Sim City: My Failure at Global Competence


I’m taking a gap year. At first, it was really hard to step off the career treadmill, but it has turned into one of the best decisions of my life. It has allowed me to bond with my children (my daughter turned eight today and I picked her up at school), finish a manuscript I’ve been working on for a decade, network with some amazing people, get back in shape, teach a course on leadership across cultures at a local university, and support my wife as she provides outstanding leadership at work in her own right.

It also exposed me to that scourge of social media; the mobile app. What else am I supposed to do when I’m waiting for the music lesson or soccer practice to end? Can you blame me?

It got really bad the other night when I was updating my Sim City called “Paradisio” at my daughter’s flute recital. (I still shudder when I think of my wife’s stare when she caught me). I actually used Sim City when I taught in the 1990s (it was only in CD format) as a tool for my AP Political Science class. It made for some amazing conversations around civic mindfulness, progress and society. That in way justified my actions at the recital.

So, on her 8th birthday today, Zoe caught me updating a few fire stations, schools and parks while she ate lunch. She put down her sandwich, walked over to me huddled over my I-Phone, and said, “Dad, what are you doing?” I told her that I was putting stuff into my city so that it could get bigger. “Why do you want it to get bigger?” she asked. “Don’t you like a village, like the one we live in? Why can’t you just leave it like that?” Without thinking, of course, because I was too busy upgrading my sewer system, I responded, “Because the point of it is to make it a city.” To which she responded. “I like our village.” Yes, that’s when I put the game down. She completely schooled me.

As I turned a village into a metropolis, making sure there was a fine balance between factories, skyscrapers, schools and the such, she calmly munched on her sandwich and asked, “Why?”

Why indeed. I stared at my densely packed “Paridisio” on the screen and turned it off. She was so right. When I used Sim City for my political science students, I wanted them to think about the decisions that a civic manager has to make, balancing all the important elements of organizing a society and its needs. And there I was, twenty years later, falling completely into the trap of a game whose objectives were to get bigger, denser, more populated, and industrialized than anyone else.

It takes a village?

We all know that the population of the world has exponentially increased more over the last hundred years than it has in the previous thousand. We also know that global competency implies a lot around understanding differences and cultures but says little about the realities of competition over resources, degradation of the environment, immigration and national security. They say that the next major war will be over fresh water.

When my daughter commented that she liked the village just the way it was, I remember reacting to her, as many parents do, with a ‘you’re so naive comment’ to the effect that “it’s not the way the world works. Everything gets bigger and more crowded, you just have to manage it.”

Which got me to thinking…Her level of global competence had surpassed mine. While I was busy building factories and supporting a growing population, she pointed out in her own way that I was heading for armageddon. No, I don’t think the world can sustain itself as a bunch of villages living in harmony. But what she made me realize was that I was completely missing the point; that while we move faster and bigger, that the true value in competency on a global scale is being able to ask, “Why?”

There’s only one 80s video that could play this one out…


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