MAKING SENSE OF SOFTWARE
by Ted FriedmanCopyright © 1993 by Ted Friedman. All rights reserved.
This essay is a work-in-progress which I intend to publish in an academic journal. I would greatly appreciate any feeback.910 Constitution Dr. #1102
Durham, NC 27705
When students today study individuals' relations to texts, they discuss literature, film, maybe television or radio. When they get back from class, however, their primary form of textual interaction is likely to be with a different medium: the computer screen. They do research through computerized databases, write papers with Microsoft Word, and even take breaks by playing Tetris. In the past three years, in fact, I've probably spent as much time in front of computer monitors as I have watching TV or reading print.
The Need for Software Theory, and SimCity as a Place to Start
Students, of course, are just one segment of the population whose lives have been changed by the new forms of textual interaction made possible by the computing revolution. And everyone from Bill Clinton to Timothy Leary agrees that American life will only get more and more high-tech. Yet despite the very different ways these new kinds of texts operate, the humanities have yet to respond with any sort of coherent attempt to account for those differences -- a "computer theory" (or perhaps "software theory") to complement literary theory, film theory, and television theory.
One reason for this lack of response is the breadth of the field of study -- everything from the Macintosh "desktop" to Lotus 1-2-3 to Super Mario Brothers to America Online. Rather than tackle all these genres at once, most observers have chosen specific types of software as the crucial sites of study. Literary theorists have begun to look at the new possibilities of reading opened up by hypertext software. Cyberpunks have elaborated on the utopian potential of virtual reality technology. And psychologists have attempted to study the effects of Nintendo- playing on children. One area that has received scant attention from cultural theorists, however, offers particularly fertile ground for inquiry: the world of computer games.
This paper will begin with a discussion of the limitations of the other perspectives on computer culture described above, to explain why I feel computer games are the best place to locate a "screen theory" of the computer monitor. Then, it will turn to the rich subculture of computer gaming, to ground its analysis in the thinking that has already been going on in the pages of Computer Gaming World and Compute , and on computer bulletin boards around the country. With this context in place, I will offer my own contribution to the project of theorizing computer games, by introducing the language of postmodernism to investigate what makes playing a game like SimCity such a distinct, engrossing, and perhaps empowering experience.
I. The Limitations of Current Theories of Software
HypertextThe one corner of this universe of new possibilities that has been explored in some depth by at least a few cultural theorists is hypertext.  Hypertext is software which allows many different texts to be linked to each other, so that simply clicking a mouse on a key word brings up a new related document. It can be used to create fiction with myriad forking paths, or to organize concordances and footnotes which don't simply supply page numbers, but instantaneously call up whole documents, each of which in turn can be linked to other documents. Reading in this system becomes an active form of networking. George P. Landow in Hypertext: The Convergence of Contemporary Critical Theory and Technology interestingly compares this process to the accounts of reading as a decentered, intertextual process formulated by poststructuralist critics such as Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida. 
But to emphasize hypertext as the model for interactive computer texts is to remain shackled to an atavistic notion of "literature." Limiting his discussion to the linking of batches of words to each other, Landow can simply explain these new textual interactions through an updated account of reading as a profusion of choices. But the constant feedback between player and computer in a computer game is a far more complex interaction than this simple networking model. And computers' graphics and sound capabilities, along with joystick and point- and-click interfaces, make reading an even more tenuous analogy; while in one stage of development computer games like Infocom's Zork series may have simply been "interactive fiction" in which players read sentences and typed responses, computer games today often use no written language at all. (In fact, international game developers often design games in which all information is presented in icons, so that the software need not be translated into different languages.) 
Hypertext seems to me a transitional genre particularly appealing to literary academia because it gussies up traditional literary study with postmodern multimedia flash. Concentrating on an account of hypertext to explain interactive computer texts is like basing film studies on the genre of screenplays, without looking at the movies themselves; what is needed is an analysis rooted in the distinct qualities of this new kind of interaction between viewer and text, just as film studies rightly focuses on the distinctive cinematic experience.
