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"We [science fiction writers] always wanted to believe in "private sector" space -- hucksters make better characters than a government does."
- Larry Niven

Kingdom in a Box  
  An entire civilization in miniature - in an interactive box.  

Trurl takes pity on King Excelsius, exiled dictator, by creating for him a tiny kingdom all his own.

...all of this ... fit into a box ... just the size to be carried about with ease. This Trurl presented to Excelcius, 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 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.
From The Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age, by Stanislaw Lem.
Published by Unknown in 1965
Additional resources -

A year in the life of the kingdom-box was hardly a minute for Trurl and the King. I have to give you another brief excerpt on the philosophical implications of this invention:

"... you gave him a whole civilization to rule and have dominion over forever?"

"You must be joking!" Trurl exclaimed. "Really, the whole kingdom fits into a box three feet by two by two and a half ... it's only a model..."

"...Not an illusion, no, since they have reality, though purely as certain microscopic phenomena, which I produced by manipulating atoms," said Trurl. "The point is, these births, loves, acts of heroism and denunciations are nothing but the miniscule capering of electrons in space, precisely arranged by the skill of my nonlinear craft..."

"And are not we as well [said Klapaucius], if you examine us physically, mechanistically, statistically and meticulously, nothing but the miniscule capering of electron clouds?"

"What, Klapaucius, would you equate our existence with that of an imitation kingdom locked up in some glass box?!" cried Trurl. "No, really, that's going too far! My purpose was simply to fashion a simulator of statehood, a model cybernetically perfect, nothing more!

Compare this to the worldcraft bubbles in Philip K. Dick's 1953 story The Trouble With Bubbles.

Will Wright, creator of The Sims, credits Lem as a major inspiration for his program.

Thanks to Yossi Preminger for suggesting this item.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age
  More Ideas and Technology by Stanislaw Lem
  Tech news articles related to The Cyberiad: Fables for the Cybernetic Age
  Tech news articles related to works by Stanislaw Lem

Kingdom in a Box-related news articles:
  - New SimCity On Global Rollout
  - UK SimCity-Style Social Policy Model - A Kingdom In A Box
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  - Pocket God's Hundreds Of Ways To Play God
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