RJ Harrison

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Wiki Article #1: Simulating Detroit in Micropolis


Micropolis is the modern free source code release of the wildly popular SimCity simulation video game originally released in 1989. SimCity was designed by Will Wright and published by the company Maxis on October 3, 1989. The simulation game in which players must find a way to construct and manage a functioning city from the ground up was in fact the first game published by Maxis. The original SimCity was so popular that many sequels were released successfully over the following years, such as SimCity 2000 in 1993, SimCity 3000 in 1999, SimCity 4 in 2003, SimCity DS and SimCity Societies in 2007, and another game again titled SimCity in 2013.

The source code for the original SimCity was released under the free software GPL 3 license on January 10, 2008. However, the code is distributed under the title Micropolis, which was in fact the original working title for the 1989 game.


In his piece for Play the Past, author Mark Sample attempts to demonstrate that game developer Will Wright intentionally and disingenuously downplayed certain aspects of real city management issues in the context of developing SimCity. In particular, Sample points to the reader the particular player scenario of 1974 Detroit. The scenario is reminiscent of real-life 1970s Detroit in that it is a city in the throes of a rapidly declining industrial base, and so land prices have plummeted and many zoned areas have fallen into decay. The player's challenge, of course, is to reverse this tricky situation and build the city up to its former success and splendor. It is perhaps one of the most ambitious scenarios in the entire game, indeed as it has proven to be intractably difficult in the real life city even after so many decades.

However, the author argues that the game misleads players about the true history of Detroit and its difficulties by obscuring one of its most enduring and catalyzing problems: race relations. During the course of gameplay in SimCity, if one does not sufficiently better the prospects of the collapsing city quickly enough, crime and rioting becomes a widespread problem. It is subtly implied that it is simply economic woes that bring about these bouts of crime and rioting. Nothing is ever said of any sort of racially motivated violence or fear. Sample claims this mode of simulating Detroit ignores a crucially significant aspect of the violence and poverty that plagued and does still plague Detroit.


Mark Sample argues that the social and cultural importance of the video game SimCity (and consequently Micropolis) lies in its power to represent the historical development of cities as they are affected by external and internal factors. Players of the game SimCity learn through their gameplay experience that cities succeed or fail based upon certain variables, such as availability of resources, wise land use policies, and the overall leadership competencies of their leaders, for example. For this reason, Sample finds Will Wright's “whitewashing” of race relations to be problematic in the gameplay of SimCity. Contemporary adult American or even European players familiar with the saga of Detroit will not be blindsided, but it is entirely possible that persons wholly unfamiliar with the history of Detroit may well be. Sample seems to be bothered by the possibility that a sector of the video game playing population may pick up an inaccurate idea of why and how Detroit actually declined to the extent that it did, and he particularly blames game-developer Will Wright for instigating this blurring.


A number of interested people responded to Sample's article regarding Micropolis and its gameplay realism problems. Overall, the commenters largely assented that Wright had optimized for gameplay over demographic, criminological, or sociological considerations. However, there did not seem to be a consensus that Wright's so-called “whitewashing” of history was nearly as disingenuous or subversive as Mr. Sample seemed to believe. A number of intriguing responses were made and questions were raised regarding further development of the author's argument. In particular, one commenter asked how Will Wright ought to have realistically and tactfully integrated race relations into the world of SimCity. He wondered whether an algorithmic approach to the human dimension of racial tensions could be honestly incorporated into the game so as to make the Detroit scenario more realistic.

After carefully reading through both Mr. Sample's article and the various comments attending it, I formulated my own opinion of the central thesis posited by Sample. While I do agree that the racial aspect is absolutely necessary in a full understanding of the history of the real city of Detroit, I do not believe that Wright or the SimCity video game franchise purposefully obscured the true history of the city. Video game development necessarily entails simulation, and simulation necessarily further entails simplification of the real system. I believe that Mr. Wright was well within his authority to forgo such complicated sociological considerations in programming his desktop computer game. Racial understanding and conciliation are painfully necessary in the real world, but blaming video game developers for historical whitewashing in this regard is making a mountain out of a molehill.

Works Cited:

Sample, Mark. Simulating Detroit, A City with Cars and Crime but No Races. Play the Past RSS, 14 Feb 2012. Web. 5 June 2013.

SimCity (1989 Video Game). Wikipedia, 22 April 2013. Web. 5 June 2013.

Wiki Article #2: The Brave New World of Cyber Security


With the explosion of the internet and the sudden rise of the web-based economy, the issue of governance and regulation of internet privacy and freedom has come front and center over the last few years. In particular, a handful of recent United States legislative proposals have engendered fierce controversy and evoked strong reactions from certain sectors of the web-using population. Specifically, the bills which have instigated the most furor have been SOPA, PIPA, and CISPA.

SOPA stands for the Stop Online Piracy Act, referring to United States House Bill 3261. The bill was introduced to the House of Representatives on October 26, 2011 by Lamar Smith, a Republican from Texas as well as the Chair of the House Judiciary Committee. The intent of the bill is to facilitate the prosecution of acts of online piracy, specifically those conducted using foreign servers. It would grant authority both to the U.S. Department of Justice and to individual copyright holders to request court orders against foreign websites that are accused of enabling copyright infringement. A particularly contentious stipulation of the bill would force search engines to remove links to such websites and require domestic internet service providers to block access to such sites. It is this latter aspect of the proposed legislation which has come to be seen as web censoring in the eyes of many activists and everyday internet users.

