SimCity and the slums of Failsburg
The interview was strange, to say the least. A cheery and chirpy political worker greets me at the town hall of a small city which has seen better days. She pushes some blonde hair behind her ear and tells me I’m the new mayor, a hint of madness in her voice. Quickly I’m informed that the previous municipal magician was a maelstrom of mismanagement; the town is a disaster zone, although a disaster would likely only improve it. Building zones are all over the place, power is running out, urban decay encroaches from all sides and there isn’t even a road connecting the horrible place to civilisation — no doubt to prevent the residents running onto the highway for sweet relief.
With a minimum of fuss and a maximum of guidance, I drag the town of Summer Shoals back from the brink of destruction. Eva, the administrator from earlier, seems remarkably happy. She breathily informs me that congratulations are in order: I’ve been given my own town to build and run. “Why is the mayor in charge of building the town?” I ask. “Enjoy!” says Eva, knocking back another glass of 12 year old whisky. She assures me everything will be find now and waves me off. I don’t expect to see her again.
A vast expanse of flat land stretches away from the highway, clear all the way to the horizon. Less clear are my local government instructions. I will be mayor of this city, with ultimate power over the development and direction of every aspect. Apart from a selection of advanced options reserved for more advanced mayors. That’s okay, I wasn’t even thinking about how awesome and completely kick-ass it would be to build a nuclear power plant. At all. My superiors have informed me I am a beta mayor, whatever that means. The city can be built up for exactly one hour, at which point the moon will descend from the heavens and obliterate the entire area. And I have to be connected to the internet, for some reason. But the important thing is that I’m the mayor and this is my city: Failsburg. Don’t worry, it’s just a name.
First order of business is a connection to the highway, and some perpendicular streets. Before you know it there are businesses and residents moving in, eager to be the first population statistics. The original main street combined with House Avenue and Shop Street makes a pleasing ‘F’ shape when seen from my government-issue helicopter. I’m attempting to admire the view when I get a call from the guy who runs the corner store, claiming there’s no power. On closer inspection there’s no power to any of the buildings, because I’ve forgotten to build a power station. It’s been a while since I did any city planning.
Science tells me that oil is bad for the environment, and pop culture tells me people don’t currently like things that are bad for the environment, so I opt for a small line of wind turbines. Lights go on all over town, and the happiness of the general population ticks upwards. How do I know that? Every citizen of Failsburg is fitted with a civil rights-friendly brain chip that feeds their current happiness levels to a small box on my desk. I can make them happy just by doing what they want all the time.
And at this point, they have an insatiable craving for industry. A burning passion for factories, lumber yards and textile manufacturing plants. I’m getting hot just thinking about it. After adding a series of overlapping rectangular roadways of medium density and surrounding them with yellow paint, the needs of the people are under control. My staff could stand to be a little less anal, however. If I want to add an industrial zone to the deserted area 20 kilometres from town that’s my bloody business. Maybe I want them to build a mine. Maybe the mine will be a front for Columbian drug money laundering. Maybe I’m the mayor and I should be able to do whatever I want!
I get another call, this time from Helen Jorgensonson — a housewife and part-time kinesiologist. How do these people keep getting my personal phone number? They should go back to being faceless background animations like good city residents. Helen seems annoyed at the lack of schools in the city, as if education is somehow important when you live in a city with a population in the double digits. Being the kind, caring and generous government official that I am, I put a brand new school building right in the middle of the new residential district. The resulting increase in property values and council rates forces Mrs Jorgensonson and her infant dummies to move to a new area, so be careful what you wish for.
Speaking of roads, did you know they can curve? Blew my mind, that did. Subsequently, the new residential district resembles the most delicious kind of urban noodle.
You rarely get lunch as a mayor, though. Oh sure, that pretty thing who mans the reception desk at the town hall — and is always crossing and uncrossing her legs, not that you’ve noticed — jokingly suggests bringing a chicken sub to your office, but you’re never there. People always want things from you. Not enough commercial development in town, a lack of buses is stopping children from getting to school, people don’t like how there are 14 intersections for every six houses even though it looks really cool, criminals are committing too many crimes because we have no police. Well if they weren’t committing crimes they’d just be the homeless unemployed, so you’re flipping welcome.
I continue to get calls about the absence of fire stations from people whose houses are burning down. If I’d been told earlier that people were planning to set fire to things this wouldn’t have been a problem. It’s really their fault if everything they hold dear in the world turns to ash. Besides, I’m not made of money.
The construction of a decorative park went down a treat, as did the upgrade to the town hall. Some of the staff said marble floors weren’t necessary, but a happy work environment leads to increased productivity. I read that on a website once. Or maybe it was a bathroom wall. Either way, building my mayoral office on a higher floor means I no longer had to look out and see the unpiped sewerage gushing out of that street that runs alongside the playground. We decided not to build a treatment plant because it’s better for the environment and the facility would throw off the perfect symmetry of my road network.
Not that it matters. My hour ran out and everything was wiped from the face of the planet with white-hot efficiency. Failsburg may be dead, but the memories — and the smells, and the civil suits — live on inside us. I was told that I could build another city if I wanted, with all the same caveats in place. But when I tried they said I wasn’t allowed because my modem wasn’t working. “Why would I need the internet to build a city?” I asked. They laughed, and, not wanting to look out of touch, I laughed along with them. Being the mayor sure is complicated.