Regular readers of this blog will now doubtless be aware of this company’s view that the domain of video games is criminally under-utilised – not just for what it offers more generally to our shared broader culture, but in terms of the many brilliant ideas generated within the gaming framework which have clear potential for non-virtual adoption. And it is the Maxis classic Sim City 3000 (‘SC 3000’) – a title that continues to inspire devotion long after its original 1998 iteration – that we wish to presently draw your attention to.
Sim City 3000 is a remarkable piece of software for many reasons, but its Health, Education and Aura (‘HEA’) department – headed up by the inimitable Randall Shoop – is arguably the most brilliant innovation in the entire game; the key lies in the last letter of that acronym. As well as city data maps containing information on everything from schooling provision to traffic density, SC 3000 also has a chart detailing the presence (or otherwise) of ‘aura’, which is defined by the corresponding Electronic Arts game manual as ‘good feelings for the city [as a whole]’: areas of high aura are denoted by (deep) shades of blue, while low-aura neighbourhoods are coloured red; the angrier the shade, the uglier the vibe.
Focusing on something as seemingly touchy-feely and subjective in an era of big data may seem anachronistic. But as any urban dweller knows, different parts of the same city can vary enormously in how they make people feel; these reactions can be predicted with such consistency that they are more or less reflected in concrete indicators such as property prices.
Moreover, it is – at least in large part – no real secret what makes for high-aura areas: beautiful buildings, plentiful green space and easy access to cultural and recreational amenities will all go a long way towards giving residents, workers and tourists alike not just an added spring in their step, but an attachment to a location which goes beyond the merely functional. It would therefore be possible to build up a pretty accurate picture of existing zones of aural import, and then set about exporting replicable elements to the bywords for urban blight.
Municipal authorities around the world should be under no illusions: cities which prioritise the spread of good vibes are not indulging in a trendy fad; they are making their assets more internationally competitive and ensuring that the people who inhabit their urban areas actually want to stay there. Whether directly or indirectly, the time for the aura map to migrate from digital fiction to policy reality has come.