Cyberpunk/Virtual RealityA useful corrective to the limited imagination of the hypertext literary theorists is the cyberpunk Utopianism associated with the magazine Mondo 2000. The Mondo writers, many of whom are computer programmers themselves, are less interested in the current state of interactive texts than they are in the long-term potential to create "virtual reality" technologies which could engulf participants in total simulations of sensory experience.  The problem with working from this model for interactive computer texts, however, is that in positing an ultimate goal of total transparency -- the perfect virtual reality would in theory be indistinguishable from the "real world" -- it once again loses sight of the specific language of simulation. To the degree to which computer games do not perfectly correspond to the world beyond the screen, they entail specific metaphorics -- an icon represents a city block, a squiggly line represents a river, a stick figure represents the player. It is the associative distance travelled between these images and what they seek to represent, and how these representative processes in turn transform our notions about the "real world," which a semiotics of computer games can help us explain and examine. A virtual reality model, on the other hand, would see these distances as imperfections along the path to a perfect simulation.
NintendoA limitation which both the literary hypertext theorists and the cyberpunks share is their lack of grounding in popular practices; both concentrate on the avant-garde and highbrow potential of computer technology, while ignoring how interactive texts have actually developed and are currently being experienced in popular culture. The most pervasive form of interactive computer technology, of course, is the Nintendo- style video game. Discussions of interactive computer texts from this angle have mostly come from psychologists interested in the "effects" of Nintendo-playing on children. But this quantative research is as limited as the number-crunching which passed for an analysis of television in the '50s; it does nothing to explain the structure of the relationship between the viewer/player and text/games. 
Marsha Kinder offers a more sophisticated analysis of Nintendo rooted in feminist psychoanalytic film theory in Playing With Power in Movies Television, and Video Games , but she too has trouble accounting for Nintendo games as distinct kinds of texts. Instead, she repeatedly explains the games through the analysis of other cultural forms. Thus, she discusses a film about video games called The Wizard and an episode of the Super Mario Brothers cartoon show, but has disappointingly little to say about games in their own right. 
Why Computer GamesIt's not hard to see why Kinder has trouble discussing Nintendo directly; there seems to be a limited amount of textual analysis that can be done on arcade-style games so completely dependent on reflex skills rather than more contemplative forms of interaction. Most Nintendo games, while offering complex interactive experiences, cannot explore the full opportunities of their medium the way more strategy-oriented games for adults can. As Sara Reeder points out in an article on educational software for Computer Gaming World,
disk-based computer games are the computer equivalent of art films. Although they appeal to a much smaller audience than mass-market movies and they won't ever make billions, they're the crucial testing ground on which almost all the artistic and technological breakthroughs are made; breakthroughs that will have a profound influence on the next generation of mass market offerings. Unlike their predecessors, the 16-bit SNES and Genesis decks can handle more complex games with higher production values, enabling them to take better advantage of the advances made in the "real" computer world. 
I don't mean for this distinction to replicate the avant-gardism I criticized both the hypertext theorists and the cyberpunks for. The most successful computer games sell hundreds of thousands of copies, and are pirated by untold hundreds of thousands of other users. SimCity has been written up by Newsweek and most major newspapers, has been integrated into many educational and business training programs, and now in fact is available for the Super Nintendo system. Concentrating on computer strategy games such as SimCity, then, allows us to move beyond the limitations of kid culture while remaining grounded not in speculation over the possible future potential of interactive computer texts, but in a discussion of their present effects on millions of lives.
At the same time, what games like SimCity share with Nintendo is their engrossing appeal. Fans and foes of the medium alike refer to the "addiction" of computer game- playing. As the most compelling form of computer texts -- software not thrust upon workers or students out of professional necessity, but actively chosen by individuals for pleasure -- computer games seem the perfect place to begin to explore the distinct power and possibilities of the interactive texts made possible by computers.
