Week 5 – Play the Past (SimCity & Wargaming)

Seeing like SimCity

1. What is the topic and author’s main argument? In this article, we are shown the relation between how computer simulations create growth of civilizations and how civilizations actually are created throughout history. The article talks about how video game simulations are limited due to the fact that they are written in code and have a limited set of processes that they must follow.  This makes the gamer focus more on predicting and reacting to learned algorithms. These games take away reality and turn it into fantasy. Since every problem can be fixed with a preset solution, there is no element of surprise. Every action can be countered with a coded effect. The author, though a big fan of games such as SimCity and Civilization, began to see how faulted these simulations were. The rules written in the code are what control the game, not the fictional idea of the point of the game. These games did not teach you how to truly understand how a civilization worked, but rather taught you how to manage the books. They take away room for assumption and replace it with a simulated known response. Therefore, they remove the ability for true innovation.

2. Political, social, and cultural importance of these games? Games such as SimCity have been highly awarded and used as tools for learning in schools. The problem is that games like SimCity are purely mathematical and are limited in their ability to simulate real life scenario’s. As Trevor Owen’s stated, “As you become mired in the banality of logistical shuffling, you are struck with the ennui of the bureaucratic evil at the core of the game. … Your “glorious” conquest is rewarded by endless project management and accounting: a sort of spreadsheet of cultural domination.” I believe this statement shows that these games can teach children that a society can be completely controlled by financial influence. It doesn’t portray the room for error. The video on MagnaSanti, the supposed perfect SimCity, just goes to show the problem with the game. No civilization is perfect and this truth can not be beat.

3. Did the article stimulate debate; did you agree; have you played the game? This article did stimulate some debate. Most people did agree with the general idea that the author had but had different opinions on some of the smaller points. One comment that agreed talked about how we see that urban planning has little impact on the success of a city in such situations as Detroit. A city can’t solely succeed based on material aspects. I tend to agree with the authors opinion. I played SimCity in middle school and even participated in a competition. I found the game to be mindless and just a series of typing in the same responses to the limited scenarios that were thrown at you.

War, What is it Good For? Learning from Wargaming

1. What is the topic and author’s main argument? For over two hundred years, many of the world’s top military’s have been participating in an activity that has been preparing them to handle high pressure situations. These exercises have helped to make them stronger and better prepared for battle. Wargaming has long been one of the best tools for military leaders to learn war strategy and situation analysis. Better preparation leads to better decisions when it matters. In this article, the author works to convey the idea that wargames are applicable in many more fields than just war. They can allow you to recognize the vast realm of scenarios that can occur in any situation and force you to react promptly. Wargames are extremely important in teaching critical decision making; not so much a representation of reality.

2.  Political, social, and cultural importance of these games? Wargaming is relevant in decision making for almost any situation. It has been used by most countries governments. From planning a political campaign to trying to solve water shortages in third world countries, wargames can be used to strategize favorable outcomes. The influence that wargames has had on the world is extraordinary. It has impacted the lives of many people. Wargames are very popular among such groups as hobbyist. Wargames have been used to recreate many famous battles allowing for the analysis of reasons for victory and defeat on either side. Even political strategist have used wargaming concepts to try to understand many devastating situations that could occur in the future. The wide applicability of wargaming makes it an extremely important part of the gaming industry and has allowed for its continued existence over time.

3. Did the article stimulate debate; did you agree; have you played the game? The majority of the comments on this article only reiterated the points that the author had already made. Most people seem to agree on the importance that wargaming has on all aspects of society. It is a tool to be used in aiding critical decision making for any realistic scenario. I agree wholeheartedly with the author. In many ways, classes that we take in college are a form of war-games. We are tested on the spot to make the best decisions in certain situations that don’t directly affect at the time. Most of the skills learned will end up aiding us later on once we have left school and are face to make tough decisions in the real world.

7 thoughts on “Week 5 – Play the Past (SimCity & Wargaming)

  1. muzzeyme

    I like how you talk about innovation and I think that is a very good point. With simulations such as SimCity there is only a determined set of “answers” so to speak but in reality we do not act the same way every time; as you mentioned there is no element of surprise. For example if you decide to kill someone you go against humanity and the social contract but nevertheless you are capable of doing it. These simulations go based on what the general population would do or thinks but there are always people who think and act differently.

    You also note that the simulations are used in school for learning, but the only things they actually learn are the algorithm and prediction of the game. I think this takes away from what professors are trying to teach us. So many times have I heard “Think outside the box” and “be creative” but by using simulations in class you learn the exact opposite. Everything we do is predetermined which is not the case in reality and therefore teach a different meaning.

