Unleashing Affordable Living: How Cities: Skylines 2 Levels the Urban Playing Field

Among the ever-expanding catalogue of city-management and urban-simulation games, few, if any, are able to strike a balance between challenging and entertaining play as well as Cities: Skylines 2 (C:S2) does. But what really sets the game apart is its uncanny ability to reflect and even parody some of the most pressing problems confronting urbanites all over the globe. Among these, the evergreen problem of rent (as in ‘sky-high rent’) is getting particular attention in C:S2’s latest update, which adds an entire new stratum to the simulation.

A Strategic MOVE Against High Rent

So at the core of C:S2’s innovation lies the recasting of that hated ‘high rent’ scenario. The game’s designers have made a radical move, effectively ‘nuking’ the in-game landlords who frequently constitute source or at least facilitator of the rental booms and busts we’ve been experiencing – and distributing the costs of upkeep to all renters. Beyond being a significant realigning of the baseline gameplay parameters, this gambit provides a complexity of critique of the dynamics of a rental market that leaves renters sore.

Simplifying the Complex

From this initial move, C:S2 goes on to propose a new (improved) calculation of rent that even an ER economist might struggle to look away from: Rent is tied directly to things you can see in-game, that can be measured, easily explained to other players and influenceable by the player: landvalue, zone (residential, commercial, industrial, etc), square footage. Feelings of affordability are also directly modelled by the game: things like cims complaining about being priced out are notified to the player, creating a new sense of engagement that makes players consider how to build out a city with varying income and living expense in a similar strategic fashion to how many of us think about our own finances.

Real-life Reflections: No Starter Homes Here

Perhaps the most striking new aspect of C:S2’s update is its ruthless representation of housing shortage in metropolitan areas – like in real life, players are presented with limited or reducing stocks of affordable starter homes, forcing them to zone and develop housing for all kinds of different people. Don’t be surprised if this update has frustrated many players: developers have emulated the distress that can be felt by anybody trying to find an affordable place to live, whether that be in the real world or on the screen. C:S2 is perhaps a commentary on urban development problems.

The Algorithmic Influence on Real-world Rent

Intersecting with real-world politics, the virtual city planning of C:S2 later connects to a cause célèbre about rent pricing in the real world: the inclusion of a nod to YieldStar, a real rent-setting algorithm, as a cautionary tale for data-driven decisions that could lead to gentrification and further challenges to community affordability. By venturing into real-world politics, C:S2 teaches players about the implications of digital decision-making in a very different way.

Community Solutions for Rising Rent

Within C:S2’s lively player community, a kind of DIY movement has already formed, sharing ideas and hacks to level the playing field against burdensome rent. There’s talk of instituting more smaller homes through zoning, as well as the key pillars of sustainable urban growth such as policies away from urban sprawl. As gaming communities like this have a proven track record of affecting real-world conversations about pressing issues, this is an encouraging sight.

Understanding the MOVE: Shaping Cities: Skylines 2

It’s a powerful statement for Cities: Skylines 2’s developers to handle the problem of high rent by changing the game’s mechanics. But, beyond making the game more fun to play, the developer is also creating a kind of teaching tool that changes the way players think about the real world of urban development, affordability and the role of governance. Like this, more and more games are finding ways to teach us about important social issues, providing a mirror to the real world that we don’t often think about. It’s a whole new way to think about gaming.

In its move against high rent, Cities: Skylines 2 is making a strong argument for more inclusive urban virtual worlds as it grows. At a time when many games are becoming so serious they’re confused for the real thing, it goes to show the value of simulation in its most traditional sense: not just as entertainment but as a constructive site for learning, debate and potentially transformation.

Jun 14, 2024
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