Why SimCityI want to focus my discussion on the specific example of the game SimCity, because it is both the most widely played and the most widely imitated game of its kind. Civilization, for example, the most popular computer game of the past year, is often described as "SimCity-meets-wargaming." First released in 1987, SimCity made designer Will Wright a star in the game- designing community, and has spawned numerous sequels from its parent software company, Maxis, including SimEarth, SimAnt, and SimLife. Here's a description of the game from a Maxis catalog:
SimCity makes you Mayor and City Planner, and dares you to design and build the city of your dreams....Depending on your choices and design skills, Simulated Citizens (Sims) will move in and build homes, hospitals, churches, stores and factories, or move out in search of a better life elsewhere. The player constructs the city by choosing where to establish power plants, set up Industrial, Commercial, and Residential zones, build roads, mass transit, and power lines, Police Stations, airports, and so on. Every action is assigned a price, and the player can only spend as much money as he or she has in the city treasury. The treasury begins at a base amount, then can be replenished yearly by taxes, the rate of which is determined by the player. As the player becomes more familiar with the system, she or he gradually develops strategies to encourage economic growth, build up the population of the city, and score a higher "approval rating" from the Sims. Which of these or other goals the player chooses to pursue, however, is up to the individual; Maxis likes to refer to its products as "Software Toyst" rather than games, and insists, "when you play with our toys, you set your own goals and decide for yourself when you've reached them. The fun and challenge of playing with our toys lies in exploring the worlds you create out of your own imagination. You're rewarded for creativity, experimentation, and understanding, with a healthy, thriving universe to call your own." 
As this quite analytic ad copy demonstrates, the general lack of academic attention (at least from the field of cultural theory -- many urban planning classes have incorporated the game in their syllabi) to these types of games does not mean that they have gone uninterpreted. The Users Manual to the game goes much further, extensively describing how the simulator works and was developed, and concludes with a brief "History of Cities and City Planning" and a bibliography. The mechanisms of SimCity are further detailed in several books that have been published about the game, including The SimCity Planning Commission Handbook, SimCity Strategies and Secrets, and Master SimCity/SimEarth. The success of SimCity has also lead to many articles on the game in the popular press. And its use in pedagogical settings has also led to discussions of the game in education publications like The Computing Teacher .
The most interesting criticism of SimCity-style computer games, however, has come from a different source: the computer game subculture. The magazine Computer Gaming World is the self-conscious organ of this audience; along with printing game previews, reviews, and strategy tips, it publishes very thoughtful essays on the state of computer games. It takes its role at the connection between the hard-core computer game market and the computer game industry very seriously; it thoroughly covers the computer game industry, and publishes abstracts from technical programming essays in the Journal of Computer Game Design. It also prints a ranking of the Top 100 Computer Games, along with a Hall of Fame, based on continuous reader polling; every issue includes a response card for readers to cast their ballots. This interaction with readers continues not only through the mail, but through online modem networks. The Prodigy service, in particular, runs a daily column by the editors of Computer Gaming World, and the editors regularly scan the gaming forum and respond to bulletins posted there.
II. Theories of Software from the Computer Gaming Subculture
The intense dialogue fostered by Computer Gaming World and other forums within the computer gaming industry/subculture has led to the formulation of a computer game canon (the Hall of Fame printed in every issue of CGW; SimCity is one of the 27 present members) and several provisional theories of computer gaming. These discussions are to my mind the most successful attempts to create a theory of interactive computer texts, and provide the best starting-off point for my own attempts to make sense of SimCity. I will focus on what I find to be the three primary debates going on in computer game criticism: the validity of the model of computer games as "interactive cinema;" the relative significance of the game designer and game player in the interactive experience; and the relationship between simulation and reality.
Computer Games as "Interactive Cinema"One strand of criticism within the computer gaming subculture describes the computer game industry as "The New Hollywood." This analogy has its roots in structural economic relations, as several of the major software companies, such as Lucasfilms, are in fact owned by Hollywood studios, and the computer-generated graphics techniques of recent films like Terminator II and The Lawnmower Man demonstrate the increasing interpenetration between computer programming and filmmaking. It serves as a helpful model for understanding the process of computer game design, which is now typically a collaborative process among many specialists. Some recent game ads in CGW, in fact, list game credits movie-poster style.
