Since its first release at the turn of the millennium, EA’s The Sims has captivated a mass of budding simulators’ hearts, shipping out over 175 million copies in its many forms and renditions.
Indeed, The Sims and its successive expansion packs and regenerations have already gained a huge commercial legacy, yet whenever this virtual project eventually comes to a halt I doubt it will be the facts and figures that are remembered most. Its raw gaming allure is what is most intriguing.
Of course, this isn’t a far-fetched medieval or war-themed game that stands in stark contrast to situations and scenes we face everyday; it’s pretty much all about real, mundane, routine life. In terms of the game’s core idea then, less is unequivocally more, but that doesn’t inhibit it. It just works. Then, the decoration and embellishments on top of that – including countless building tools, character personalities and social interactions – complete The Sims’ package and appeal. For Biology student Milla Young it is this aspect of the game that has attracted her to each regeneration:
“The reason why people are drawn to The Sims is its accessibility. It’s a game for people who wouldn’t class themselves as gamers.”
I would agree. For people who perhaps don’t know, or even want to know, the difference between Zelda and Crash Bandicoot, The Sims offers a multitude of virtual experiences without imposing too many challenges.
In its 14 year evolution – and it truly has been an evolution – you can re-enact the full spectrum of everyday Western activity. Such tasks range from the menial chore of washing up to having an X-rated ‘WooHoo’ in the car, which, like with the escorts of Grand Theft Auto, we’ve all had a cheeky, virtual go at. Don’t pretend otherwise. Whole landscapes, businesses and livelihoods can be produced for you to make thrive or crash.
Each time a new add-on is released the developers at EA woo us with something different, whether that be holiday destinations, pets or H&M outfits. While many pre-teen gamers would go through a phase of using the game to create an elaborate family based on their latest crush, some went as far as to truly recreate scenes from our world. Take this amateur classic version of an Avril Lavigne music video made using The Sims 2, for example:
Without getting too political, another draw of The Sims world is related to power. As the gamer you are in complete control, and are rarely struck with impossible situations – at least not one that ‘Ctrl+C’ and ‘rosebud’ couldn’t rectify. Additionally, there is no relative competition; there are no statistics or leader boards to contend with. It’s simply you and your avatars.
Yet, this classic ethos seems to be evaporating with each edition of EA’s game. From recent reviews of The Sims 4 it is clear that what is disgruntling gamers as the series evolves is the omission of basic Sims features in favour of more commercial targets. For example, the beloved toddler stage of childhood and enigmatic swimming pools are nowhere to be seen in the fourth game.
It seems instead that EA have refocused themselves to turn their virtual one-player game into a community, in forcing online features onto fans. After forwarding this mission quite bluntly in The Sims 3, critics agree that the aim is less confrontational in the latest installment with new optional sharing features included instead, such as importing people and designs into your world if you so please.
The developers would do well to remember that you cannot force a social vibe onto a platform; it simply has to happen itself. So long as the capability to have online features is there, it is an open option for the clientele. Even then, with The Sims it is unlikely that such features will ever really catch on.
After all, if we as a gaming mass are so attracted to the accessible simplicity of the on-screen avatars, but crave a nip and tuck here and there, then all the game needs to do is stick to the basics while keeping up to date with the graphics and embellishments.
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