and I don’t mean the books
Consider our media landscape as tides under pale moonlight, ebbing and flowing between trends that capture our collective imagination. The early 2000s were dominated by fantasy heavyweights like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and the Chronicles of Narnia, the success of each paving the way for more injections of that unbound genre. Producers looking for the next big thing paid attention, and this wave soon washed over our televisions, producing shows like Merlin, Camelot, Legend of the Seeker, Spartacus, and the marginally successful Game of Thrones.
But now that tide is changing again, swinging back towards another genre commonly left to high school library shelves. The last year in cinema has been dominated by science fiction- The Last Days on Mars, Europa Report, Prometheus, Ender’s Game, Elysium, Star Trek, Guardians of the Galaxy, Gravity, and recently Interstellar, are all part of a rising tide in space opera appreciation.
And in 2015, television will be catching up.
You’ve heard about the surveillance state, but what about a surveillance society? One where it’s not just the government with an eye on you, but everyone else too. That security camera at the corner store, the red light cam at the intersection, the teens on the bus sending snaps, and even your friends uploading a night on the town to Facebook; each are a single neuron in a slowly growing brain getting smarter by the day. It’s not just that 1984 got it wrong, it’s that it lacked a large enough imagination. In the public sphere, this summer the FBI will introduce its Next Generation Identification (NGI) biometrics database, a massive overhaul of the previous fingerprint-only system which will collect “iris scans, palm prints, face-recognition-ready photos, and voice data” and make that data widely available to state and federal agencies. On the private side, Facebook is near to perfecting their own face-processing software using a deep learning AI which improves itself by feeding on bulk data. DeepFace is for now only a research project, all that effort spent just so they can make auto-tagging quicker, but the potential applications boil over from there. The data vacuum that looms over the online world is intruding on the physical with an appetite for the metadata of flesh, and adapting to it won’t be as easy as using a TOR client or proxy. The collection of real world bulk data is even spawning its own field of academia, Social Physics, which envisions a kind of real-time census of citizen data. The question left to be answered then is how can one opt-out, if only temporarily, from such a system. How can we fool machine eyes, eyes of algorithms and determinism, instead of human ones? The answer may lie in abandoning the old methods of concealment and adapting all new methods of confusion.
By now everyone has come to accept that EA’s remix of the old SimCity franchise, titled SIMCITY, is a complete disaster. It was almost certainly the final nail in John Riccitiello’s career. From lies to just baffling game mechanics, the throbbing, pulsating slime creature that was rolled out on release date should simply be forgotten by this point, scrubbed out of history like some ex-lackey in a Soviet photo (Societies? Who?). But the hole in each of us which SIMCITY sought to fill still remains, and there is little on the market to fill it. There are many pretenders to the throne; CitiesXL, Anno 2070, Tropico 4, Stronghold, and the upcoming Banished, but few offer the same quality of mayoral management, the bar set floating at skyscraper heights. No, only the Sim series can restore the dignity and honor of the city-building genre it itself has dashed. We need to jump start the series, send some real live current coursing through its dead bones, and do to SimCity what Alpha Centauri did to Civilization– take it to the next level, show us some place new, and pump up the self-awareness, all fit into a package indiscernible from its predecessors. The powers that be can do all of this and more in one elegant solution: SimSprawl.