SimCity Societies: think of the children

, | Game diaries


You’d think children would be useless in SimCity Societies given its population model. When you build houses, you add people to your city. Those people visit venues — movie theaters, retail shops, bars, churches — to keep their happiness up so they don’t riot. And that’s all you need in a city if you have infinite money.

But since you don’t have infinite money, you need to build workplaces. People go to workplaces to fill the available jobs, which provides you with money. That’s the basic economy in SimCity Societies. Houses provide people; workplaces translate people’s time into money; and venues make people happy. And the happier they are, the more money they (i.e. you) make.

So in a game without aging, what good are children if you can’t put them to work? Because you can’t put children to work. There are a few options for dystopias in SimCity Societies, but none so Dickensian.

After the jump, children aren’t the future. They’re the now.

SimCity Societies includes special kinds of people that aren’t part of the standard population, all marked with a special icon when you toggle a button. Police officers and fire fighters, for instance, are spawned from staffed police stations and fire stations. They aren’t normal citizens. In the above screenshot, you can see a cluster of police officers patroling the streets, looking for criminals, another special type of person spawned from pawn shops, casinos, and slums. The yellow construction helmets are public works workers who repair damaged buildings. If you look closely, you can see a purple desk icon behind the construction helmet on the left. That’s a slum lord. He spawns from an particular type of office building. He’ll occasionally visit a home in the city, permanently upgrading the population capacity, but degrading the quality so residents take a slight happiness hit. I’m okay with that. If I didn’t want slum lords, I wouldn’t have built office buildings that relied on productivity rather than prosperity. It’s one of the many ways this game has personality.

(Speaking of slum lords, can you see that British Petroleum logo in the screenshot, standing out from the fake sim letters on all the rest of the signage? Electronic Arts made money from a crass BP tie-in that claimed it would raise awareness about climate change. A few years later the company would spill 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico over the course of three months, which is an even better way to raise awareness about climate change.)

Children are also special types of characters. Every so often, a house will produce a child. You’ll see a baby bottle pop up over the house. Now the info display for the house shows a child icon next to its population capacity. Every morning, a child will emerge with a pink icon over his or her head. In the above screenshot you can see three children coming down to the street. Shane Molad, Jackson Scott, and Magim Ford, none of whom work, but all of whom will use up precious slots in venues that are marked as suitable for children.

But since happiness is mainly a facet of the game’s financial model — the happier people are, the more money they earn when they work — what does it matter if a child is happy? Why should I build venues marked as suitable for children? After all, these venues are often expensive, and they have a maintenence cost, to boot, and they take up valuable space. Why not let them frolic aimlessly?

I love SimCity Societies’ answer to this question: you want children to be happy because a child’s happiness extends to everyone in his or her family. While the parents are at work, the child runs around town getting happier by first going to school, and then watching baseball games, visiting the zoo, getting books at the public library, or buying ice cream. And all the happiness that child accrues applies to the parents, who then need to spend less time visiting venues themselves. The basic idea is that a happy child is one of the most practical venues in the game.

And this is precisely the sort of gameplay system that makes you wonder about different ways to play SimCity Societies. Only certain homes can spawn children. Basically, larger structures like condominiums or tenement buildings don’t support children, who spawn from the smaller homes marked private. So imagine a city consisting almost entirely of smaller homes with nearby schools as the chief means of providing happiness during weekdays, and venues like baseball fields and public swimming pools for the weekends. This means the parents would work more efficiently and they could afford longer commutes without needing to take time off to go to movie theaters, retail shops, bars, or churches.

This is one of my favorite things about SimCity Societies. Instead of presenting one solution for the ideal city that applies every time you play — the latest SimCity feels so straightjacketed by a comparatively narrow set of rules — SimCity Societies presents a whole set of different systems to encourage you to try to build different kinds of cities.

Up next: Oceana has always been at war with Eurasia
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