The difference between the New Hollywood and the Old, according to this analogy, is that computer games are "interactive cinema," in which the game player takes the role of the protagonist. This notion does seem to help describe certain types of computer games, such as Sierra's Leisure Suit Larry series, in which the player navigates the character through a series of encounters. At this point, however, it seems to me that the analogy, like that of hypertext to reading, begins to circumscribe the opportunities of the medium. While many of the Sierra games are enjoyable, they really aren't much more than the old text-based Infocom format with sound and graphics added. As such, they don't begin to take advantage of the opportunities for constant interaction and feedback between player and computer the way a game such as SimCity does; there is usually just one way of playing the game, and "interaction" consists of trial-and-error until the player gets the actions right. And because of the limitations of computer memory, Sierra games can't begin to compete with movies as audiovisual experiences. The improvements of CD-ROM technology do allow much more information to be stored on a disk, so that the new CD-ROM version of King's Quest VI replaces typed dialogue with actual recorded voices. Nonetheless, the experience is still a long way from even a decent TV show; the much-vaunted "soundtrack," for example, is just one programmed synthesizer. Perhaps eventually improvements in speed and storage will allow computer games to fully replicate classical Hollywood cinema style in an "interactive" setting, but the result seems more likely to be the transformation of the cinematic experience, rather than the fulfillment of what computer games as a distinct medium can accomplish. As science fiction writer and computer game critic Orson Scott Card argues,
...what every good game author eventually has to learn...is that computers are a completely different medium, and great computer artworks will only come about when we stop judging computer games by standards developed for other media.... You want to do the rebuilding of Atlanta after the war? SimCity does it better than either the book or the movie of Gone With the Wind. The computer 'don't know nothin' 'bout birthin' babies,' but what it does well, it does better than any other medium that ever existed. 
The Roles of Designer and PlayerUnder the "New Hollywood" explanation for the division of labor in computer game creation, the game designer is the director. Computer game critics are divided over how much authority to grant the designer as the source of meaning in the text. Chris Crawford, designer of the pioneering wargames Easter Front and Legionnaire, is computer games' staunchest auteurist. As founder of the Journal of Computer Game Design, author of The Art of Computer Game Design, moderator of the Game Designer's Forum on America Online, and frequent contributor to Computer Gaming World and other computer game magazine, Crawford is one of the primary ideologues of computer gaming. Crawford views game designing as "an intensely personal statement."  In his Balance of Power, there is only one winning strategy, and winning the game means discovering Crawford's pacifist moral. Crawford's directions to prospective computer game designers are the antithesis of Maxis' vision of the open-ended "software toy": "The game must have a clearly defined goal...This is your opportunity to express yourself; choose a goal in which you believe, a goal that expresses your sense of aesthetics, your world view." 
On the other extreme from Crawford's cult of the author is Card's aesthetic of empowerment, an elaboration of the "software toy" ideal. For Card, the best computer games are those which provide frameworks which give players the opportunity to create their own worlds:
Someone at every game design company should have a full-time job of saying, "Why aren't we letting the player decide that?"...When [designers] let...unnecessary limitations creep into a game, gamewrights reveal that they don't yet understand their own art. They've chosen to work with the most liberating of media- and yet they snatch back with their left hand the freedom they offered us with their right. Remember, gamewrights, the power and beauty of the art of gamemaking is that you and the player collaborate to create the final story. Every freedom that you can give to the player is an artistic victory. And every needless boundary in your game should feel to you like failure. The tension between these two visions of textual interaction -- one that privileges the designer/author, the other the player/reader -- runs throughout the discussion of computer games. Obviously, they must remain in some sort of dialectic relationship; the perfectly open-ended game, after all, would simply be one programmed by the player from scratch, while the ultimate author-centered text would simply be a movie on a computer screen.
The Relation Between Simulation and Reality:What concerns many writers sympathetic to the ideal of open-endedness is the way the most convincing computer simulations may hide their human origins. Even the most glowing accounts of SimCity invariably bring up the supposed flaw of "designer bias." Science fiction writer and Byte magazine columnist Jerry Pournelle makes the typical objections:
The Question of "Designer Bias"
The simulation is pretty convincing -- and that's the problem, because...it's a simulation of the designer's theories, not of reality. Case in point: the designer prefers rail transportation to automobiles. It's costly, but it doesn't pollute. In fact, you can design a whole city with nothing but rail transport, not a single road in the place. In the real world, such a city would soon strangle in garbage....[M]y point is not to condemn these programs. Instead, I want to warn against their misuse. For all too many, computers retain an air of mystery, and there's a strong temptation to believe what the little machines tell us. ''But that's what the computer says'' is a pretty strong argument in some circles. The fact is, though, the computer doesn't say anything at all. It merely tells you what the programmers told it to tell you. Simulation programs and games can be valuable tools to better understanding, but we'd better be aware of their limits. One of the best things such programs could do would be to let the students know what the inner relationships are. I don't know of any programs that let you fiddle with the equations inside the model, but I think that might be one heck of an educational tool. 
