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Hell, to Scale: A Review of @bltroutwine’s SIM CITY Thread


You can find @bltroutwine’s thread on twitter here or at the bottom of this review.

the writing acquires transparency through its mimicry of the journalistic affect that gameplay status updates themselves mimic. the transparency of the prose provides camouflage for its invective. at a certain point in each tweet, as if in contempt of its figurativeness, the history breaks out of the metaphor and roams. ugly, angry, present history. references to freeways and fires and homelessness and a particular liberal politicking signal california to me, though i wonder if different regions would be imagined by non-californians reading it, if the processes described here have the potential to be read as variations on a form, widely applicable. if you heard someplace else, let us know.

im interested in the moment before, when our present, described obliquely as the sum of processes in a near history, is still shaking inside the cage of sim city the game. there’s a slippery moment where my understanding of how playing sim city works starts to include things that can’t happen while playing it. reading the thread i half-imagine new tabs and notifications and gameplay systems, carried past them. the near history batters at the metaphors bars. its screams mix with the ringing of the metal. a new sound is created, a new voice. the effect of this strange voice is that i am brought to an in-between perspective. this perspective retains the isometric view of playing sim city, but from angles impossible in the game. its the overlord perspective without the remove that made it feel safe. 

the thread seems to say the same thing, but it builds on itself. characters and groups start to reappear. if there is momentum to the thread it is the kind that belongs to horror stories. “crime rates are unaffected but your city budget is increasingly dominated by the police advisor.” the structure of the particular sentence here sprouts a tab for my police advisor, positioned at the end of the sentence, a surprise, emphasized. i always had a police advisor, though, didn’t i? next to the economics and the culture advisor. the encapsulation of his duties within a selectable icon: he is as innocent and agendaless as a gear. this is the momentum of contemporary horror stories, where the expected thing happens, happens again, somehow a little more each time.

at the end, the guy that keeps suggesting freeways through “their” neighborhoods and the police advisor miraculously appear in the same room. each agrees with the economic advisor’s assessment. cut public school funding and build prisons. two birds with one stone, they say. notifications are supposed to tell you what happened, often while you weren’t looking. even while you were looking, they’ll tell you. what happened in that room? an agreement. pieces moved around the board, effects without causes. much hinges on your reception of the phrase “master race weirdos.” often because of what they can or cannot take seriously, the protagonists in horror stories die. 

relaying ironically a structural analysis of fascist creep, @bltroutwine weirds the processes of an urban planning simulation game into perspective-shattering doom. it camouflages itself in a tone that i would describe as “telling it plainly.” reading it, if we can name the causes that have been placed outside direct articulation by the thread, then we understand the bit to take place even more in the present than previously thought. the hell in the miniature model is correctly to scale. 

Jehmbo is the Online Editor for Merry-Go-Round Magazine.

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