Toys about Cities

- from Undergraduate Thesis

Will Wright, arguably, popularized the “serious game” genre. While he was working on a map editor for Raid on Bungeling Bay he realized that he was more engaged by designing urban environments and cities than creating warzones and like fable, Will Wright created SimCity. The game/toy/sandbox/urban simulation made what was a fairly abstract task as simple as drawing roads and zoning a metropolis. Its accessibility is perhaps what was so powerful and made such an impact on society with SimCity acting as the entertaining gateway for many future architects, urban planners, and me.

This TED video, though primarily a 16 minute commercial for Wright’s last game Spore, introduces Wright’s exploration into turning advanced scientific concepts into toys. Notably for the games he’s worked on, he hasn’t been an expert in the field the game explores. The Sim games explore various fields as first toys then as almost academic explorations.

Though the TED video isn’t very good at conveying this, BBC Newshour (50min) has an excellent piece exploring modern problems cities of the present face. In it, they briefly mention a competitive match between NYU and MIT’s architecture schools in SimCity 2013. Where what you might expect a civil game where both schools try to craft the most effective city, the schools instead compete violently by using industrial air pollution and excessive crime to debilitate the other school’s city. Though funny, the fact that players saw this as the best strategy speaks to how multiplayer city building games have yet to be truly explored.

For my undergraduate senior project at NYU Tandon’s Integrated Digital Media program, I would like to explore city planning games through a lens that explores the less traveled topics in existing city planning and building games.