The Saturday morning cartoon aesthetic of Donut County and and the sterile, featureless city blocks of Nova Alea seem mutually opposed upon first glance, but both games share an interest in examining the deleterious effects of gentrification. Donut County allegorizes gentrification via puzzle game mechanics in which homes and buildings vanish into maneuverable holes, transforming lively city blocks into empty lots for redevelopment by a crooked technology company. Nova Alea is a short pedagogical experiment from developer Molleindustria’s “Playable Cities” series, critiquing the city simulation genre by introducing factors like gentrification and class inequality in players’ endeavors as real estate speculators. While mechanically and aesthetically different, both games task players with reshaping and ultimately destroying their respective cities. Undesirable neighborhoods and residents plunge into ruinous sinkholes in one game, while the towering up of skyscrapers displaces former tenants and bursts the marketplace. Players are positioned as villains aligned with capitalist hegemony, dispossessing land from longstanding communities and reflecting the systemic processes by which underprivileged neighborhoods are displaced by the arrival of outside wealth. Nevertheless, while Donut County lacks deeper lessons other than recognizing our own complicity in gentrification, Nova Alea is far more effective in demonstrating the interconnectedness of capitalism, the creative class, income inequalities, and the displacement of people.
Read the full column at Haywire Magazine.