Pournelle's request for more information on the game mechanism seems somewhat unfair, given that the SimCity User Documentation thoroughly runs down what factors affect city development, and The SimCity Planning Commission Handbook goes into even greater detail. Pournelle's final suggestion, though, seems to have been taken to heart by Wright. His follow-up to SimCity, SimEarth, allows players to fiddle with such factors as rate of population growth, frequency of mutation, and reflectivity of cloud albedo.
A more basic problem with the "bias" critique is the assumption that there is something called "reality" which game designers could "objectively" simulate. Computer games, like all other texts, will always be ideological constructions. Simulations which seek to explain "how the world works," in fact, would seem to have the honesty of announcing their ideological status; the natural question almost every SimCity player with a low score is likely to ask is, "according to whom?" While the sheen of technology may initially obscure a simulation's constructedness, learning and winning (or, in the case of a non- competitive "software toy," "reaching one's goals at") a computer game is a process of demystification; one succeeds by investigating how the software is put together. The player molds her or his strategy through trial-and-error experimentation to see "what works" -- which actions are rewarded and which are punished. Unlike a book or film which one is likely to encounter only once, a computer game is usually played over and over. The moment it is no longer interesting is the moment when all its secrets have been discovered, its limitations exposed. Even auterist Chris Crawford describes the hermeneutics of computer games as fundamentally a process of deconstruction rather than simple interpretation. David Myers observes,
[A]ccording to Crawford, the best measure of the success of a game is that the player learns the principles behind that game "while discovering inevitable flaws in its design...A game should lift the player up to higher levels of understanding." 
Having laid out what is already being said about computer games, I now want to add to the dialogue. Specifically, I think the language of postmodernism can be helpful in making sense of the new kind of experiences offered by games like SimCity.
III. SimCity as a Postmodern Text
SimCity as Cognitive MappingIn The Condition of Postmodernity David Harvey argues for the primacy of spatialization in constructing cognitive frameworks:
We learn our ways of thinking and conceptualizing from active grappling with the spatializations of the written word, the study and production of maps, graphs, diagrams, photographs, models, paintings, mathematical symbols, and the like. 
He then points out the dilemma of making sense of space under late capitalism:
How adequate are such modes of thought and such conceptions in the face of the flow of human experience and strong processes of social change? On the other side of the coin, how can spatializations in general...represent flux and change...? 
Representing flux and change is exactly what a simulation can do, by replacing the stasis of 2- or 3- dimensional spatial models with a map that shifts over time to reflect change. And this change is not simply the one-way communication of a series of still images, but a continually interactive process. Computer simulations bring the tools of narrative to mapmaking, allowing the individual not simply to observe structures, but to become experientially immersed in their logic.
SimCity may be the best existing example in popular culture of what Frederick Jameson in Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism calls "an aesthetic of cognitive mapping: a pedagogical political culture which seeks to endow the individual subject with some new heightened sense of its place in the global system."  He derives the idea of cognitive mapping from Kevin Lynch's The Image of the City, which, Jameson writes,
taught us that the alienated city is above all a space in which people are unable to map (in their minds) either their own positions or the urban totality in which they find themselves... . Disalienation in the traditional city, then, involves the practical reconquest of a sense of place and the construction or reconstruction of an articulated ensemble which can be retained in memory and which the individual subject can map and remap along the moments of mobil, alternative trajectories. 
While clearly not politically radical, SimCity is a powerful tool for making this "reconquest of a sense of place." Playing the game means becoming engrossed in a systemic logic which connects a myriad array of causes and effects. The simulation acts as a kind of map-in-time, visually and viscerally (as the player internalizes the game's logic) demonstrating the repercussions and interrelatedness of many different social decisions. Escaping the prison-house of language which seems so inadequate for holding together the disparate strands that construct postmodern subjectivity, computer simulations provide a radically new quasi-narrative form through which to communicate -- to teach, in fact, as SimCity is now often used as a pedagogical tool -- structures of interconnection. After a player has played SimCity, the map connecting the various points of power in city life is more than "retained in memory;" it is overlaid as a grid structuring the individual's reaction to the world around her or him. When one walks down the street, one is more likely to see not just isolated houses, but a zone of development; and the recognition of this zone calls up not simply an isolated image, but a confluence of citywide interrelationships.
