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Sinister Simulation

June 10, 2010 Leave a comment

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

Categories: Faith, Life, Politics, video games

Contrarian Gem

June 5, 2010 Leave a comment

I frequent the website IGN regularly, and the contrarian corner articles have become one of my favorite features.  In them, the author offers an antagonistic perspective on whatever video game is hottest at the time.  The author doesn’t simply nitpick like a photographer critiquing a top model contestant or a pick-up artist chastising his protege for not negotiating a threesome properly.  The writer challenges the consumer’s idea of excellence similar to how Socrates forced his fellow Greek citizens to examine their own culture and reevaluate their definition of good.  The writer regularly uses evidence from culture, history, and life experience to reach his conclusions, and when he does, his points often have applications that transcend the video game world introducing fresh, valuable perspectives on the basic concepts to anyone willing to notice.

In the following excerpt, he compares playing the newest iteration of Final Fantasy to his experience building a wooden fence around a small garden in Madagascar.  It’s unsurprising that he finds physical labor more difficult than playing a video game, but the way that he frames his argument enhances the juxtaposition in provocative way.

Begin Excerpt

[early on he is referring to Final Fantasy combat.  It’s a game where you play a character who uses spells, weapons, and armor to take down imposing mythological beasts.]

The most literal purpose of this system is to apply human logic to an array of barbaric spells and attacks with the sole purpose of subduing every living creature that surrounds your party. It’s a contradiction in terms, perverting a quality of thought and careful planning for a purpose that should only be tenable in the absence of human logic. It’s a fantasy in which your body can do the extravagantly impossible if you just logically plan for it ahead of time.  It’s a relief from the real world constraints where the gap between even the simplest ideas and their physical execution is the widest.

It took me three days to build my fence in Madagascar, digging in the hot sun, winding metal twine around sticks that were three inches in diameter. I felt a great and manly pride when it was finally done, looking at it in the evening air after the last day’s work. I pushed against it, feeling how tightly set in the ground the sticks were. I tried to wedge my fingers between the cracks, but there was no give. That’s a great fence, I thought to myself. All the math about how much wood, twine, and time would be necessary to cover the garden had been right on. I had bloody blisters on my hand, sandy red dirt all over my body, and my muscles ached from the continual exertion in the sun. But I had won.

A week later, I woke up and found three baby pigs eating my tomato plants. I couldn’t change into any other paradigm or hit the “retry” button. I ran outside and chased the pigs away and stared at the narrow gap in the corner that they’d come through. I could have wished for a menu command to let me “close hole,” but XIII’s the kind of game where the only option would have been “burn pig.” And in the pulsing blue menus, either choice would have been equally arbitrary and without meaning.

End Excerpt from http://xbox360.ign.com/articles/107/1079860p2.html

So in this game, you use all these make believe weapons and armor and spells to take down monsters, and you do it successfully by solving relatively simple math problems, observing and reacting to simple patterns, and using your common sense.  In the real world, you build a a small fence of wood and wire to the best of your ability, and you fail to keep baby pigs out.  Compared to his paragraphs, my two-sentence summary doesn’t really do it justice.