The cultural mandate of SimCity

One of the most interesting aspects of the SimCity games is how they monitor the impact that the city you've developed has on the environment. This has only become more involved with the latest reboot.

Before I converted to Christianity I had strong convictions about my responsibility to protect the environment. Shortly after converting, I remember hearing Christians scoff about the issue. “There is no need to recycle, it’s all going to be burned up when Jesus comes back anyway,” I was told. Young though I was, such notions seemed naive. I would later learn that strong environmental convictions are compatible with Christianity, as the cultural mandate calls us to be good stewards of God’s world.

While I believe all Christians are called to care for the physical world, doing so can feel overwhelming - an endeavor attended with seemingly insurmountable social, economic and political pressures. Making order out of a chaotic and broken world isn’t easy and our best efforts often feel thwarted by systems outside our control.

The developers of the latest installment of SimCity required the game to be connected to the Internet, in hopes of creating a social experience in which players share regions and cooperate or compete for resources. And so this is not merely a game about building cities, but about the challenge of sharing the world. Players’ experiences in the game are directly tied to the actions of their neighbors.

My first city went bankrupt early on because I was providing my city with more services than I could afford. I had to shut down my police department, fire department and the elementary school I had just opened. Upon doing so, my neighbor sent school buses, allowing my sims to commute to their schools. Another sent police cars to patrol my streets and fire engines to fight my fires. Without the help of my neighbors, my city never would have survived. Once I balanced my city’s books, I returned the favor by picking up my neighbors’ trash and offering them access to my hospital. My first few hours were glorious times of cooperation.

Shortly after this, however, I began noticing alerts of rising pollution levels, despite my efforts to be green. I had built wind and solar power plants and was researching ways to improve them. I had extensive bus and street car routes throughout my city. And yet pollution levels kept rising. I realized that this was due to my neighbors being far less green - choosing coal power and offering their citizens far less mass transit. I found this frustrating, as my sims quality of life, health and happiness was being negatively affected by the decisions of others.

Upon further reflection, however, I realized that this is what makes the new SimCity special. No city is an island. The reality of other people with whom you share the world makes it imperative that you not only build a great city, but that you leverage your influence for the good of the world. SimCity was challenging me to help my neighbors, despite what they were doing to me.

Each server has a community bulletin board where players can post comments and request help completing projects to improve the quality of life in your region. I politely informed my neighbors that pollution levels were rising and asked them to join me in beginning work on a solar farm that would help provide clean energy for the entire region. Changing the world isn’t easy - it takes time, patience and collaboration. Making strides to preserve the world God has given us can be incredibly frustrating. However, we must not let the sins of others make us apathetic. As SimCity reminded me, if we look hard enough, there are ways to make a difference.

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