SimCity as a Self-Deconstructing MapAt the same time, SimCity escapes the totalizing logic of Enlightenment forms of spacialization. Harvey, summarizing de Certeau, describes the effect of the traditional rhetoric of mapping:
It 'eliminates little by little' all traces of 'the practices that produce it.'...Since any system of representation is itself a fixed spatial construct, it automatically converts the fluid, confused, but nonetheless objective spaces and time of work and social reproduction into a fixed schema." 
Learning to "beat" a simulation, on the contrary, is the gradual process of exposing "the practices that produce it," as I have already discussed. In addition, computer games' cult of the game designer means that simulations are not seen as the authorless expressions of objective fact that traditional maps are. (This constructedness is often intentionally underlined in games' documentation, which frequently contain short introductions by the game designer about how and why the software was written.) And not only are simulations fluid rather than "fixed," but they also acknowledge the partiality of any system of representation by always remaining somewhat unpredictable, incorporating random numbers into their calculations so that no two games can ever come out the same.
SimCity and Post-Individualistic SubjectivityOne way in which the logic of SimCity differs from Jameson's aesthetic of cognitive mapping is in its positioning of the individual. Jameson calls for
a situational representation on the part of the individual subject to that vaster and properly unrepresentable totality which is the ensemble of society's structures as a whole....[C]ognitive mapping...comes to require the coordination of existential data (the empirical position of the subject) with unlived, abstract conceptions of the geographical totality. 
Rather than coordinating the position of the individual subject, computer game simulations allow one to live those "abstract conceptions of the geographical totality." The SimCity owner's manual describes the player's role as a "combination Mayor and City Planner." But in playing SimCity one doesn't identify with a specific character so much as with the city as a whole. One thinks of oneself less as a "mover-and-shaker" giving orders from on high than as an extension of the logic of the system.
Eisenstein thought that the technology of montage could allow one to make a movie of Das Kapital. But the reigning structures of classical Hollywood style direct the viewer to identify with individuals rather than with abstract concepts. In computer games, however, as Chris Crawford notes (paraphrased by David Myers), "Game personalities are not as important as game processes -- 'You can interact with a process ...Ultimately, you can learn about it.'" 
I should point out that my analysis of the subjectivity created by SimCity differs from that of most writers on computer games. Many articles on SimCity discuss the pleasures of pretending to be Mayor, bossing the "Sims" around, etc. I believe, however, that these accounts are to some extent after- the-fact attempts to interpret a new kind of experience with familiar language, rather than accurate descriptions of the experience itself. It's very hard to describe what it feels like when one is "lost" inside a computer game, precisely because at that moment one's sense of "self" has been fundamentally transformed. The powerful state of suspended disbelief created by computer games, during which a player may spend hours glued to the screen without noticing the passage of time,  is a symbiotic lock between player and computer. One makes choices, types in commands, etc., without conscious recognition of each step. One loses one's sense of oneself as an isolated individual, and comes to think of one's self as an organic extension of the software, and the software as an extension of one's consciousness.  But it's hard to even conceptualize the notion of identifying with "processes" from the standpoint of traditional Enlightenment individualistic subjectivity.
Computer games, then, mark a fundamental challenge to familiar conceptions of individual autonomy -- notions which in many ways have served to obscure the degree to which individuals are shaped, limited, and ideologically interpellated by the currents of power in capitalist society. Harvey describes the central role of the rhetoric of mapping developed during the Renaissance in constructing the contemporary sense of self:
Perspectivism conceives of the world from the standpoint of the 'seeing eye' of the individual....The connection between individualism and perspectivism is important. It provided an effective material foundation for the Cartesian principles of rationality that became integrated into the Enlightenment project....The rational ordering of space in the renaissance maps of England played an important role in affirming the position of individuals in relation to territory....[A]ll Enlightenment projects had in common a relatively unified common-sense of what space and time were about and why their rational ordering was important. This common basis in part depended on...the capacity to diffuse cartographic knowledge....But it also rested upon the link between Renaissance perspectivism and a conception of the individual as the ultimate source and container of social power, albeit assimilated within the nation state as a collective system of authority. 
In playing SimCity, in contrast, one does not just locate oneself as a point on the map, but becomes the map itself. Thus, once the game is over, SimCity leaves the player with the opportunity to view herself or himself not simply as an isolated individual, but as a member of mass society -- a particular intersection of interpenetrating, interdependent social forces.