SimCity is a game based on building a city, starting with a settlement, and then managing the city's growth. The player has direct control over infrastructure, zoning, and taxes, but growth happens as residents, industry, commerce develop within the infrastructure and the imposed constraints. The "play" aspects are also learning aspects, because the player must understand the interplay of revenues and expenditures, taxes and services. Balance must be found rather than simply making the city optimum for residents, or industry, or commerce. As a result, the game has become an effective tool to understand civics and systems. An early version of the game was released as open source software so it could be incorporated into the One Laptop Per Child program. While games like Oregon Trail taught different things based on the version played, early versions required programming skills, SimCity's main lessons remain largely constant. Later versions added complexity and a much better interface, but civics and systems continue to be the main lessons.

A 1989 demo
Ars Technica article on the history of city building simulators - The History of City-Building Games