The sci-fi manga Blame! (Tsutomu Nihei, 1998) is set in “The City”, a megastructure whose circumference equals Jupiter’s orbit. The construction process started (no one knows how long ago, but minimum estimates say 3000 years) on Earth in order to accommodate an ever-increasing human population. The multi-million-layered building eventually reached the Moon, which was embedded into the complex, and so on. Humanity has long since lost connection to the network controlling the city development algorithms, and the machines have gone rampant, working their robotic asses off adding annexes in all directions and dimensions, all the while eradicating remaining human settlements.
The setting for the 2012 game Tokyo Jungle is a Tokyo post a cataclysmic event that has already exterminated the human species. Pets, zoo animals and dinosaurs remain, and the player takes control of these in a struggle for survival among overgrown, radioactive metropolitan ruins drenched in acid rain.
Both of these bleak visions of the dehumanized metropolis originate in Japan, a country containing 12 cities with populations exceeding one million (the Tokyo prefecture alone has more than 13 million inhabitants). But how do creative minds accustomed to life in the Nordic countries, where the largest city (Stockholm) has yet to reach a single million inhabitants, tackle the theme of urbanity?
Finnish game studio Colossal Order released the city building simulator Cities: Skylines in 2015, an unexpected, instant mega-hit. Part of its appeal is the opportunity to build the city of one’s dreams. For instance, British youtuber Worth A Buy tells that he put the industrial area of his town next to the river, so that the waters may be polluted efficiently, ridding the waterways of those pesky ducks and swans. His own imaginary home is an isolated mansion at the peak of Bellend View, a penis-shaped road. Here, smoking drugs is legal and taxes are low. The “pyjama pants-wearing lazy scrubbers” are confined to a polluted, bed bug ridden district.
Such a perverted fantasy of class difference may not be what one would want to guide developmental policies in one’s home town, but according to game designer Karolina Korppoo, Cities: Skylines is actually used for testing potential new traffic patterns and prototyping new ideas for environmentally friendly city planning. For example, the city of Hameenlinna, Finland launched a competition in 2016 in which people could download a digital version of the city and create in-game suggestions for how a new part of town should be designed – an intriguing example of crowdsourcing.
Infrastructure like roads and sewers aside: Urbanist Charles Montgomery has said that the happy city is a social city. In the connected world it’s strangely enough easy to feel disconnected. Proclaiming art as an urban phenomenon is a cliché, but ever since shamanic visions and handprints were first painted on cave walls, art and such has been a means of communication – a social phenomenon. In addition to the absence of natural disasters, Cities: Skylines lacks the opportunity to build an art scene, so we’ll have to continue doing and arranging for creative activity in densely populated areas in the external world for yet another while.