This interview originally appeared at our cousin Vice’s website last May. Today’s post about real life SimCities reminded us to dust it off.
I'm English, but when I was twelve I lived in North Carolina and went to an inner-city school a bit like that one in The Wire. I only really have two memories of that time. One, of police arresting one of my classmates in the middle of Social Studies, (I never saw him again), and two: Technology lessons that consisted of us sitting two to a computer, playing the original Sim City; presumably to stop us fighting each other for one hour a day.
That was the first time I played Sim City. Later, I got my first computer with Sim City 2000. I dicked around with it for about a week before realising I’d rather gun down Nazis in Spear of Destiny, than thanklessly lay down four square miles of sewage piping for silent citizens.
Not Vincent Ocasla though. Vince guy spent four years wallowing in equations and graph paper building a totalitarian Sim City hellscape called Magnasanti, racking up a population of six million and claiming to beat an otherwise unbeatable game. Watch this and get scared:
I saw this mind-blowing video a month ago, but only just managed to track Vincent down on Facebook. He’s a 22-year-old architecture student living in the Philippines, and I felt a little bit better after discovering he’s just a normal dude, not Krang from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Vice: I think most people’s natural inclination after watching your video would be awe, followed by fear. Vincent: I am in agreement. That was part of the intent of the video, for those that know, play, and love the game.
Vice: Not to presume to didn’t have fun building and developing Magnasanti, but your approach to Sim City doesn’t seem like you really treat it as a game anymore. Vincent: For me, SimCity 3000 is more than just a game. It has evolved to become a tool or medium for artistic self-expression. While most games today are focused on destroying things and killing other players, Sim City instead allows one to exercise the imagination to create, and express. Many people say, “Oh, it’s just a game!” But they are mistaken.
Vice: Godfrey Reggio’s Koyaanisqatsi seems to have been a big inspiration.
Vincent: It very much was – I first watched it in 2006. The film presented the world in a way I never really looked at before and that captivated me. Moments like these compel me to physically express progressions in my thought, I have just happened to do that through the form of creating these cities in SimCity 3000. I could probably have done something similar – depicting the awesome regimentation and brutality of our society – with a series of paintings on a canvas, or through hideous architectural models. But it wouldn’t be the same as doing it in the game, for the reason that I wanted to magnify the unbelievably sick ambitions of egotistical political dictators, ruling elites and downright insane architects, urban planners and social engineers.
I’ve a quote from one of your Facebook status updates here: “The economic slave never realizes he is kept in a cage going round and round basically nowhere with millions of others.” Do you not feel that sums up the lives of the citizens of Magnasanti? (And you might want to set your Facebook to private by the way.) Precisely that. Technically, no one is leaving or coming into the city. Population growth is stagnant. Sims don't need to travel long distances, because their workplace is just within walking distance. In fact they do not even need to leave their own block. Wherever they go it’s like going to the same place.
Heavy. There are a lot of other problems in the city hidden under the illusion of order and greatness: Suffocating air pollution, high unemployment, no fire stations, schools, or hospitals, a regimented lifestyle – this is the price that these sims pay for living in the city with the highest population. It’s a sick and twisted goal to strive towards. The ironic thing about it is the sims in Magnasanti tolerate it. They don’t rebel, or cause revolutions and social chaos. No one considers challenging the system by physical means since a hyper-efficient police state keeps them in line. They have all been successfully dumbed down, sickened with poor health, enslaved and mind-controlled just enough to keep this system going for thousands of years. 50,000 years to be exact. They are all imprisoned in space and time.
Why did it take a year-and-a-half just to complete the theory behind Magnasanti? During the planning stage of the city I was also busy constructing other large-scale cities, which laid out much of the theory for Magnasanti. New ways of doing things were not yet developed until experiments were done within the game to verify ideas, and notes had to be taken down in conjunction with each new experiment, as well as devising new experiments to find out if there were better ways of solving the problem. Building cities and doing in-game experiments to obtain the results desired takes time. Additionally, I had other things to do, and only worked on it in my spare time, so it was a gradual development, not something I was working on 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
You say Magnasanti’s design is based on the Bhavacakra, the wheel of life and death in Buddhism. Are you a practicing Buddhist? Former Buddhist. The Wheel of Life, also known as the Wheel of Time or the Wheel of History, can be found in many religions, philosophies, and cultures which regarded cyclical notions of time consisting of ages that essentially repeat themselves. I’m particularly fascinated with sacred geometry. The city symmetry uses a modified version of the symbol to represent the sinister intent of enslaving all of its citizens for all eternity. But with regards to what I believe, today I simply consider myself to be a freethinker.
Do you play any other games apart from Sim City? I hate to imagine what you would do to a family in The Sims. I used to play other games back in my school days such as Populous, Age of Empires and a few MMORPGs like Galactic Conquest. As for The Sims, I enjoyed that too, although sims usually turn insane and die horribly under my hands after a few minutes. As of today, I no longer play such games. I really don’t see the point anymore.
According to Magnasanti’s graphs, none of its citizens seem to live past the age of 50. Health of the sims was not a priority, relative to the main objective. I could have enacted several health ordinances which would have increased the life expectancy, but I decided not to for practical reasons. It shows that by only focusing on one objective, one may end up neglecting, or resorting to sacrificing, other important elements. Similarly, [in the real world] if we make maximizing profits as the absolute objective, we fail to take into consideration the social and environmental consequences.
Anything else you’d like to add? If anyone’s wondering, I am not autistic, or a savant, nor suffer from OCD, or suffer from any other form of clinical mental disease or illness for that matter.