Good Luck Playing Sim Nimby, the Game Where You Can’t Build Anything

“Housing? Surely there must be other ways to deal with the unhoused.”
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Screenshot: Sim Nimby
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The power fantasy that made Sim City such a popular game is that it allows anyone to plan and build cities pretty much however they want. There are some constraints, like resources and funds, but the game doesn’t realistically present the problems cities face in real life when they want to build and improve: NIMBYism. 

Sim Nimby, a new web browser game, has many resemblances to interacting with an actual NIMBY, or Not In My Backyard anti-development activists. It’s not so much a game as an exercise in futility, in which no matter what you do, it will be met with the same nonsensical responses. There is no winning and losing, only prolonging.


The creators of the game, Owen Weeks and Steve Nass, both 33-year-old advertising copywriters in Brooklyn, didn’t intend for the experience of playing Sim Nimby to be so similar to the experience of talking to them. As Nass explained to Motherboard, the urge to create the game was more out of restless creativity than activism.

“We were like, ‘What can we make? Oh, Sim City, that was fun.’ And since we’re both anti-NIMBY already, that was pretty quick,” Nass said. 

The game itself is a static image of a 90s-style, Sim City-like management sim. If you click on anything, an alert message pops up: “ERROR. CAN’T BUILD IN NIMBYVILLE”, followed by a quote from, presumably, a local NIMBY. Weeks and Nass came up with 54 different anti-development slogans. Some are exaggerated NIMBY talking points for effect and humor—”The only thing urban I want to see in my neighborhood is Keith Urban”; “Apartment buildings cause crime. Where do you think the people who killed Batman’s parents lived?”—while others—”This is a NICE neighborhood”, “Public transport would transport the public here”— could well be said at a community meeting anywhere in the U.S. any day of the week. Nass’s personal favorites are “Housing? Surely there must be other ways to deal with the unhoused,” “Sorry, but I’ve devoted my life to the most pressing issue of our time: anti-bike activism” and “Keep our local fiefdom weird.”

Nass described his politics as more anti-NIMBY than pro-anything else, because it was the hypocrisy of the NIMBY attitude that got him into housing politics to begin with. He lived in San Francisco before moving to Brooklyn, and there he would often be stuck in conversations with people who, with one breath would bemoan the homelessness problem and its impact on their personal levels of comfort in the city and, with the very next breath, lament new housing developments as destroying the city’s character. This was a frustrating experience for Nass, who didn’t understand how people could be so blind to their own hypocrisy. He described this experience, repeated over and over, as “galvanizing, even radicalizing.” His exposure to NIMBYs in Brooklyn has mostly been limited to the NextDoor emails he can’t figure out how to unsubscribe from.

“We could have made it more functional,” Nass said of Sim Nimby, making it more like an actual game than an “interactive picture” as he put it. “But the whole point is you can’t build anything.”