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Sinister Simulation

This 22 year old architect from the Philippines “spent four years wallowing in equations and graph paper” and created a self-sustaining city named Magnasanti using the game Sim City. When I played Sim City, I found it frustrating at every turn and could never get to a point in the game where I really felt in control. If the budget wasn’t bleeding money, fires, monsters, or rioting citizens seemed intent on destroying my cities. I used to feel a bit impotent in my inability to respond properly to the demands of the game, but, after finding out that it took an aspiring architect just under four years to master the game, I don’t feel so inadequate.

His name, Vincent Ocasala, even sounds like the moniker of a fictional mastermind, and people who read about his feat, watch the youtube video, and read his interview seem to find him a bit terrifying but, to me, he more closely resembles the genius anti-hero archetype found in animes such as L from Death Note and LeLouch of Code Geass. I don’t know the effect that completing this game had on his mind because his philosophy seems a bit villainish, and he shows an unbridled affection for the game that he slaved over for years in order to successfully master. I don’t find him so immediately sinister because this interview seems like a smaller part of an unfinished story.

It’s possible that Sim City has its limitations and Vincent’s city exists as one of many possible solutions that the algorithms in the game allow for. If the creators designed the game deliberately so that only this type of city could maintain the highest population level without cheats, then I would identify them as the shadowy figures lurking behind the scenes in this existential tale.

What human being would think a city should have the ability to function indefinitely in this form:

“Technically, no one is leaving or coming into the city. Population growth is stagnant. Sims don’t need to travel long distances, because their workplace is just within walking distance. In fact they do not even need to leave their own block. Wherever they go it’s like going to the same place…

There are a lot of other problems in the city hidden under the illusion of order and greatness: Suffocating air pollution, high unemployment, no fire stations, schools, or hospitals, a regimented lifestyle – this is the price that these sims pay for living in the city with the highest population. It’s a sick and twisted goal to strive towards. The ironic thing about it is the sims in Magnasanti tolerate it. They don’t rebel, or cause revolutions and social chaos. No one considers challenging the system by physical means since a hyper-efficient police state keeps them in line. They have all been successfully dumbed down, sickened with poor health, enslaved and mind-controlled just enough to keep this system going for thousands of years. 50,000 years to be exact. They are all imprisoned in space and time.”

“The city symmetry uses a modified version of the symbol [the Bhavacakra, the wheel of life and death in Buddhism] to represent the sinister intent of enslaving all of its citizens for all eternity.”

“…none of its citizens seem to live past the age of 50.
Health of the sims was not a priority, relative to the main objective. I could have enacted several health ordinances which would have increased the life expectancy, but I decided not to for practical reasons.”

If you make it all the way to the end of the interview, there’s a twist. If you’ve seen animes like Death Note or Code Geass, then you know that the anti-heroes, for the sake of righting wrongs on a global scale, must resort to using harsh, unsavory methods in order to act as catalysts for the type of revolution that their world desperately needs. Instead of viewing it as an illustration of right ideology, Vincent explains it instead as a cautionary tale:

“It shows that by only focusing on one objective, one may end up neglecting, or resorting to sacrificing, other important elements. Similarly, [in the real world] if we make maximizing profits as the absolute objective, we fail to take into consideration the social and environmental consequences.”

This serves as a prime example of video games as high art especially if the creator’s intended to do this, and it wasn’t simply a failure to produce an unbeatable game.

The love of money is “a” root of evil, but idolatry in any form can be detrimental to an individual or a society as a whole particulary when it involves the pursuit of things that we collectively consider worth pursuing. An unchecked pursuit of safety, comfort, or happiness can easily lead to the devaluation of the value of human life, possibly the life of the pursuer, possibly the life of a person who happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, or possibly the value of human life in the context of a society.

I think that I’m a bit idealistic; I don’t think there was ever a time in history when a society ever came close to a proper approximation of the value of human life. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” falls short especially when people start throwing around phrases like, “You have nothing to worry about if you’re innocent. I’m innocent and…” Take the case of Henry Skinner in Texas who sits on death row because his lawyer valued his time and his paycheck more than Henry’s life and the justice system values the perception of being just so much more than this man’s life that waiting a month for DNA testing could sully that glistening reputation http://www.slate.com/id/2256188 .

Also there’s the case of 3 guilty-until-proven-innocent detainees, who died in U.S. custody because of how highly we value national security and how alluring a cash reward for turning over people to the U.S. was for people in their home countries http://www.harpers.org/archive/2010/01/hbc-90006368 (further rant by me here https://immaletufinish.wordpress.com/2010/01/20/bad-intelligence/ )

As an economics major and a part-time philosopher, I know a little bit about the actual difficulty of calculating the value of human life, but that doesn’t give us license to be callous monsters.

Ghost in the Shell Laughing Man

"I thought what I'd do was I'd pretend I was one of those deaf-mutes"

I’ve been comment-starved since January.  Let me know if you

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Categories: Faith, Life, Politics, video games
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