John Davidson is dead broke. Yesterday he arrived in Garbage City. Jobless, circling the block in his car — his last worldly possession — desperately, desperately looking for any kind of work. He has no other options. He’s hit rock bottom.
Why else would John be in Garbage City?
John Davidson’s story: it’s transient. For just a few short seconds you can grasp it, before it dissipates, lost in context and the fiction of an invented city in transition.
Hover your mouse over John and you’ll get a short, one-sentence summary. A single life reduced to six short words. John Davidson: Dead broke, looking for a job. You invent this man’s life, you hear his story and your reaction is to elaborate, to ask questions. Why did John come here? What happened to John? What went wrong? How did John’s life become so bad that he felt he had to drive his broken-down, rust-bucket of a car all the way to Garbage City, where trash goes to die?
Sim City is about stories. And this story is about John Davidson.
Garbage City. A broken-down place. The worst place. When Sim City producer Jason Haber started building an eco-system of multiple different towns, he realised he had a problem. A garbage problem. How do you dispose of all the rubbish produced in a network of brutally consumerist cities? How do you manage the waste of human beings committed to consumption?
His answer was Garbage City. A dark, dilapidated collection of buildings and homes dedicated solely to processing trash from other more extravagant cities.
Jason built a number of places. A town like Las Vegas: driven by gambling, shopping, and a criminal element the city couldn’t afford to imprison. Another creation featured a highway inspired by the worst feverish nightmares of MC Escher. A tumbling, fucked-up roller coaster of a road that represented the very worst of Jason Haber’s tyrannical money wasting autocratic rule.
But Garbage City is the turd in the crown. Garbage City is where the trash from all other cities ends up. It goes there to be recycled by people like John Davidson, those who exist at the arse end of the social spectrum. People desperate for jobs, circling around Escher-esque highways desperately seeking purpose and employment.
Garbage City was an experiment, says Jason. Jason is showing us Sim City. He is showing us Garbage City.
“I talked about Garbage City before I actually built it,” he explains.
In previous demos Jason would show off the game’s new ‘specialisation’ system. Sim City allows you to build complete cities that focus on one thing: extraction of certain resources, for example, or a city like Vegas, focusing on gambling.
“But then I’d always say to the press, ‘but you could create your own specialisation, like a Wind city, or even a Garbage city!’”
One of the US PR managers got a little tetchy about Jason’s constant references to ‘Garbage City’. At this point it was just an idea. No-one had actually built a place called Garbage City. Could it really be done? Could a user build a city that existed and functioned purely to process trash? Sim City’s PR Manager was worried Jason was making the press a promise the game couldn’t keep.
“The other PR manager used to be like, ‘you can’t keep talking about Garbage City, you haven’t even built it yet! You don’t know if it even works.
“So I took that as a challenge, and I made Garbage City!”
It could be John Davidson, or it could be any of the downtrodden residents who make up the populace of Garbage City, but every day Jason Haber takes a truck full of sewage from his Las Vegas city and empties the contents of that truck directly onto someone’s lawn. Just to fuck with them. Just to see what happens, to watch the reactions of the poor, poor bastards that make up Garbage City.
Sim City is about the little stories. It’s about John Davidson, but it’s also about prodding at your city. Stories exist on that level too. The story of the omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent Man-God who creates a city for the sole purpose of filling it with trash.
“When it comes to stories I like to play at a little bit of a higher level, explains Jason. “I still like to play at the level of my city.
“I always try to do something stupid, like dump all the sewage from another city in one guy’s backyard. I love the little moments like that. That’s been my favourite Sim City story so far — putting sewage in someone’s backyard!”
Sim City has stories in every corner of its existence, in pockets dotted throughout the cities. The homeless people that live in the park created to reduce pollution; the criminals released into the wild because there aren’t enough prisons to hold them. On a grander level the story is about the cities themselves: how they evolve, how they grow: what works, what doesn’t work.
But Sim City can also be about the relationship between a creator and his creation, or a Father and his son.
“I play with my son,” laughs Jason. “He loves to destroy the cities!
“He watches me build the cities up and he says, ‘do the tomato! Do the tomato!’ Which means tornado. And I’m like ‘okay, I’ll do the tornado’. Actually I think he’s finally starting to get the distinction between tomato and tornado now!
“He’s really fascinated with watching the cities develop and grow. I really looking forward to playing the finished game with my son.”
Sim City layers stories upon stories. It works in that way. Sim City could be about the cities you build, or it could be about the relationships you build whilst playing. But Sim City starts with the details. It starts from the ground up.
Sim City starts with John Davidson, a man who came to Garbage City with nothing but a piece-of-crap car and lint in his pockets. A man prepared to shovel shit for a fistful of dollars and a single shred of dignity. A man who, at Jason Haber's whim, has every chance of waking up to a sea of toxic sewage poured directly onto his lawn. Poor bastard.
John Davidson. We follow him for a while. Amazingly, John now has a job. He leaves his house, jumps into his rusty car and heads to work at the sewage plant in the heart of Garbage Town. He shuffles his tiny body into his car, he drives to the factory, he wanders in and then he vanishes. Like magic, he is gone.
"You can follow the sims but they don’t really persist," says Jason. "Once they go into a building they are just a number within that building. John might go down the street into a factory, but once he’s in the factory he’s just another worker."
John Davidson is transient. His existence could be measured in minutes, but his stories were real. After John Davidson leaves the sewage plant, once he's spent a full shift shovelling the shit sent from three other cities, he will leave the factory with a whole new identity. A different name, a different person heading to a different house, driving a different car. He will no longer be John Davidson...
But he'll have a whole new story to tell.