I’ve always been kind of terrible at video games. Any video game, it doesn’t matter. I automatically make anyone else playing a game with me look expertly skilled. It started when I plugged in my very own Sega Genesis on my seventh birthday and continues to this day when I get together with friends to play Michael Jackson: The Experience on Wii. However, I did have the fleeting experience of skillful gaming one summer when my parents sent my twin sister and I to spend time with our Aunt and Uncle in Minneapolis and they, in turn, sent us to spend time at a computer camp.
Here’s what I remember from my week as a computer day-camper: dusty gray carpet and SimCity. I probably played the entire week, not even fully aware that I could deduce the rules that guided city development. Still, by the time I returned home, I knew how to make cities that looked pretty and didn’t collapse in fifteen minutes. This limited skill set made me pretty popular in the computer lab in 4th grade, and it lasted until the computers were upgraded with CD-ROMs and Microsoft Encarta was installed. Then nobody cared that I could make symmetrical towns with alternating patches of color, they just wanted to put in the Encarta CD and watch the video about the rainforest.
But I didn’t quit playing. I stuck around for SimCity2000, SimCity 3000, and even played The Sims before switching from PC to Mac, parting with the Sim universe for nearly a decade now. I’ve been seeing an awful lot about the newest release of SimCity on the Internet since its release last month. Plenty of coverage has centered on folks unable to connect to the servers to play online. But the best coverage of the game is what happened with architecture critic Justin Davidson sat down to play the game. It’s truly entertaining to read someone thinking critically about the design of the game that most people play to unwind and turn off their brain for a while. He discovers dubious principles for gameplay success and the less exciting, cumbersome zoning obstacles. And even while thinking critically of the game while he plays it, his city fails. It’s oddly reassuring to see an expert in one area fail in another. Not because it makes them real people, I know he’s a real person, but because it makes us feel like we’re just as capable as some really smart people.
Of course, I’d probably still fare worse than Davidson or anyone else playing the game today, which is fine. I would get better with practice, making meticulously patterns in concrete and trees before some other advance in digital encyclopedias made my skills obsolete. So I’ll just think back to all of the thriving cities I created like FrankLloydWrightDreamland or Artown and try to forget my abysmal performance of “Smooth Criminal”.