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A Kingdom in the Box

Will Right, the creator of The Sims game, was inspired by Stanislaw Lem’s “The Cyberiad”.

cyberiad stanislaw lemThe “Seventh Sally or How Trurl’s Own Perfection Led to No Good” tells the story of Trurl the Constructor, who during one of his sallies met a frustrated king. The grumpy monarch has been deposed by his subjects because of his purported cruelty and left alone on a desert asteroid.  Trurl wanted to cheer his up and decided to build a special toy for him: a miniature kingdom to rule.

And so, rolling up his sleeves and summoning up all his mastery, Trurl built the king an entirely new kingdom. There were plenty of towns, rivers, mountains, forests and brooks, a sky with clouds, armies full of derring-do, citadels, castles and ladies’ chambers; and there were marketplaces, gaudy and gleaming in the sun, days of back-breaking labor, nights full of dancing and song until dawn, and the gay clatter of swordplay. Trurl also carefully set into this kingdom a fabulous capital, all in marble and alabaster, and assembled a council of hoary sages, and winter palaces and summer villas, plots, conspirators, false witnesses, nurses, informers, teams of magnificent steeds, and plumes waving crimson in the wind; and then he crisscrossed that atmosphere with silver fanfares and twenty-one gun salutes, also threw in the necessary handful of traitors, another of heroes, added a pinch of prophets and seers, and one messiah and one great poet each, after which he bent over and set the works in motion, deftly making last-minute adjustments with his microscopic tools as it ran, and he gave the women of that kingdom beauty, the men—sullen silence and surliness when drunk, the officials—arrogance and servility, the astronomers—an enthusiasm for stars, and the children—a great capacity for noise.

Trurl equipped the miniature kingdom with knobs to adjust and control that allowed to issue edicts and regulations — so that the monarch would feel at home again.

And all of this, connected, mounted and ground to precision, fit into a box, and not a very large box, but just the size that could be carried about with ease. This Trurl presented to Excelsius, to rule and have dominion over forever; but first he showed him where the input and output of his brand-new kingdom were, and how to program wars, quell rebellions, exact tribute, collect taxes, and also instructed him in the critical points and transition states of that microminiaturized society—in other words the maxima and minima of palace coups and revolutions—and explained everything so well, that the king, an old hand in the running of tyrannies, instantly grasped the directions and, without hesitation, while the constructor watched, issued a few trial proclamations, correctly manipulating the control knobs, which were carved with imperial eagles and regal lions. These proclamations declared a state of emergency, martial law, a curfew and a special levy. After a year had passed in the kingdom, which amounted to hardly a minute for Trurl and the king, by an act of the greatest magnanimity—that is, by a flick of the finger at the controls—the king abolished one death penalty, lightened the levy and deigned to annul the state of emergency, whereupon a tumultuous cry of gratitude, like the squeaking of tiny mice lifted by their tails, rose up from the box, and through its curved glass cover one could see, on the dusty highways and along the banks of lazy rivers that reflected the fluffy clouds, the people rejoicing and praising the great and unsurpassed benevolence of their sovereign lord.

It was only after Trurl returned home and boasted to his friend Klapaucius about his mastery of technical skills in constructing models of worlds that he was made aware of the grim fate of miniature subjects and the grave mistake he made. His model of a society was so perfect in mimicking reality that it actually became reality: the beings he created truly suffered from the hand of the dictator.  Upon realizing this Trurl and Klapaucius immediately undertook a rescue expedition (we don’t want to spoil the rest of the story for you, so we will leave it at that).

The idea of a „Kingdom in a Box” was implemented in „The Sims”:  Will Right admits it was this very story by Stanislaw Lem that inspired him to create a game simulating real social processes (“Klapaucius” was even a secret codeword that brought 1000 Sim Dollars in the first edition of the game.)  As Right said in an interview with spore.wikia.com:

One of my favorite authors is Stanisław Lem and one of my favorite stories of his is called The Cyberiad and he has got his constructors Trurl and Klapaucius… I just love his stories because they bring up these philosophical viewpoints… a lot of my games really kind of feel like this little box because there is this whole world.

the sims
“The Cyberiad” was conceived in times when no one dreamed of computer games and cyberworlds adjusted by “knobs,” yet it remains one of the most frequently read and published works by Stanislaw Lem (latest editions: Turkey, South Korea and China).  In 2011 Google dedicated an intricate Doodle entirely based on “Cyberiad’s” opening story “How the World was Saved” (it is worthwhile to read the story first before playing the Doodle game). The great English translation by Michael Kandel was nominated for the National Book Award in 1975.

In somewhat disguised form the book presents a cross-section of our human endeavor and struggle: from the conundrum of our cosmic origins through more or less inadequate social systems to the very nature of free will, pursuit of identity, individual and group happiness — and the meaning of it all. Deciphering „Cyberiad’s” hidden meanings, allusions and deeply philosophical undertones is an intriguing, enlightening and truly satisfying experience.

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