What is common among ‘Intel 8086’, ‘Microsoft Windows 95’, ‘Google Search’ and ‘Apple iPhone’? These are innovations that changed the World forever. When such a technology is launched, the World sees a ‘Tipping Point‘ or ‘tip’. Such innovations are celebrated but they hardly happen in isolation. Each one requires sufficient progress in related fields. For example, ‘Apple iPhone’ could take advantage of progress in energy-efficient microprocessors. From gaming industry too, I believe such an innovation has just happened. Today Simcity World has been released by Electronic Arts. There have been many versions and variants of the classic Simcity and most of them were popular among gamer community. However, this time it is different. No, I am not indicating popularity, but about usage. Let me try explaining.
Intrinsically games have been for entertainment. Simcity player enjoys the construction and administration of a virtual city. The gamer plays for hours in building a city from ground up, expanding and governing it thereafter. Patience and passion are not only virtues but also sort of ‘requirements’ that are not mentioned on the shiny box the game packaged in. However, one can only do so much being alone. For example, all the resources needed by a city should be available within the city’s limit and most importantly, there is no competition. When players can connect their cities with one another, they cooperate, compete and evolve. It is analogous to connecting one’s PC to the Internet – More the people join, better it is for everyone. Now how can this change the usage?
When cities connect, there is more dynamics poured into the game, and it can rival the dynamics of the World. This is an awesome thing for understanding global dynamics. Let’s take an example. Say there are 10,000 cities in the World, each with its unique geography, environment, resources, cultures, people and position in time. It is enormously complex to imagine and deal with. So how should a city respond to a change, such as a drought or a new high-speed train line? How would the resource be utilized and people be given jobs? And more importantly there will be ripple effect as inevitably, the cities cooperate and compete. These avenues can be explored, discovered, to understand which approximate causes will lead to an aggregate effect, in this non-linear World. All this experimentation is impossible unless there is inherent potential to achieve at truly global scale. This is the new usage and it should differentiate Simcity World from many other games.
It is hardly matter of time to map entire Earth into such a virtual world, it is a relatively static issue. However, the real issue is dynamics, computation resource for it and computational infrastructure. Thankfully, few challenges can be tackled using recent innovations in computing infrastructure such as energy-efficient (ARM/Intel Atom-based) multicore microservers, OpenStack cloud infrastructure, high speed fiber internet and so on.
Henceforth it is worth watching how this space develops, especially competition (such as SecondLife) and creativity.