Blog Entry 4 (Mark Sample)

In the article entitled “Simulating Detroit, A City with Cars and Crime but No Races,” Mark Sample argues that in designing the simulations for SimCity and laterally for Micropolis, critical issues of race relations in the city of Detroit are not just consciously ignored, but are lumped together within an overly simplistic broad category of crime. He argues that such an explanation of scenarios in Detroit is a continuation of an old trend in conveying the many race-related problems that have rocked the city in recent history.

Sample explains that the Time magazine’s 1967 portrayal of Detroit riots in front page depiction did not include any black people, or cars for that matter. However, when SimCity focused on the early seventies era Detroit, it included the automotive industry’s impact on Detroit, but failed to mention the very strained race relations that began to develop in the seventies. Sample also recognizes that “all simulations reduce complexity, stripping away factors and variables to reveal a core system that is constrained by computational, historical, and ideological limitations.” Which is precisely why race should have been a central theme in both SimCity and Micropolis, since, “In the case of Detroit in the early seventies, race – probably more so than even automobiles – was an essential aspect of the city.” The fact that race has been left out so deliberately speaks volumes of the way the social and political realities of race are consciously neglected.

Sample ends the article by stating a quote by SimCity’s creator Will Wright – “I just kind of optimized for game play.” The potential implication of such a response toward gaming is that issues of race, gender and class would continue to be relegated toward the margins until players take an active role in raising questions that are difficult but important.

In one of the replies to the article, blogger Jeremy Antley critiques Sample’s assertions by suggesting that most players of Micropolis in the United States know the state of race relations in large cities well enough to understand that crime is ultimately codeword for race. However, I think that although many people might be aware of the history of race relations in America, games like Micropolis and SimCity only further perpetuate the silencing of public discourse around race in urban contexts.

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