Let’s face it. Normal life can get pretty boring. There is nothing exciting about going to work everyday or going to class to study your brains out. Doing basic chores and homework absolutely sucks. It’s simply human nature to want to have fun but modern life frequently prevents that from happening. This is why people love taking huge trips, going to parties, seeing movies, or playing their favorite video games. Anything and everything that takes away the idea of “work” is infinitely preferable. Really, if there was nothing to gain for doing work, like a monetary reward, no one would do it! It’s that simple. Fun is better than work, the end.
But what if life is the entertainment? What if all of that boring work of daily routines are put into another coat and rebranded as a fun game? That’s where The Sims comes in. In every sense of the word, The Sims is a life simulator in the same vein as RollerCoaster Tycoon or SimCity. Your main objective is simply to create your own virtual family and bring them through a typical life that mirrors reality. The adults get jobs to make money, the kids go to school to educate themselves, and you spend your off-time honing skills to make yourself a better person. It’s basically the boring and mundane life that many gamers try to escape from into consoles. And yet there is nothing boring or mundane about the success of The Sims. It’s one of the highest grossing franchises in history, and the newest installment, The Sims 4, just came out this week.
There really was nothing like The Sims when it first came out back in 2000. Created by SimCity mastermind Will Wright, The Sims was intended to be a spinoff that focused on the daily lives of people outside the city. The virtual persons were simply called “Sims” and you controlled every aspect of their life. Sometimes their actions are autonomous, such as instinctively grabbing food when they’re hungry, but most of their life is at your every whim. What they can and cannot do entirely hinges on your actions. And just like life, the basest goal of The Sims is to keep living. That’s the inherent objective set out for you, which isn’t really an objective at all since it has the potential to never end. This means that you yourself determine the goals. If you’re goal is to make your Sim a well-respected, athletic, brilliant, and monetarily successful member of society, you have to actively work to accomplish that. Similarly, if your end game is to make your Sim a shameless schlub who everyone hates, that’s entirely possible too! It’s as open-ended as it can be.
The big selling point of The Sims has always been how easy it is to enjoy the experience. Unlike a first-person shooter or a role-playing game, anyone can jump into The Sims and have fun. Does it take an inherent maturity and knowledge of basic life to play it? Absolutely. This is why most people who play the game are adults who actually know what they’re doing. Yet teenagers aren’t entirely out of the experience either. The game is very easy to understand. It really does have an inherent appeal to all genders and age groups. People who prefer action games can use The Sims as a middle ground with people who, frankly, don’t play games at all. This is why The Sims, The Sims 2, and The Sims 3 have all gone on to become best-selling PC games.
No matter which iteration you play and which expansions you have, there is really only two ways to enjoy The Sims. The first is to experience it the way life is supposed to be. You start off with a single Sim, boy or girl, put them in a house of either your own design or pre-made, and take them through their life. How their life unfolds depends on your particular version of The Sims, as the later games have more options and better graphics, but the methods remain unchanged. You get your Sim a job, build up an income, meet another nice Sim, form a romantic relationship (The Sims has always allowed same-sex couples, which was groundbreaking back in 2000), and grow your family. From then on your raise your kids with the intent of playing as them once your original Sim passes away. If you play the game properly, your Sim can have a very successful and happy life, dying of old age surrounded by loved ones.
Obviously, many people find that method boring. It’s literally normal life but in virtual form. Really, The Sims has become successful because of the other method of play: using cheats to become rich as shit and then living a life of absurd luxury. This is for people who are only interested in playing for a little bit without any intent of continuing. You can start with your own family, cheat your way to get a ton of money, and create an extremely lavish house and enjoy your rich lifestyle. Screw going to work or school! You have a pool in your living room and your bathroom is an arcade. Your house has five levels and is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Why bog yourself down with the boring minutiae of life when you can experience what it really means to be absurdly rich? And then when you get bored, you can set it up so all your Sims die. Nothing says entertainment like turning The Sims into a cruel experiment!
My first experience was The Sims 2. My brothers and I picked it up with a few expansion packs at our local store. Neither of us had any interest in actually playing the game properly of course. We would always make new families, punch in “Rosebud” repeatedly to get a ton of money, and go nuts. Our Sims had no interest in living the typical way. They wanted to go hard and fast, completely ignoring the basic necessities. On more than one occasion my Sims went hungry and never showered, but that was the price to pay for living like kings. I never made it far of course. It wasn’t long before I was putting my Sims into pools and removing the ladders, or locking them in rooms filled with fireplaces and hay bales. My brothers and I even got a little creative with modifications. We downloaded several and eventually created a house with Nintendo’s Kirby and the Xenomorph from Aliens as roommates. It was awesome.
I completely changed my methods in The Sims 3. I started out with my own character named Luke and legitimately made an effort to play the game normally. I’m now playing as his great-grandkids who are now producing great-great-grandkids in a massive house on the beach, owning almost every business and public park in my town. I got rich as shit the right way.
The Sims 4 already looks bigger and better than anything previously. The Create A Sim demo released recently by Electronic Arts has successfully proven just how much of an improvement this new installment is. Sure, some were awesome and some were terrifying, but the technological improvements are clearly undeniable. While the basic model has changed a bit with toddlers and pools being removed, there’s no reason to think this isn’t the same experience but better. The Sims 4 can very likely go on to become another best seller. I know I’m seriously considering a purchase.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.