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.