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Be a Better Robert Moses in Games that Deconstruct His Legacy

A competition challenged developers to reinterpret a biography of the “master builder” as interactive experiences.

"Good Authority" by Robert Yang and Eddie Cameron, one of the winners of "The Power Broker" game design challenge (courtesy Robert Yang and Eddie Cameron)
Eddie Cameron and Robert Yang’s ‘Good Authority,’ one of the winners of ‘The Power Broker’ game design challenge (courtesy Robert Yang and Eddie Cameron)

In March, The Power Broker: A Game Design Competition challenged developers to interpret themes of Robert Caro’s seminal tome on Robert Moses as interactive experiences. The winners were announced last month, and they include competitive card games and subway-disrupting video games

“Moses vs. Moses” card game by Heather Smith, Audrey Nieh, Anna Muessig (courtesy Heather Smith, Audrey Nieh, Anna Muessig)
Moses vs. Moses card game by Heather Smith, Audrey Nieh, Anna Muessig (courtesy Heather Smith, Audrey Nieh, Anna Muessig)

Historian Lewis Mumford once stated that, in the 20th century, “the influence of Robert Moses on the cities of America was greater than that of any other person.” Caro’s roughly 1,300-page book (titled The Power Broker) is a deep dive into how that happened. The late city planner was never mayor or governor, or elected to any public office, but the “master builder” amassed incredible power all the same. His legacy as NYC Parks Commissioner includes iconic additions to the midcentury city, like Lincoln Center, as well as 13 bridges and 658 playgrounds. He also masterminded miles and miles of highways encircling the five boroughs, although he never drove himself and rarely visited the neighborhoods that were displaced for these developments.

The game challenge was organized by Tim Hwang of Infrastructure Observatory, with the winner receiving $2,000 and the “Robert Moses Cup.” That honor went to Michael Chrien for “Triborough: The Card Game,” in which players “take turns collecting and expending political capital to construct a network of parks, parkways, and bridges to maximize their score.” Runners-up (sadly, no Robert Moses-learning-to-drive sim) include such tabletop games as Jonas Stallmeister’s “Right of Way,” with Carcassonne-style tiles connecting a highway through impoverished and rich neighborhoods; Heather Smith, Audrey Nieh, and Anna Muessig’s “Moses vs. Moses,” in which you use cards to navigate obstacles like Lower Manhattan Expressway foe Jane Jacobs; and Rudy Letsche, Bruce Hancock, and Zachary Gong’s “Metropolis Now,” wherein players attempt to put “their imprint on the shape of the city” with stackable blocks representing bridges, parks, and towers.

Playing “Brand New Subway” by Jason Wright (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)
Playing Jason Wright’s ‘Brand New Subway’ (screenshot by the author for Hyperallergic)

While you can’t try these out yourself at the moment, and runner-up “Good Authority” — a SimCity-inspired, 1930s-set video game by Eddie Cameron and Robert Yang — is planned for a 2017 release, one of the finalists is free to play online. Jason Wright’s “Brand New Subway” puts you in command of the New York City underground, able to alter maps going back to 1900. Data on ridership and job censuses impact the success of your infrastructure, as well as its precarious budget.

You can stretch out lines to far reaches of Queens and the Bronx, but might find your rider fare quickly riding above $3. Like all the finalists, it’s an interactive bit of armchair urban planning — which isn’t too different from Moses’s masterminding of neighborhoods he never saw, subways he would never ride, and roads he would never drive.

Explore the full list of winners and honorable mentions from The Power Broker game challenge on Medium

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