With SimCity, Lewis Paine learns tough business lessons the fun way
SimCity, a game from Maxis that challenges players to grow a thriving metropolis, first appeared in 1989, eons ago in computer-game years. But Lewis Paine raves about it as if it were the latest rage: "It's a phenomenal teacher of how to correctly allocate resources and anticipate the needs that arise by taking one particular course of action.

"After you play it a few times, you realize that you have to get better and better at anticipating the future impact of what you're doing now -- and really think through the allocations of the limited resources you have," says Paine, CEO of $5-million Opta Food Ingredients Inc., in Bedford, Mass. "I want to play one of Maxis's new business editions, but because I'm so close to the subject matter, I don't think I'll enjoy it as much as SimCity."

SimCity Classic (800-33MAXIS; $29.95) and its sequel, SimCity 2000 ($54.95), force players to make difficult executive choices that affect an entire community. "For example, if you build a housing development, you're going to have to build roads, and that comes out of the budget," says Paine. "Then you'll need a police station and a fire station. You also have to deal with the unforeseen. The game has earthquakes, plane crashes, and floods, and you have to be prepared to understand their impact on the community. SimCity allows you to see a multitude of factors, such as city planning and budgeting, not only quantitatively but visually."

Paine says that he is not a computer fiend by any stretch of the imagination but that he enjoys exploring technol-?ogy. "My primary interest outside of work is learning how the technology that exists today can make the workplace more effective. For example, at home I have a Macintosh 660 AV hooked up to my camcorder, and I can watch my infant son up in the corner of my computer screen in real time as I am doing anything else I want, like faxing or writing. Whenever he does something cute, I just hit command C to snap a picture, which I then print out on my Hewlett-Packard color printer. The next step is to bring that setup into the office and replace the receptionist or whoever greets people when they first enter."