In 2002, Warsaw's mayoral candidates all competed in a game of SimCity – and the future president won

The greatest challenge of his career: Lech Kaczynski. Images: SimCity and the office of the President of Poland.

Today, this story has been doing the rounds on the internet, and made it to the top of Reddit:

It links back to a Wikipedia page entirely in Polish and with absolutely no citations, so we were, understandably, suspicious about its veracity. However, with the help of some Warsaw natives we've tracked down some news stories written about the event in 2002. This, with a pinch of salt, is what we think happened. 

In October 2002, Cenega Poland, a Polish games company, organised a competition in which the city's six mayoral candidates would put their city-planning skills to the test, by playing SimCity 3000. It gave each candidate an identical starting scenario, and a budget of 60,000 Simoleons (the SimCity currency) to play with.

Cenega modeled its imaginary city on the Polish capital. It was situated on a river, had a population of 32,700 people, an airport, a police station, and a small subway line. In the middle was a replica of the city's striking Palace of Culture building:

Image: Nnb at Wikimedia Commons.

According to Polish news site Interia, the six candidates played the game in front of 3,000 of the electorate. (Actually, most left their team of aides to play the game while they took questions from the crowd, but to be fair that's probably not a bad simulation of what being mayor is like.)

Each team started by enacting a major campaign policy, such as building police stations or roads. The exception was Janusz Piechociński of the Polish People's Party (now the country's deputy Prime Minister), who apparently started by building a zoo. One news story written at the time also claims Piechociński was wearing an "elegant helmet", which we haven't been able to verify; regrettably, no pictures of the event seem to survived in the public domain.

Janusz Piechociński in more serious times. Image: Adam Kliczek at Wikimedia commons.


At half past two, the drama kicked off. Each of the cities was hit by one of the natural disasters in the game: riots, fires, tornadoes and a UFO attack.

At the end of the game, Lech Kaczynski was the winner: by the year 2087, his bank account had swelled to 934,000 Simoleons. The loser, Janusz Olechowski, had only 432. At the time, Kaczynski modestly credited his team for the win, especially his chief of staff Michael Rogus, who claimed to have an "interest in strategic games" but had never played SimCity before.

Kaczynski would go on to win the mayoral elections in November and the Polish Presidential elections in October 2005. Sadly, he died in April 2010 when his plane crashed in Russia. 

Redditors reacted to learning about this tragedy in their own unique fashion:

Others saw the story as a good excuse for a bit of a pun-fest:

This, we're not going to lie, made CityMetric snigger. But then some people had to take it too far.

Polish news site Interia ended its story on the competition with the thought the perhaps all future politicians should try their hand at a city game before they are allowed to run real cities. There are worse ideas.

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What does the fate of Detroit tell us about the future of Silicon Valley?

Detroit, 2008. Image: Getty.

There was a time when California’s Santa Clara Valley, bucolic home to orchards and vineyards, was known as “the valley of heart’s delight”. The same area was later dubbed “Silicon Valley,” shorthand for the high-tech combination of creativity, capital and California cool. However, a backlash is now well underway – even from the loyal gadget-reviewing press. Silicon Valley increasingly conjures something very different: exploitation, excess, and elitist detachment.

Today there are 23 active Superfund toxic waste cleanup sites in Santa Clara County, California. Its culture is equally unhealthy: Think of the Gamergate misogynist harassment campaigns, the entitled “tech bros” and rampant sexism and racism in Silicon Valley firms. These same companies demean the online public with privacy breaches and unauthorised sharing of users’ data. Thanks to the companies’ influences, it’s extremely expensive to live in the area. And transportation is so clogged that there are special buses bringing tech-sector workers to and from their jobs. Some critics even perceive threats to democracy itself.

In a word, Silicon Valley has become toxic.

Silicon Valley’s rise is well documented, but the backlash against its distinctive culture and unscrupulous corporations hints at an imminent twist in its fate. As historians of technology and industry, we find it helpful to step back from the breathless champions and critics of Silicon Valley and think about the long term. The rise and fall of another American economic powerhouse – Detroit – can help explain how regional reputations change over time.

The rise and fall of Detroit

The city of Detroit became a famous node of industrial capitalism thanks to the pioneers of the automotive age. Men such as Henry Ford, Horace and John Dodge, and William Durant cultivated Detroit’s image as a centre of technical novelty in the early 20th century.

The very name “Detroit” soon became a metonym for the industrial might of the American automotive industry and the source of American military power. General Motors president Charles E. Wilson’s remark that, “For years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa,” was an arrogant but accurate account of Detroit’s place at the heart of American prosperity and global leadership.

The public’s view changed after the 1950s. The auto industry’s leading firms slid into bloated bureaucratic rigidity and lost ground to foreign competitors. By the 1980s, Detroit was the image of blown-out, depopulated post-industrialism.

In retrospect – and perhaps as a cautionary tale for Silicon Valley – the moral decline of Detroit’s elite was evident long before its economic decline. Henry Ford became famous in the pre-war era for the cars and trucks that carried his name, but he was also an anti-Semite, proto-fascist and notorious enemy of organised labor. Detroit also was the source of defective and deadly products that Ralph Nader criticized in 1965 as “unsafe at any speed”. Residents of the region now bear the costs of its amoral industrial past, beset with high unemployment and poisonous drinking water.


A new chapter for Silicon Valley

If the story of Detroit can be simplified as industrial prowess and national prestige, followed by moral and economic decay, what does that say about Silicon Valley? The term “Silicon Valley” first appeared in print in the early 1970s and gained widespread use throughout the decade. It combined both place and activity. The Santa Clara Valley, a relatively small area south of the San Francisco Bay, home to San Jose and a few other small cities, was the base for a computing revolution based on silicon chips. Companies and workers flocked to the Bay Area, seeking a pleasant climate, beautiful surroundings and affordable land.

By the 1980s, venture capitalists and companies in the Valley had mastered the silicon arts and were getting filthy, stinking rich. This was when “Silicon Valley” became shorthand for an industrial cluster where universities, entrepreneurs and capital markets fuelled technology-based economic development. Journalists fawned over successful companies like Intel, Cisco and Google, and analysts filled shelves with books and reports about how other regions could become the “next Silicon Valley”.

Many concluded that its culture set it apart. Boosters and publications like Wired magazine celebrated the combination of the Bay Area hippie legacy with the libertarian individualism embodied by the late Grateful Dead lyricist John Perry Barlow. The libertarian myth masked some crucial elements of Silicon Valley’s success – especially public funds dispersed through the U.S. Defense Department and Stanford University.

The ConversationIn retrospect, perhaps that ever-expanding gap between Californian dreams and American realities led to the undoing of Silicon Valley. Its detachment from the lives and concerns of ordinary Americans can be seen today in the unhinged Twitter rants of automaker Elon Musk, the extreme politics of PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, and the fatuous dreams of immortality of Google’s vitamin-popping director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil. Silicon Valley’s moral decline has never been clearer, and it now struggles to survive the toxic mess it has created.

Andrew L. Russell, Dean, College of Arts & Sciences; Professor of History, SUNY Polytechnic Institute and Lee Vinsel, Assistant Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Virginia Tech.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.