Like most things in my life, there was a computer game that changed the way I thought about things. This game was SimCity and it was more enjoyable than many would assume.
SimCity allows you to create your own virtual city in whatever form you want, but for many years I struggled to make any city actually work. I would invest in education, provided healthcare and good utilities; all the things happy citizens might need. I became bankrupt. I was given access to mighty railway lines and people didn’t use them preferring their cars instead. I built parks and football pitches and then had to watch them decay as the maintenance built up to untenable levels. I would take out loan after loan and then become crippled by repayments. Time to start again.
And again. And once more. Until one day, I got it right. I would tweak the budgets of the schools and services here and there so I wasn’t over funding. I would improve the right areas of the city to promote development rather than just making things look nice visually to me. My Sims started to become healthier and smarter and cool hi-tech businesses would develop. I was rewarded with cool new buildings and monuments to build; celebrating my skills as mayor. My city, was small, but perfectly formed. A pretty little Bonsai tree of a world with people heading to and fro. Development was slow and planning was meticulous but gradually the place would grow.
But it didn’t grow. It was boring just expanding slowly and I started again instead. I created a new Bonsai tree city and did a little better but inevitably I got to to a stage where I had to simply repeat the same pattern again and again and again. Making adjustments to the city was painful because as the city grew bigger I needed to make the roads wider and provide public transport. In the end I was having to bulldoze pretty little neighbourhoods just to make my Sims get to work within an hour. It was frustrating and painful.
And then I read somewhere that you didn’t always have to build schools and provide healthcare to make a big city. In fact you barely had to provide anything. People would move in regardless because people need somewhere to live and a way to pay for their living. I created a huge residential zone with roads and power and some nearby industrial sectors. Very little was provided in the way of services and there were just a few commercial districts dotted around. I unpaused the game and let the world build.
I was rolling in cash. People flooded into tenement blocks and big dirty polluting industry sprouted up as a massively unskilled workforce came to the join the city. People got up, went to work, bought food and drink when needed and went home. There were muggings and murders and all sorts of horrible things happening but people just got on with it. Like a kind of North Korean microcosm. Things were shit but people had to live.
And by god they paid their taxes. They individually paid very little but compared to the bonsai tree city I was building up so much cash that it was laughable. From there I was able to start making improvements to the city with the cash I’d made. I was much happier tearing down shitty tower blocks to make way for a new school because gradually the area improved. The city expanded so fast that I needed to create a whole new region nearby. Eventually I pretty much had a whole collection of regions forming one big sprawling and chaotic metropolis. More importantly, I was having fun.
Bonsai trees are about seeking perfection. It is a labour that requires focus and patience and can be highly rewarding for some. But other trees just grow where they want. They grow and grow and spread and reach and tower and inspire. Some die. Some become bloody great big landmarks. Most of all, they are natural. They are truly living an organic process rather than one that allows too much human influence.
My Simcity became something wild and uncontrolled. I just built more and more and then dealt with the consequences. I let areas die out if needs be (basically Detroit or The North of England) and focused on other areas that were working instead (The South of England). Rather than meticulously pruning parts of a Bonsai city to look after everyone I took care of the big picture and then dealt with whatever else I felt like.
Bonsai trees will always be small. If you want something more imposing – think more Oak. If you’re happy to live your life in a small pot inside a house sheltered from reality then that’s cool. But if you want to really grow then you have to expose yourself to the elements and let nature take it’s course. You’ll probably be happier that way too.