The Sims: Perspectives

I’ve never liked The Sims, despite trying to play it at least three times a year for the past few years.

I think a big part of this is the mise en scene. I can read books, cook, take out the garbage, go to work and shower all by myself; the idea of playing a game where I shepherd a little avatar through these activities feels just a little too meta.

I also find playing The Sims to be a fundamentally emotionally stressful experience in a way that, say, playing a fighting game isn’t. Getting beaten up by some guy with a sword? I can handle that. Setting the kitchen on fire, however, is a blow from which I’m not sure my delicate psyche can recover. I don’t know how to use a sword in real life, so it’s no big deal if my videogame self makes a mistake. But I spent several long, long years learning how to urinate in the toilet rather then the floor, and having to relearn this skill just to play a game doesn’t please me.

I think part of my problem is that I like games more than toys. The Sims feels like more of a toy to me – and I am not using the word “toy” in a disparaging sense. Rather than having objectives, scoring, and winning conditions, the Sims just kind of is. That’s not to my taste. But (clearly!) a lot of people like that aspect of it. Jenna, for example, really enjoys the feeling of omnipotence the game brings to her:

It’s a control thing. I tend to play it more when my life feels less controlled, or when I’m broke. At least I can make their lives work, kinda thing. More than anything, I mess around with their houses. Shopping without spending real money, you get the idea. It’s satisfying to me when I can keep everything running smoothly.

So for some people, the game is a stress-release, and for others, like me, it’s a stress-generator. Dave Rochberg is a fellow Sims-hater who finds the game makes his blood pressure go up:

Twenty minutes into the game, my character desperately needed to pee and his carpool showed up outside the door and started honking. I thought “I’m capable of generating this sort of stress in real life” and I’ve never played since. Want my copy?

Personal to Dave: no.

One of the interesting aspects of The Sims is that a lot of people who love the game don’t actually play it. I’m being a little cute here, but what I mean is: by one estimate, about 25% of the people who play the Sims never actually “run” the simulator. They spend the majority of their time building their house, planting flowers, buying furniture, and creating a little virtual world, without actually getting engaged in the “activities” the Sims pursue. I think Sue, while not strictly embodying this way of playing, reveals some of the attitude:

I think it all started with the God complex…‘So, you’re telling me that I can create little people and then tell them what to do?  And if I tire of them, I can lock them in a box and watch them die a slow, lingering death? Sweet!’   I’ll admit that, in it’s pure form, the Sims is a tedious, repetitive game that holds no interest to anyone, but there are few folks who actually play the game the way it was built.  There are cheat codes galore (including programs users have created that allow you change everything about your sims at will), millions of fan sites are available for downloading new content (outfits, furniture and other decorations) and more.  Anyone who actually plays the game (get up, shower, eat, go to work, come home, shower, eat, raise a skill point, go to sleep) is missing out on the actual fun. Now, I’m mainly an architect and landscape/interior designer.  I get my kicks building new homes, vacation spots, stores, etc. and making them look cool.  I may also enjoy occasionally creating photo album stories, but I’ll deny it in public.  I doubt this is a convincing argument, since you either love the game or hate it (my boyfriend can’t understand the fascination), but it keeps me happy and that’s enough for me.

The splendiferous Tilt weighs in as well. Tilt is the anti-Susan. Where she sees the game as something beside the point, he is focused on levelling up his little Tiltettes until they are earth-destroying monsters able to rake in the simoleans and seduce their neighbors at will:

For me, The Sims are like the absolute essence – the potent, purified, crack-like absolute evil, that by all means, should NOT be microwaved – of CRPGs. You’ve got a little avatar (or possibly a party) that start out unable to cook even a simple meal or screw in a lightbulb without facing the threat of imminent death. You’ve got little quests: get to work on time; don’t get lonely; don’t wet yourself. You’ve got the promise of interesting objects to acquire or new areas to unlock, and never quite enough time in the virtual day to do them before once again you’ve got pee, eat, or work. It’s that horrifying, fascinating, and satisfying death trap: the karmic hamster wheel of unending 30-minutes-or-less short term rewards.

(This, by the way, is also what’s causing me to obsess about City of Heroes, you rat bastard.)

I think what makes The Sims so fascinating to such a broad range of people is the very everydayness of it all. It’s a sandbox that’s eminently relatable- to. The irony is never lost on me that I often put off my own need to void myself in favor of helping out my little puppets; or that, on the other hand, my attentiveness to kitchen tasks often improves after one of my infrequent but epic couple-day jags of playing this stupid, stupid game. Once I thought, “maybe I’ll try building my own apartment, to see how the game flow works,” but then got sucked into the hours-long task of building a self-sufficient dyad and then instead of patiently accumulating simoleans, instead introducing rampant and malicious instability into the system. I’ve never really been drawn into the “traditional” addiction games, like Civ or SimCity, but once I start empathizing with these little bits of willful code, I end up forsaking family and friends for just a little too long, playing temporary god, voyeur, and trickster, until I burn myself out and swear (once again) “never again.”

So naturally I’ve pre-ordered The Sims 2. I mean, holy cats, have you seen the graphic engine on that thing?

Does this mean that Tilt has already tired of Doom 3? Only knows for sure.

I’m not going to be joining in on the Sims 2 frenzy. I’ve come to accept that my brain just doesn’t have whatever wire _The Sims _electrifies in some people. One question that has (fairly) been asked of me is: how can I reject The Sims if I’m willing to spend time growing flax in A Tale in the Desert? My answer has to do with progression. Somehow, in the latter game, I feel that I’m working towards a more tangible goal. if all I ever did was grow flax, I’d be bored with it in a week. But since the technology in the game is constantly changing, the activities you’re engaging in are too; this week I’m mining, perhaps later I’ll be fishing or mastering some other task. In The Sims, even though you may acquire a new item or meet a new “friend,” the basic routine never changes: wake up, go to the bathroom, wash, eat, work, home, eat, clean, friends, sleep.

I think The Sims occupies a unique space in the gaming biosphere. I’m glad it exists,. But I’m also glad that I’m not playing it.

What games do people go crazy over that you don’t like?