As a kid, I would build SimCity metropolises with the same goal that most children make sandcastles: to destroy them.
My attention span for video games is severely limited. I attribute this to my deprivation of a video game console as a child. I was only able to enjoy the sweet digital escape of games when I went to my friend's houses after school. Whether it was Duck Hunt, Super Mario Bros., or Road Rash, I loved instant gratification: shooting a duck, stomping a turtle, hitting a fellow motorcyclist with a pipe. Simple pleasures.
Meanwhile, my friends would want to play longer, more time-intensive (read: boring) games like Earthbound *or *The Legend of Zelda. How was I supposed to get any satisfaction, or make any progress, in one of those games before my mom came to pick me up?
So when I received SimCity 2000 for PC as a birthday gift, I was less than grateful. This game, where you build a city and are forced to maintain it, sounded more like homework than recreation.
Screw successful, let's destroy something.
But it was all I had, so I would log into my family's Gateway 2000 computer and get to work. I would only build a city enough to make it interesting when it was destroyed. The only process I remember from the game was simulating disasters. The hours I logged in SimCity went mostly like this:
File > Event > Natural Disasters > Earthquake
The sidewalk splits, and now there's fire for some reason.
File > Event > Natural Disasters > Cyclone
Buildings are leveled.
File > Event > Natural Disasters > Flood
The rising water levels put out some of the fire, but now buildings are underwater. Cool.
File > Event > Natural Disasters > Plane Crash
Reflecting on my behavior in this game, I feel embarrassment, guilt, and disgust. It appears I might've been what psychologists call a "lil' sociopath."
If my SimCity experience is any indicator, I would be a very shitty God.
What does your SimCity strategy say about you? Do you seek to create the perfect, peaceful world that your real life is lacking? This is digital replacement of the pristine, detailed train sets that older generations had to scrape by with. You strive for balance, to counteract the chaotic world that you live IRL. Or perhaps if things are pretty good in the real world, you seek an escape from the monotony and create your own chaos.
Is this indicative of issues at a deeper, subconscious level? As someone who minored in psychology, I'm not licensed to do any more than pose these questions. I do know that I once was playing Grand Theft Auto, and I shot a passing car with a rocket launcher. My dad (unbeknownst to me) was watching me play, and asked, "why did you do that?" I instantly felt embarrassed for my digital behavior, and turned off the game.
Goodnight, sweet city.
You may struggle to see the parallel from innocuous, pixelated SimCity and nefarious, gory Grand Theft Auto. But it's the same thing. If anything, SimCity is worse. If you can kill one person in Grand Theft Auto, and that's bad, why isn't it treated the same when you destroy entire city blocks, which are filled with people? If the United Nations were to observe, I'm sure this SimCity crime would be much more severe. Would you play these games the same way if you were being observed? My experiences tell me no.
Whenever I see something that I cannot explain with science, I'm reminded of SimCity 2000. Maybe we are all part of God's SimCity. Perhaps déjà vu is nothing more than her computer overheating. Las Vegas from an aerial view really makes me feel like we must be part of a simulation. What if video games are a way for higher powers to see if you're worthy of being in charge in the next life? If my SimCity experience is any indicator, I would be a very shitty God.
Is it really so bizarre that life could be a video game? Both seem to increase in difficulty level until you die. We can only hope our time gives us a 1UP to a better place.
Perfect Worlds is a series on Motherboard about simulations, imitations, and models. Follow alonghere.