EA Games seeks to raise up another generation of central planning-loving socialists

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If you were lucky enough to be a kid in the 1990s, you’re probably familiar with the urban planning megahit computer game series SimCity. It was first released in 1989 and spawned several sequels and spin-offs of varying popularity over the last two and a half decades, including the street-level, person-oriented, blockbuster Sims series.

If you were even luckier, you didn’t emerge from playing these games as a flaming utopian. The point of the games, after all, is to make the citizens of your electronic town happy by providing them with adequately zoned neighborhoods, utilities, parks, a modest tax rate, entertainment, and safety from occasional disaster scenarios.

The original SimCity did have a marginal laissez-faire premise, though. As mayor, you zoned specific areas for residential, commercial, or industrial construction, but the computer programming filled in the blanks with whatever kind of buildings your citizens might want.

However, a new version of the series for Android and Apple phones and tablets, SimCity BuildIt, removes all hints of spontaneous order and substitutes a Marxist paradise of master planning in its place. The new mobile game is rendered in smooth, stunning 3D graphics, so it’s a pleasure to play visually. But once you start to get into the weeds of the new mayor’s office, it becomes more of an annoyance than fun, especially as a lesson in economic theory.

Residential zones are laid out one 4x4 building at a time, and while they’re free, they’re only rationed out as your population grows in the existing zones. The real socialism starts when that happens. Residences are upgraded manually with specific components - steel and wood to begin, bricks and chemicals later on. The trick is that instead of just zoning industrial and commercial areas that produce these items for you, you have to do that manually too.

factory

You build individual factories and specialty stores, each of which can produce a limited selection of items in a certain amount of time. You also have a limited inventory in which to store these goods, so it’s a constant juggling act to produce the different time-gated levels of goods you need to upgrade your residences (with mayor-approved plans, of course)…once the residents are happy enough based on the city services you’ve provided them.

upgrade

It’s literally an electronic fully planned economy with infantile dependency issues. The government specifies which products are created and uses them at its will to improve citizen living spaces. Those citizens then return a certain portion of their income to the government depending on how many services you’ve provided them.

taxes

That’s right. You don’t even manually set the tax rate based on a version of the Laffer curve of maximizing revenue without harming growth, as in the original PC versions. Now tax revenue is determined by an algorithm and is explicitly tied to citizen mood, which in turn is explicitly tied to utility and public service coverage. Don’t have enough (very expensive) police stations? Citizens get unhappy, pay less taxes, and even abandon their residences, which means you have less cash to build police stations (and power plants, parks, sewage treatment facilities, fire departments, schools, etc).

residences

Fortunately, SimCity BuildIt’s endless cycle of time-gated industrial production and residential micro-managing isn’t very fun, so it probably won’t last very long. It would be a burgeoning national crisis to have another generation raised on a steady diet of even more explicitly socialist urban utopianism than ours already was.


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