This is Why We Play City Building Games

7/30/2017
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A Look at the Psychology of Building Games and Beyond

Building games give you the power of a deity, but is that the only reason to play them? Sure, it's great to have control over your own little world, but is that enough to keep you playing?

Like many other genres, building games and empire simulators are a reflection of life and require you to adopt a certain mindset if you want to be successful. 

This synergy between our world and the virtual world you're creating is all part of this genre's appeal and one of the most important reasons why we play. Projecting our own experiences and skills into a virtual world, and in the process learning more about the real world is all part of the strategy game experience.

We're going to break down the psychology of city building games and look more closely at the reasons we play.

Before we delve into the psychology and how the right mindset can help you succeed in this subgenre of strategy games, let's take a trip back in time to a world of text and commands.

The History of City Building Games

Before building and empire games became highly intricate and graphically complex affairs like Cities: Skylines or the Civilization series, creating your own little world was all about writing it down.

Although many look to the launch of SimCity as the first of the city building games, the genre actually started with Doug Dyment's 1968 release - The Sumer Game (also known as Hamurabi).

The first building game came out in 1968

The Sumer Game was a text-based game where the goal was to expand your economy and build up a thriving city. The game essentially sparked a wave of strategy games and empire simulators.

After The Sumer Game we had Santa Paravia and Fiumaccio in 1978, before Utopia introduced the idea of real-time building and graphics in 1982. Utopia ultimately spawned SimCity in 1989 and the rest is history.

At the time, SimCity was the ultimate city building game, giving players the chance to play planner, citizen and, in the end, god with your own little world. This ability to create and break worlds at the click of a button was almost like the ultimate power-trip and gamers couldn't get enough of it.

Today, city building games have evolved into a number of different forms. From theme parks and alternative lives, to our selection of war empire games, you can now play god in a wealth of different environments.

This omniscient power is certainly a major factor in the psychology of building games, but it's not the only reason we don our virtual armor and create a kingdom worth defending.

The Psychology of Empire Games

As humans, we are driven by the desire to control certain aspects of our lives. In fact, anytime we feel like we don't have control over something, we stress out. However, when we play city building and empire sims, we have control over everything, from the lay of the land and how people interact to time itself. For example, when you join Throne: Kingdom at War, you get to construct a base, and later an entire kingdom, and protect it from enemy onslaughts.

In addition to reading maps, you have to build barracks, manage council affairs, ensure the good health of your citizens and the army set to defend them. Basically, you're responsible for every aspect of daily life in your kingdom. That requires an organized and analytical mindset.

Yes, you can go wild and start building tons of barracks and workshops to create an epic arsenal of weapons, but what happens when your allies revolt because you don't have a council to sort things out?

There's no doubt we love the power of playing god, but city and empire building games also serve as a testing ground for real-life theories and, moreover, as a learning tool.

Building games also serve as a learning tool

As Kurt D. Squire outlined in his 2003 paper on video games and education, city building games "place learners in a unique position to understand a system's dynamics". Making sense of the world around us, establishing patterns and also establishing some form of control over our environment are basic human instincts and the reasons we love these types of games.

Although you may not overtly feel as though you're learning something when you play, there are lessons to be taken from empire games of this kind. Going for an all-out weapon blitz might seem like a good idea, but you quickly learn that moderation is the key as it is in real life. This moment of realization is the real driving force behind city building games, and it's something we can use to our advantage when plotting a strategy.

Using Real Life to Guide Your Strategy

If we accept that empire and strategy games can teach us about life and the world around us, then it naturally follows that we should be able to use life to improve our gameplay.

Patience is a Virtue

Perhaps the biggest mistake players make when they first start to build their kingdom is that they try to do too much too soon. In real life you wouldn't tackle a task at 100mph and expect to cover all your bases well. Patience really is a virtue in-game, and you should start small with a goal to grow your empire over time.

Don't try and build an infrastructure without the people power. Similarly, don't stop building if your population is expanding at a speedy pace. Slow and steady wins the race.

Never Stop Improving

You can't stop training your troops. Even though you might feel like you've got an army of killers, time waits for no player and what has worked once might not work in the future. Just as you can't ever stand still in life, you can't rest on your laurels in this empire building game. A great example of this is a boxer that comes out of retirement to give it another shot.

Your city needs to constantly improve

Despite being a world champion in the past, a long layoff, lack of training and not moving with the times means they often fail to win. Does that mean they weren't very good in the past? Not at all, but the game changes and those that don't change with it can't compete anymore. If you want to win, you need to continually train and improve.

Cooperation is Crucial

Friendships are important in life and that's not any different in base building games. One of your first tasks when you start playing is often joining an order. Essentially, the clue is in the term MMORTS. Because you're surrounded by other players, you need to rely on them and fall back on them throughout the game.

Relationships forged in the chatbox will help you build a stronger army. Learn to communicate, share strengths and resources and you'll become a key part of an even larger empire.

Life might not be a game, but it can certainly help make you a better gamer.

City building games give you the power to play god. Just remember to not let that power to go to your head, or you might lose it.