• Michael Randall

Sim City (PC Game)

One of the biggest challenges during lockdown has been trying to find different/new things to do to keep yourself occupied. Most of the time, this has been watching films and TV series on streaming services, some of which you have seen before. I’m very slowly making my way through a book at the moment, as well. However, I have also found myself turning back towards (for want of a better way of saying this) ‘gaming’.

As an example, Pokémon Sword and Shield were released last year (I definitely bought the game before the December exams). I didn’t manage to get around to even opening it until around the beginning of April. And whilst it is enjoyable, and there is a little bit of a nostalgia factor there, it can get a bit repetitive. For me, there’s only the original 151 (the Pokémon Let’s Go Eevee/Pikachu as a remake of the original Gameboy games was absolutely glorious). You also can’t name your rival in the recent game (a clear fault) and the characters in the game are a little bit obsessed with curry, for some reason. There’s also one of the new Pokémon, which is basically a giant spider, and as a very bad arachnophobe, I don’t want to see it, I don’t want to catch it, stop randomly appearing and bumping into me. Of course I’m going to run away, not battle it.

However, I also recently bought myself a new laptop, and thought it worth investing in a game to play on there. Going down the nostalgia route, this got me back to thinking what I used to play on the old family PC, and I remembered that we used to have a version of Sim City (I think it was Sim City 3000), which we bought as a ‘classic game’ for about £5, I think, from Staples. That sentence alone has aged me.

For those unaware, you act as the mayor of a city (unelected), and from uninhabited land, try to build a functioning city, without having to have completed a city planning degree. I wasn’t particularly good at the game. I lost count of the number of times I tried to build a big city, and failed miserably – no one wanted to move in, so I couldn’t build anything. And the people who did move in were complaining about not building anything, and moved away – which fictional character really needs drinking water, and electricity, anyway?

However, when I switched to trying to build a smaller city, I managed to get one which worked fairly well. You’d get the occasional citizen coming forward suggesting introducing a tax on smoking, or trying to convince you that there should be a coal fired power station. You were able to introduce ‘natural disasters’, too, so a tornado, or an alien invasion could be used to cause some damage for you to repair.

And so I’ve now downloaded the most recent version of the game that I could find on the laptop. And wouldn’t you know it, so far, it’s gone OK. However, my god do you lose track of time when you are playing it – I put my pizza in the oven for 10 minutes, played the game a bit longer and, well, let’s just say it was charred, more than it was crispy, or another form of edible.

In this version, you can control multiple cities, so the aim is to actually build multiple self-sustaining cities which interact with each other in an area. I am also still in the early part of the game, which is a little bit tricky. The whole point is that you can only really spend what you are receiving in taxes – the higher the tax rate, the more income you receive. However, you then have people threatening to leave, so you lower the taxes, and can’t build as much. As someone whose PhD thesis relied very heavily upon the academic literature underpinning the provision of public goods (e.g. socialised healthcare systems, and environmental protection), this is incredibly frustrating. I’d like to sit down and explain “I’m taxing you so I can build a police station” to them. I'd like to try and present to them the conclusions from Murphy and Nagel's 'The Myth of Ownership' on tax fairness (which you can read here, in which they propose that rates of taxation should be set by the government determining the level of public goods it wishes to provide, and then taxing to achieve that aim, accordingly. This is in contrast to more traditional ideas such as 'the benefit principle' (those who use public services the most should pay the most in taxation - this means that those who need the most access to healthcare are charged the most, which seems inherently unfair). But they are fictional Sims. And I’m clearly taking it way too seriously.

This time, the city does have electricity (I went for solar power – bit of an issue at night time, I’m working on it), water, and a sewage system. It does have residents and shops, And a few roads. However, there was a fire which ended up lasting a few days, because I didn’t have enough funding to build a fire station. And one of the Sims had to wait a few days for me to build a hospital for them. But we’re getting there. I’m just very fortunate that there’s no crime in the city at the moment. I could, of course, try and play the game in such a way that I’m so terrible, that I see if I can get kicked out/removed from office.

I once had a discussion with my colleague, Dr Jonathan Brown, about time being a relative concept (I think the gist of it was I was watching something not enjoyable, and it seemed to drag on, whereas he was watching something enjoyable, and the time flew by). What I will say is that this is a way to kill a lot of time very easily. Just make sure that you’re not cooking anything at the same time.

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