  2. staalrya

    Your response was very thorough and incredibly clear. I found these articles hard to understand at first because of the constant argumentative rhetoric. I find it interesting that you explained how in the article Seeing Like SimCity the code was predetermined to play out in a specific way. This was a main point I hit on in my blog entry of this article too. I felt that even though it’s considered a ‘simulation’ the game has been structured in a way that does not allow true free-form play. I had an issue with this statement because programming cannot be infinite. Code has to have some level of logic, and unless it’s the most far advanced Artificial Intelligence code, there will always be some limitations. Therefore, the game would have to have some limitation as to how structured or not structured the city could be.
    I thought you brought up many good points about the War, What is it Good For article. I work for a defense contractor and know that war-simulations are highly sought after due to the low-cost and low-maintenance it requires changing the scenarios. Whereas, in a real environment, changing weaponry and firing ammunition is very costly, simulations can replicate real-life situations and with the new graphics processors and shaders, the simulations look even more realistic than ever before. Simulators are valuable for training soldiers across all military branches how to micro-manage and command a unit, brigade or entire army and how to avoid a disastrous decision. It helps plan, execute and find the best way to succeed.

  3. grabow51

    Thank you for your post, you summed the article up beautifully. I also responded to this article and agreed with the author. Games like SimCity have limited simulation and are not an affective method for learning about how a city or civilization works. Instead these games teach you how to predict models. My question is how could you ever create an accurate simulation? All video games are models; if you were to create an ultimate model of a city you could hypothetically solve all its problems. Reality is far more complex than any model could ever simulate. In your second post about WarGames, I tend to have my concerns about their uses. Although I know they prove effective for better decision making, I feel they limit your ability to think in new ways. They train the mind to follow certain paths when prompted rather than directing the attention on the unique situation at hand. The above article about SimCity demonstrates this. Playing WarGames can also influence the mind of the player in unhealthy ways.

  4. lewispai

    I also had a hard time understanding these articles, but I thought that this post explained them very thoroughly. I agree with the article that the person playing the game will be limited because of the code and the procedures required to play the game. The code and the procedures make it almost impossible for the game to actually simulate history or real life because there are certain outcomes and a certain path that the gamer must take during the game. Even though these games may model history, it is almost impossible to actually learn about real society through them. The goal in games such as SimCity is to create a perfect city, but I agree that no society or city is perfect. The idea that we get from these games is that we can create a perfect society strictly through financial needs, or the example that the article used, by creating more police stations to decrease crime. In reality, it takes so much more than just money or more police stations to maintain a good society. I think it is important to keep these things in mind when using them as educational tools, and make sure that those who are being taught from them are aware of these ideas.

  5. heggins2

    I blogged about Trevor Owens posting about Wargaming and I found difficulty in portraying the message that he was trying to send . I understood the message and his argument ,but I was having writers block when attempting to do my posting. After reading your post I am enlightened even more about the post. You touched on some great points that I didn’t expound on . I enjoyed reading the portion about the critical thinking that Wargraming prepares us for. You’re average teenager may play the game for fun,but I think it’s interesting how the brain works. I’m sure people would appreciate people who spent relentless hours playing video games ,in particular war games, even more if they were informed that they were preparing themselves to be able to make critical analysis effectively. I also liked the political, social and cultural aspects that you highlighted on. When I think of video games, imaging the government using them for many reasons is the last thing I thought about.

  6. currie30

    When reading the articles it made me wonder what point are these games really trying to get at? I understand that these games is suppose to let the player understand and learn what is really going on in war or building a city but, in my opinion that is not what being portrayed in the games. I believe when games started to make games where you are playing with guns, fire, or racing games was the beginning of children believe that its okay to do these things in the real word. How can you make a game about war to make the player understand what a army man went through if all you doing is pressing buttons. In my opinion these games are just something that is trying to be sold to the generation by something that is cool. In the game simcity you build your own city but the scenario you are giving is something so bad about Detroit. People always make Detroit out to be a bad city but how the media and video games portray it is the reason why.

  7. nahikia1

    From reading your responses it brought me to one conclusion: War based games are more a more useful tool than simulation games. In a simulation game there is always a set solution for the problem based on code. But in wargaming the player must think on his or her toes and make a quick decision on how they will react to the problem. If they pick wrong their player will more than likely die. I believe games such as these improve ones reactions as well as their problem solving skills.

    Also, I could not disagree with Currie anymore than I do. Games such as these may sell because they are considered “cool” but they do serve an educational purpose as well.

    And, Detroit is not portrayed to be a bad city, it is a bad city. Over 3 days this summer there were 33 shootings and 5 deaths. This did not happen because video games and the media.

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