PIPA stands for the PROTECT IP Act, which in turn is itself an acronym for the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act. It is considered the Senate counterpart to the SOPA bill in the House. The bill was introduced to the U.S. Senate on May 12, 2011 by Patrick Leahy, a Democrat from Vermont. The essential contents of the PIPA bill in the Senate are similar to those of SOPA in the House, and again would require the removing of links of offending websites from online search engines and the disabling of access to such sites by service providers. For this reason, PIPA is similarly seen to be a manifestation of web censorship.

CISPA stands for the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act. This bill was originally introduced to the U.S. House as H.R. 3523 on November 30, 2011 by Mike Rogers, a Republican from Michigan. (Incidentally, East Lansing and MSU are within Michigan's 8th electoral district which Rogers represents.) The bill passed the House on April 26, 2012, but failed to pass in the Senate under threat of veto by the White House. Mike Rogers re-introduced the bill in the House as H.R. 624 on February 12, 2013. Again it passed the House, but the proposed legislation stalled in the Senate, and CISPA never ended up being brought to a vote in the Senate a second time around. The contents of the bill contains provisions to amend the National Security Act of 1947 to address cybercrime. The intent of the proposed legislation would be to facilitate the investigation of cyber threats and guarantee the security of sensitive computer networks against cyber attacks. The language of the bill would achieve this aim by having the U.S. Government and private technology and manufacturing companies share information about internet traffic. For this reason, many have opposed the bill on the grounds that it institutes a scheme of government spying on private citizens. This sentiment is expressed in Texas Republican Ron Paul's oppositional statement to CISPA, calling it “Big Brother writ large.”


A last term which must be clearly understood is that of Anonymous. Anonymous is a nebulous group of self-proclaimed “hacktivists” who attempt to effect social and legal change via internet-based hacking of computer networks. The idea of the Anonymous collective of hacktivists originated in 2003 on the notorious imageboard website 4chan.org. The group is characterized by decentralized authority and an emphasis (aptly so) on the anonymity of its loosely-defined membership. The anonymity of members is reflected in their vernacular (members never refer to themselves or to each other by name, but rather as “anons”) and in their choice of costume (public demonstrations involving Anonymous always involves anons obscuring their identities using stylized Guy Fawkes masks, indicative of the anarchic and activist nature of the group). The actions attributed to Anonymous could be described as “grey hat” hacking, in which members act somewhere between “black hat” hacking for illegal personal gain and “white hat” hacking for non-malicious reasons. Anonymous hackers do not necessarily fear to break the law, but in general they do so to make political statements, not to inflict real damage.

Anonymous is intimately tied up in the web community's response to the proposed U.S. legislation described above. Anons have provided a visible and sustained response to what they perceive to be encroachments upon freedom of expression and knowledge on the web. They demand legal protection to access of all aspects of the web unencumbered by government diktat, and claim this right as a necessary consequence of the U.S. Constitution.


Anonymous is intimately tied up in the web community's response to the proposed U.S. legislation described above. Anons have provided a visible and sustained response to what they perceive to be encroachments upon freedom of expression and knowledge on the web. They demand legal protection to access of all aspects of the web unencumbered by government diktat, and claim this right as a necessary consequence of the U.S. Constitution.

The issues of cyber security, online privacy, and government espionage have all come to a head in recent days due to the breaking of the news of the NSA PRISM scandal. The National Security Agency, or NSA, has supposedly had in place for a few years now a program called PRISM. The PRISM program apparently involved U.S. Federal agents collecting from major technology companies web traffic data on private individuals both in the U.S. and abroad. Moreover, this issue also touched on international relations as both U.S. and foreign citizens were targeted, and intelligence was shared with the U.K. Government as well. This intelligence was allegedly gathered in the interests of domestic and foreign security. Understandably, however, many people and groups expressed outrage at the revelation that the U.S. and U.K. Governments were or are snooping on the private lives and dealings of individual citizens. The cover was blown off of the PRISM program by Edward Snowden, an employee of Booz Allen Hamilton, a subcontractor for the NSA and CIA. Snowden's status as a whistleblower caused him to be targeted by the federal government for treasonous activity, so he escaped to Hong Kong and then to Russia, where he is still at large. Movements to ensure that Snowden avoid prosecution or extradition have been orchestrated by Anonymous and other similar web hacktivists, so that once again Anonymous continues to be a defining force in the development of the internet and cyber security.

Works Cited:

Norton, Quinn. (11 January 2012). 2011: The Year Anonymous Took On Cops, Dictators, and Existential Dread. http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/01/anonymous-dicators-existential-dread/all/1. Web. 27 June 2013.

Sottek, T.C. (27 April 2012). The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act: CISPA explained. http://www.theverge.com/2012/4/27/2976718/cyber-intelligence-sharing-and-protection-act-cispa-hr-3523. Web. 27 June 2013.

Harvey, Jason. (17 January 2012). A technical examination of SOPA and PROTECT IP. http://blog.reddit.com/2012/01/technical-examination-of-sopa-and.html. Web. 27 June 2013.

Gellman, Barton; Blake, Aaron; Miller, Greg (June 9, 2013). "Edward Snowden comes forward as source of NSA leaks". http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/intelligence-leaders-push-back-on-leakers-media/2013/06/09/fff80160-d122-11e2-a73e-826d299ff459_story.html. Web. 27 June 2013.