One of my first digital interests: The Sims

Official Sims 3 trailer, showcasing the ability to create various identities

For my final blog post I thought I’d write about something very dear to me: The Sims. I remember being asked in our first class what my first experience with the digital was, and this is it. Despite the game being a PEGI 12 game, I started playing probably when I was about seven years old. I currently have over a thousand hours of playtime for the Sims 4, but I’m convinced I played the Sims 2 and 3 even more than that. So it is fair to say the Sims has taken up a large portion of my free time and I started to wonder what it is about the game that appeals to so many of us.

When I was little I struggled to come up with narratives for my Sims families and often returned to recreating me and my family. Even though the game is practically a sandbox game which gives the player the freedom to create whatever they want, I would spend a whole day replicating our house as accurately as I could and felt satisfied when I reached a certain degree of realism in the game. I came across an article called The Ideal Self at Play, which is on the appeal of video games in relation to the construction of the ideal self. The article investigates the ability of video games to provide an environment for the player to explore different aspects of identity and create an idealised version of themselves. The Sims may serve as an online lab in which the player can explore different identities and ‘test’ them out before truly taking them on in real life. Video games provide a rich environment for the actual self to evolve into the idealised self through self-representation. In the Sims, one can take on the role of a child, a criminal, a caring parent and so on, ultimately as a means of exploration of different identities in a highly immersive virtual environment.

In another article by Julie Rak, it is stated that online environments are causing a wider investment in online and visual identifications. Rak states the Sims is a game about life writing; but such virtual life does not have to be representational. Rather, online life is about processes and traces of life; it is about enacting and representing what life is about for us. By composing a life narrative in simulation games such as The Sims, we as players are offered a means of self-presentation in the medium of gaming. In a way, Rak says, we are creating our autobiography through gaming, but is this life writing truly autobiographical if it is virtual? The article is quite extensive and long, but I would definitely recommend it since it is an interesting read. For the sake of this article however, I will not summarise all of it. What stuck with me though is what the creator of The Sims Will Wright said. He states the game is about modelling ordinary life and then transforming it into other forms of life in a virtual world. But how can a game that is about ordinary life and has no true aspects of competition still be so immersive and appealing?

For me it is similar to what Ian Bogost wrote about Flappy Bird: the game has a simple mechanism and just by being so simple, it works. Of course a simple tapping game such as Flappy Bird cannot be compared to an elaborate simulation-sandbox game like The Sims but somehow both appeal to me for the same reason. Repetition – whether it is dying and trying again to get more points, or living another day in The Sims – provides the player with a simple task which in turn delivers a certain degree of satisfaction. Having my sims wake up every morning, letting them eat cereal every day because they have no cooking skill and then letting them pursue a career feels weirdly similar to my own life and the chores I do on a daily basis.

The original game contains most aspects of life, but can be made more complex, with mods which range from additional hairstyles to smoking cigarettes and the ability to kill people. Accessing websites such as Mod the Sims enables the player to customise the game to their interests and needs. Mods for me kind of take the game out of its nostalgic, wholesome context but do provide a more accurate depiction of life. Whether I want them in my game is something I’m not sure about.

Either way, the charm of a sandbox simulation game like The Sims is that it is able to provide every player with some sort of pleasure. This pleasure may come from creating the perfect family, virtually replicating your house or letting your sims drown by taking away the pool ladder. Either way, the game provides endless possibilities at arriving at this point of joy. Mods enable players and creators to use their creativity and intertwine aspects of real life that were not yet present in the virtual world of The Sims. I’m grateful for The Sims and the way in which it eased me into the digital world. The Sims provided me with the ability to escape into an idealised world, while exploring concepts of the ideal self in an alternative reality.