores with mandatory attendance, something about making Rock Island "just like Amsterdam" (no comment), and one friend who listed off the four things she wants in the Quad Cities: An aquarium, a large indoor swimming pool, witches, and vampires.

See, I never thought about adding the constant fear of after-dark bloodsuckers to my world. Perhaps I'm more benevolent than I thought. Now if you'll excuse me, I have some sim-lives to ruin.

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