SimCity Classic: Building the Simulator Genre and Its Relationship with Education

Lily Li Blogpost 1.

As a fan of simulation games, it had always interested me how this genre came to be and how it continues to be. SimCity Classic (Maxis 1989) was one of the first simulation games to ever hit the market, often mistaken for the first game of its genre. Its concept and creation was an unexpected byproduct of the process used to produce a shooter video game by game designer Will Wright. As Wright found that he enjoyed designing the islands in the level editor of Raid On Bungeling Bay (Broderbund 1984), he began to develop more sophisticated level editors. Simultaneously, Wright was fascinated by the theories of urban planning and was most influenced by System of Dynamic, written by Jay Wright Forrester. The game was strange in its historic gaming context as the original model of the game could not be won or lost. This model is open ended with no set objective. Because of this foreign aspect, countless game publishers refused to pick it up until Maxis agreed to publish it. On the contrary, SimCity was critically acclaimed and recognized within its first year and paved way to the development of the simulator genre.

As for gameplay, SimCity began with an open plot of land in which the player can determine squares as residential, industrial or commercial zones and begin building and upgrading the city with taxes as the primarily source of income for the allotted budget. The game could be classified as mimicry and paidia. The city itself is an imitation and the player role plays as the city mayor, dictating the structure and system of the landscape. The lack of a clear, consistent goal or possibility to win classifies it as paidia. The design of the game is a flat landscape, with an overhead perspective for the player. The graphics are made for computer play and the display is modeled after PC or Macintosh layouts with toolbars. The graphics contain colored flat pixels but are set to give the illusion of 3-D shapes. The audio of the game consists of blasts of static as the player places down roads or zones. As the city continues to develop, small car icons begin to move on the roads as well as train icons that chug along train tracks. The concept of artificial citizens (“Sims”) are crucial to the game as they dictate the construction of buildings based on factors the player controls. These factors include traffic levels, electric power lines, crime levels and proximity to other buildings. To enhance the game with a more distinct goal driven gameplay, SimCity incorporated scenarios such as natural disasters, traffic, or crime.

The game heavily draws from and embeds historic events of the time to develop above scenarios. For example, the scenario in which crime and depressed industry in which the mayor is given 10 years to reduce crime and reorganize the city is structured after Detroit’s dwindling state and the economic recession of the 1970s where the automotive industry collapsed. In another scenario, where an earthquake hits the city and the mayor must control damages, fires and rebuild, is modeled after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. In another scenario, a nuclear power plants faces a meltdown which incinerates the city in which the mayor must rebuild (a scenario which was removed after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011).

These scenarios also demonstrate Wright’s bias and overarching faith in urban planning. Wright strongly believed in mass transit and was wary and disapproving of nuclear energy, a political agenda that is pushed through the design of the game. In regards to Wright’s confidence in urban planning, real modern issues like crime in cities transform into obstacles that are easily combatted by building police stations (MacDougall, 2011). These assumptions weaved into the gameplay create a cognitive dissonance in today’s context of the game- an educational space where assumptions can be internalized as a disrupted reality. SimCity’s source code was released as the SimCity software was donated to the One Laptop Per Child program, grounding its place as an educational program. As any student in Detroit can see, urban planning has yet to save their city even after 40 years. SimCity treads the simulation and educational game genres, serving an important role in both. SimCity created a relationship between simulator and education which continues to this day including business and management, training games and health and medical games. It paved the trail for its genre, widening the borders of what a successful market game could be, as well as becoming a media form in which the relationship between history, education and gaming can be examined and discussed.

Works Referenced:

Broderbund 1984, Raid On Bungeling Bay, video game, Commodore 64, Broderbund Software

Insert Coin. “SimCity – PC (1989).” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 18 January 2012. Web. 26 February 2017.

MacDougall, Rob. “Seeing Like SimCity.” Web blog post. Play the Past. 26 January 2011. Web. 26 February 2017

Maxis 1989, SimCity Classic, video game, Macintosh, Broderbund Software


Rachel Nevers Blog Post 1


I have chosen to write about the historical game “The Oregon Trail” for my first blog post. The game was first published in the early 1970s, and since then, has had new editions released regularly that modernize and advance gameplay. Later, different versions of the game would be released via different mediums, such as the Wii or cell phone apps. The objective of the game is to help Americans in the nineteenth century move across from Missouri to Willamette Valley in a covered wagon and with limited resources. The characters are subject to disease, poverty, and general catastrophe, for instance, their wagon capsizing in a river and losing all their resources.

When “The Oregon Trail” was first released, it was a text-based game where players had to manually type in their decision in reaction to in-game events. As time passes in the game, the player can watch the statistics of the characters, including health, food rations, and weather, change. The game pauses when an event occurs or when the player presses the enter button, and the player is invited to make a decision. One aspect of the game is hunting, in which players would have to quickly type specific words to shoot the animals. In later editions of the game, with better graphics, players could manually aim and shoot the animals.

When analyzing “The Oregon Trail” through the perspective of Chris Crawford, it has all four makings of a game: representation, interaction, conflict, and safety. The game represents the hardships of the Oregon Trail in the 1800s, the player makes decisions that affect game outcomes, the goal of the game, to make it to the trail end, is blocked by electronic obstacles like dysentery, and the game makes crossing the Oregon Trail, a risky and life-threatening task, safe for gamers.

“The Oregon Trail” also has the characteristics of mimicry and ludus. The mimicry comes from the imitation of reality in the 1800s; real people had to cross the trail and encountered hardships like lack of resources and dangerous environments. The ludus aspect comes from the clear goal of getting to the end of the trail in Willamette Valley. The game is very structured; the player can only choose which pre-existing decisions to make. In other words, the player cannot choose to turn the wagon around and journey to somewhere like Boston, since the creators did not include that as a decision.

The game was produced as an educational product for a Minnesota eighth grade history class and was then discovered by a larger organization that hired the creator, Don Rawitsch, to continue developing the game. Home computers became more popularized in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, so the majority of players at the beginning of “The Oregon Trail’s” release played from school computers on which the game came pre-installed. The game has since been used primarily as an educational tool; however, the concepts and familiarity behind it have also spawned cultural works such as musicals, comedies, and memes.

Works Referenced

Rawitsch 1971, The Oregon Trail, video game, PC, Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium.