Urban Planning and Planned Environments in Video and Computer Games

Urban planning is technical and political in nature, and this is perhaps what makes it adaptable in the world gaming. Often when programmers and 3D designers decide to make a game, they must visualize a real environment with land, buildings, trees, streets, cars, and even real people. They must also account for drainage, terrain, social factors, physical dynamics, and all other technical aspects of urban planning.  Failure to do so, then they are incapable of creating a city in a virtual environment that reflects the one in a real environment. This paper will discuss the major connections that urban planners can make between planned environments in video and computer games and the ones that are already existent in the physical realm. What are the main lessons that urban planners can learn from virtual environments? On the other hand, what main planning technicalities do video game programmers use when creating virtual worlds that mimic real environments? While explaining these connections, the paper will draw special inferences from Ferzoco’s article “”In Praise of the Urban Sandbox: Computer Games Aren’t Just Games Anymore. They’re Learning Experiences,” and real life contexts. In essence, urban planning and computer game programming are closely connected in terms of theory, technical aspects, and other planning factors that urban planners use to accomplish their design objectives.

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            The title of Ferzoco’s article is symptomatic of the connection between the field of urban planning and that of computer and video game programming. In the beginning, the author asserts that computer games are not a waste of time and energy as stereotyped by many critics, but rather an instrument of educating and changing minds. By this, he means that people should assess computer games by looking at the didactic properties but not the amount of time and energy spent on them. Video games are in essence a product of planning. They adopt spaces and structures that are similar to the ones which urban planners consider when developing metropolitan localities and towns. For example, in the popular video game “SimCity,” gamers can play the roles of mayors, city-builders, and even planners, very much alike to the ones comprised in modern urban planning theory. Ferzoco uses “SimCity” to reveal the planning aspects of video games because it uses a virtual environment to engage players throughout the gameplay. In the game, players can access a wide range of controls that enable them to virtually transform empty spaces into a piece of land into livable environments with buildings, electricity, streets, drainage systems, institutions, facilities, and fire stations, among others. In other words, the game offers the player the chance to become the policy maker and master planner of an urban environment with the final intention being to make city dwellers comfortable and happy.

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            Virtual environments that programmers adapt in video games are representative of the real-world factors that urban planners encounter when planning cities and towns. In essence, urban planners and computer game designers are compelled to identify parameters of the project including the timeframe, budget, and desired outcomes. Similarly, they must identify the opportunities, constraints, solutions, and information that can be used in the overall process of planning in order to achieve success. It is important to note that urban environments utilize a range of approaches and principles to assimilate the environment in planning. For example, land zoning, land sharing, and site and service schemes are commonly used in video game environments in the same manner in which they are used in real environments. Common tools like Geographical Information Systems (GIS) in the urban planning field are also comparable to simulation tools that video game experts utilize when creating virtual cities, sub-urban environments, and infrastructures. Thus, urban planners can visualize the reality of planning by considering the lessons that materialize in virtual environments in design software.

            Because of the many factors involved, projects that involve planning can fail occasionally. Ferzoco says that “in city-building games, you will crash and fail many times.” This is illustrative of the reality in the world of urban planning. During the design of a given project, planners can fail to implement well-defined policies or even forget to make important considerations. The outcome of such a misstep may interfere with other factors and adversely affect the project. Sometimes, the whole project may fail, but that does not mean that the planners have failed. Rather, planners should see past failures as opportunities of learning in the same way that video game designers view past games as deficient when it comes to environmental elements. Fercozo’s article implies that old video games fail to reflect the true nature of the natural world and do not, therefore, make complete depictions of the urban environment (Ferzoco 10). New environments, on the other hand, are more demonstrative of the real environment owing to the incorporation of more elements that exist in the natural world. Urban planners should, therefore, use past design projects as inspirational models upon which they can make deductions and recommendations for future projects. In addition, they should bear in mind that success in planning relies on how well individual planners execute the processes of defining priority objectives, developing a strategy that is consistent with objectives, identifying and quantifying inputs and outputs,  and projecting and monitoring the outcomes of the project.

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             One of the most crucial part of urban planning, according to Ferzoco, is getting past preconceived notions about how places function. This can be achieved by exploring trends in the field of urban planning and learning specific ways in which citizens have interacted with the environment in the past, as well as altered the aspects of traffic modelling, building types, and financing, among others. Urban planners can use scenarios in recent budget-altering games to examine what lies behind federal, state, and local health. More so, they can consider various elements of social life and expectations of city-dwellers in order to achieve what the community aspires to realize. However, challenges that emerge during the progress of a project should not barricade the ability of planners to make choices and solve problems. Such encounters should only serve as guides that will help planners to steer the next project in the right direction as far as the communal goals are concerned. Thus, successful planning relies on whether the planner is well conversant with the expectations of the residents, population, geographical factors, transportation patterns, food supply demands, as well as the technical processes of the planning process or not.            

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In conclusion, urban planning and computer game programming are closely connected in terms of theory, technical aspects, and other planning factors that urban planners use to accomplish their design objectives. While designing virtual environments, video game designers encounter the same challenges that urban planners face when designing real life cities and towns. Therefore, professionals from the two fields can interact and learn from the experiences of each profession in order to completely understand the process of planning. In addition, urban planners should acknowledge the need to take account of all factors involved in planning, as well as learn from mistakes and move past preconceived notions of how urban localities should function.

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