by Catriona Mills

Articles in “Internet”

Urban Futility

Posted 29 July 2010 in by Catriona

I added Social City on Facebook this week, because a friend has become addicted to it and was begging for more neighbours. But like the Sim City on which it is, I believe, strongly modelled, it’s a strangely compelling game.

Compelling and horrifying.

At least, I find the following things disturbing.

My little bungalows (the only type of housing I can currently afford) put out ten new citizens every seven minutes. Really? What on Earth are they doing in there? I asked Nick this, and he said, “Um, bonking, apparently.” But even that doesn’t explain the sheer scale of the population growth—unless perhaps this is a city for rabbits.

I can only assume they’ve got some kind of accelerated cloning apparatus in each house. That would explain why all my citizens look slightly similar.

I also built a road all the way around two edges of my map before I realised that I’d need to con friends into adding the application if I wanted to expand the map any further. I might delete the road, but in the meantime, my citizens are strolling happily along the footpaths on the very edge of the map. It makes me vertiginous just watching them. I keep wanting to shout at them, “You’re going to fall off the edge of the known universe! Right off the edge!”

Sometimes, the citizens also get trapped. I built them a leisure centre because apparently they were unhappy. And then I noticed one poor citizen was trapped in a loop in the parking lot, just walking in circles and occasionally pixellating.

She might still be doing it, actually. Eventually, I grew too horrified to look, and moved the map down on the screen so I couldn’t see that corner.

But the futile horror that underlies the city really shows best in the factories.

The factory actions are mechanically repetitive. I’ve got a little blue truck in my Blamco factory (Blamco is currently manufacturing soft toys) that has been accepting crates off a conveyor belt for at least the last four hours. I mean, I haven’t been watching it steadily all that time, but every time I look, the conveyor belt is still stuffing it with crates. Is it a TARDIS? Where are all the crates going?

And next door to Blamco, there’s a forklift in the grounds of another factory. It lifts a crate, does a U-turn, and drops the crate. Then the crate vanishes and reappears in its original location, and the forklift driver does it all over again. And again. And again.

And the only products I’m allowed to build in my factories are soft toys, prom dresses, CDs, and something that looks suspiciously like Twinkies. I have a hideous feeling that my city is populated entirely by characters from 1990s’ high-school movies—or, in other words, it’s a population of clever but plain girls (plain, that is, until they take off their glasses, swap their paint-stained overalls for a cute dress, and take their hair out of that ponytail) who go dress shopping because the cute-and-popular guy just asked them to prom, but then find out it was all for a dare, slap him, and go home to hug their soft toys, eat Twinkies, and listen to country-and-western music.

Is this city some kind of Purgatory? That would explain my citizens restlessly prowling the perimeter but never actually falling into the void.

Are all the high-school mean girls forced to live out their afterlives here as the objects of their own cruel jokes, while Sisyphean forklift drivers toil endlessly in the background?

Can I accept being the architect of such a demi-Hellish landscape?

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