As people said of Mussolini, at least he made the trains run on time.
Finding the optimal balance between liberty and efficiency has always been an element of social theory and planning, and obviously, there's no objectively perfect spot on the curve. Some of us prefer a cleaner, safer, more efficient city, others prefer the chaos and tumult of a more organic sprawl. Either way, perfection is impossible to define, much less to achieve.
Not so in SimCity 3000. As it turns out, despite the intentional open-endedness of this virtual city planning software, it is possible to "beat" the game by developing an optimal algorithm.
Vincent Ocasla, a 22-year-old Philippino architecture student, spent 4 years working to accomplish exactly this task, and by all appearances, he succeeded. Technically speaking, he built the "perfect" city within the possibility space of the game's software.
Of course, few of us would ever want to live in his fictional city of Magnasanti, and fortunately, there's no place remotely like it on earth today. But as professional-grade versions of software like SC3k become increasingly prevalent tools for architects, city planners, policy wonks and other engineers of our social environment, the risks of such a city -- and such a society -- being built seem less and less remote.
The danger isn't necessarily in some 21st century dictator forcing us to live in a grid of his or her own design. Instead, the danger resides in our collective blindness to the limits of our tools, our societal inability to see the invisible walls we erect for ourselves when our tools are both too complex for us to understand fully and too logic-based to allow for happy accidents and other perversions of intent.
I'm not saying that we should abandon software for quill and parchment -- simply saying that we need people like Ocasla to keep us honest. Without the hackers, the tinkerers, and the obsessives to show us where our tools will lead, we can never hope to understand the future consequences of our actions.
An interesting interview with Ocasla over at Viceland Games.
(thanks for the link, Gabe!)