Between 1989 and 2019, SimCity inspired—or perhaps fooled—a generation of kids to go into city planning with the idea of managing cities like machines.
We had OG Sim City. I bought it with my allowance. My sister never played it. She's the one who actually got a degree in urban planning, followed by the architecture degree. I spent seven years working with architects and never met a single one who played Sim City - granted, I didn't ask any of them but when I made Sim City jokes, I was routinely met with stony silence. I've got two megaprojects under my belt and nobody I worked with ever got the Godzilla joke.
The metrics of SimCity provide players with clear gauges of urban success: shorten commutes, keep housing accessible, reduce pollution, and your city will thrive.
If you ask anyone, the standard course of Sim City is start with blank land - let Sims do what Sims do - achieve a modicum of success - Sims start demanding things - unleash Godzilla. It's fun in that part of a city's lifecycle where you're paving swamps and clearcutting forests. It sucks ass in that part of a city's lifecycle where you're gentrifying and dealing with traffic. In other words, the part where urban planning comes in.
Sim City presented a Marxist view of development: the State owns everything, the State controls all decisions and individual Sims might as well be individual ants for all they influence events. There are no historical districts in The Sims, there are no designated greenbelts, there are no rewards for livability and the solution to traffic is more roads. It's Jane Jacobs' worst nightmare as a video game. Nobody ever complains about gentrification, nobody ever complains about housing prices. If Sim City is your idea of urban planning, you drop out of urban planning after a quarter or two.
While working on Raid on Bungeling Bay—a game about bombing cities—legendary game designer Will Wright discovered that he had more fun designing cities than destroying them. Would players enjoy the same opportunity, he wondered?
The problem is that urban planning isn't about designing cities it's about redesigning cities and Sim City SUCKS at this. There is zero optimization in Sim City. There's no acknowledgement that one group's success is another group's miserable failure. Maximal density is the sole goal and maximal density is generally the thing urban planners eschew. If anything, I would say that Sim City created a generation of people disappointed in urban planning because they were told the world worked that way.
If anything? I would say that Sim City taught a generation of millennials that if you gripe loudly enough you don't have to obey the law. After all if there isn't enough housing you tear down some houses and build high rises. If traffic sucks you widen roads. If you build it they will come and your score will increase commensurately.