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The politics of SimCity

In a new Gamasutra feature interview, SimCity creative director Ocean Quigley tells Gamasutra about how the team at Maxis tackles thorny political issues -- and whether they imbue ideology into the game.
In a new Gamasutra feature interview, SimCity creative director Ocean Quigley tells Gamasutra about how the team at Maxis tackles thorny political issues -- and whether they imbue ideology into the game. In the past, writers have inferred SimCity creator Will Wright’s politics from games in the series -- mostly by what the optimal strategy is for winning the game. At GDC, EA also held a “Game Changers” event to announce the latest SimCity game and invited An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim to speak about anthropogenic global warming after Maxis’ Lucy Bradshaw unveiled the game. Do politics go into SimCity? Not really, says Quigley. ”I think that the intent is to make a simulation with enough internal integrity to it that the player can explore those sorts of choices and see what happens. As far as I'm concerned, the goal is to make something that's robust enough that you can push it in all these different directions and get plausible outcomes from it.” “My goal is to try to represent reality with enough fidelity that you can do all sorts of things and there's really no proper way to do it,” he says. “It's absolutely not to make an ideologically channeled experience where you have to get all pious and make the right environmental choices to win because that would be, frankly, absurd, as a gameplay experience. That becomes an exercise in propaganda, as opposed to giving you a simulation to explore.” Now, that doesn’t mean that the team doesn’t have to make some decisions that either appear to be or are, in fact, somewhat political -- that advance a specific way of looking at the world. It’s just not the goal of the game. Says Quigley, “we can't help but make some choices for the cause-and-effect stuff towards. Like, we have to bind crime to something. People cause crime. Why, you know? We have to do in some cause-and-effect way.” The decision about an issue like crime is, primarily, based on presenting a sociologically sound decision that also offers interaction with gameplay systems that is meaningful to players, he says: “our decision that crime is caused by a combination of unemployment and poor education is ultimately a political assertion, right? But we're making it because the player can do something about it and because it's at least parse-able. It at least makes sense.” “But beyond that,” says Quigley, “we are not attempting to encode our ideology into the game and force people to believe what we want them to believe in order to succeed at it. It's a landscape for them to explore. It's a little model world for them to push on and see how it responds. We're not preaching to anybody.” The full interview, in which Quigley goes into depth about how the team has made significant changes to the technology and formula for SimCity in its upcoming 2013 installment, is live now on Gamasutra.

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