Such was the payload of SimCity: not a game about people,
even though its residents, the Sims, would later get their own spin-off.
Nor is it a game about particular cities, for it is difficult to
recreate one with the game’s brittle, indirect tools. Rather, SimCity
is a game about urban societies, about the relationship between land
value, pollution, industry, taxation, growth, and other factors. It’s
not really a simulation, despite its name, nor is it an educational
game. Nobody would want a SimCity expert running their town’s
urban planning office. But the game got us all to think about the
relationships that make a city run, succeed, and decay, and in so doing
to rise above our individual interests, even if only for a moment.
This was a radical way of thinking about video games: as non-fictions
about complex systems bigger than ourselves. It changed games
forever—or it could have, had players and developers not later abandoned
modeling systems at all scales in favor of representing embodied, human
On protagonists, “serious games”, and the legacy of SimCity.