Screenshot by Andrew Groen
The creators of the legendary urban planning series SimCity told PopSci they never intended for their game to have any political leanings or secret messages, but we could sense their environmental beliefs a mile away. From evil factory owners to not-so-subtle pokes at the food industry, developer Maxis has crafted a relatively heavy-handed take on how the world is and how it ought to be.
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Stone Librande, SimCity’s lead designer, says he wanted to stay true to the positive sides of coal power (extremely cheap and effective), but he also ensured that towns with coal power are realistically shrouded in pollution and disease. The development team also took every opportunity they could get to mock initiatives like the disingenuous “Clean Coal.” The jab shown above is just one of many playful pokes at dirty power. The description for the Clean Coal generation also reads, “”This is as ‘clean’ as it’s going to get, bub. It is coal after all.”
On Population Density
Your city’s population density will only increase if you make it a pleasant place to live–which isn’t quite how things work in the real world. In fact there’s a great flight of people towards urban areas, and it’s not for the fresh air. In garbage-plagued mega-metropolises like Lagos, Nigeria, people arrive by the millions looking for jobs in spite of pollution and crime. Librande told us he wishes the world would move away from big cities into more sustainable small towns. This aspect of the game looks a bit like idealism.
On Factory Owners
When your city builds its first factories and production facilities, you’ll inevitably be approached by some of the owners–who are working for the nefarious super-villain Dr. Vu. They will encourage you to go evil and enact numerous naughty measures that make the world a safer place for Vu and his reign of terror. We’re gonna go out on a limb and say that this seems to reflect a generally negative attitude toward big business and manufacturing in particular.
On Food Production
It is abundantly clear that Maxis is not a fan of the corporate food industry. The names of the factories that show up in your town are often subtle and not-so-subtle jokes on the unnatural nature of many food products as well as the environmental harm cause by the meat business. Examples include: Foodish Enterprises, Pollutronics Foods, Edible Chemical, Splurt co. Meat Patties, and the least subtle of all: “Baby Formula and Lead Paint.”
On Waste Disposal
Librande said his main hope for the game was that it would make young people think critically about their environment. That includes, it seems, understanding where the tremendous amount of human waste we produce actually goes. SimCity offers you the chance to purchase an expensive waste treatment plant…or you can get the dirt cheap sewage spewer which literally just pumps it into a local forest. See the brown dots in this image? Guess what that represents.
Nothing produces a boom-town quite like a surge in mining productivity. Build mines and refineries on your land and you’ll make heaps of cash, but if you don’t have a backup plan eventually you’ll pollute the land and cause earthquakes. There’s even a milestone achievement called “Dug Too Greedily And Too Deep” awarded to players who mine a certain amount of material, a reference to the dwarves of Tolkien’s Middle-Earth who awoke a demon at the bottom of their mineshafts.
While there are ways to avoid polluting your city with your sewage (like, say, getting a treatment plant) and ways to apply green energy (like adding solar and wind farms, as well as university research) there’s not really a good way to be green about your trash. We try, but recycling and composting don’t solve the trash problem; they merely reduce it. You can reduce the amount of it by buying a costly recycling plant, but your city’s trash will inevitably become ground pollution. The only other option is to burn it which creates air pollution. Either way it’s bad news.