Until this week, I'd never played The Sims.
I knew it was a popular series. But for whatever reason, I'd just never played it..
...ok. Maybe not "for whatever reason." There's an actual reason, I'm just ashamed to admit it. I avoided The Sims purely because of the stigma I always associated with it. Growing up, I dismissed The Sims as some sort of "girl game" that I wouldn't be caught dead playing. Or worse, I considered it something that only "weirdos" who liked things like Second Life would play. Sometimes, I'd stumble on Sims-related blogs, clearly penned by teenagers who were acting out their dollhouse fantasies. The screenshots, the obsession with creating a fantasy world, it all kind of creeped me out. What were these people doing with their lives?
To be clear: all of those feelings were supremely unfair and problematic. I recognise that now. That's why I decided to pick up The Sims 4 and actually see what the series is about, instead of making assumptions about it or the people who play it.
I had some reservations about whether or not this was the best time to jump in. I kept hearing about how The Sims 4 is missing tons of features that the older games have:
But at the same time, it's kind of hard to miss stuff you've never experienced before, so hey! I jumped straight into The Sims 4 with an open mind.
The first step in The Sims, as you know, is creating a character. While character creation is typically a doozy in lots of games, the depth of the character creation in The Sims 4 is particularly bonkers. I kept fiddling with bone structure, only to realise I made a sim that didn't look human at all. Eventually I just let the game randomly generate a dude for me.
The guy was mostly fine, save for one thing: the game gave my character man-boobs. Let me tell you: I have never experienced anything as weird as sculpting the man-boobs out of a video game character. I almost felt bad about it, like — was it really so bad for a guy to have man-boobs? Why were man-boobs not acceptable to me?
I don't have an answer to that question, but this was the guy I ended up with:
Eugh. I'm kind of ashamed of him, too. Somewhere in the middle of character creation I realised I was making a dude I would probably sleep with, and yet I couldn't shake the feeling that I was also creating someone who looked like a total douchebag. Look at his fucking glasses. Or his red earrings. Or that shirt. All of it. His entire face. What's wrong with me?
Then it came time to give him a name. Every time I try naming a character in a game, I end up choosing names I like. As in, names I would give a potential child. There's something about naming a guy I find attractive after a potential child that strikes me as odd, so I just went with a somewhat generic name (sorry, readers named Alex) and Cooper, because I spent my vacation watching the entire run of Twin Peaks.
Alex Cooper ended up with traits somewhat similar to my own. He's a foodie, he likes geeky stuff, he's ambitious, and since I like to play as Don Jons in video games, he's also a serial romantic.
So then the game gives me a house. About two minutes into the game, my sim becomes uncomfortable. Why is my sim uncomfortable? Because of a "cheap fridge smell." Why did my game give me a cheap fridge, of all things? I don't know. But my character ended up shopping for for fridges while taking a shower, as one does.
The flavour text on the fridges in The Sims is...interesting:
You will literally bladder fail? Uh, ok. Whatever you say, game.
In any case, I wasn't really sure what to do after buying a fridge. I kept clicking on stuff around the house, just to see what happened. My sim ended up cooking some basic food, reading, and playing games on his phone. After a while, the game awarded me an achievement for being an introvert. That made me wince — I'm an introvert in real life, I don't really wanna play one in a game! The only reason Alex was staying indoors was because I don't know how anything works. :( Waaaaah.
There just seemed to be something wrong with my sim. I kept watching as he decided to drink milk while staring at a wall for hours. What was going through his mind? Was he lonely?
I decided to tackle this 'problem' head on — I made Alex run out of the house and start talking to random strangers on the street. That's how you make friends, right? That's how you stop yourself from blankly staring at walls for hours, right? Thankfully, I did actually make some friends, such as a nice elderly lady taking a walk in the park, and a gloomy goth who wore pigtails. This, in spite of the fact that my opener was something about a supposed robot invasion.
What do friends do? Why, they hang out of course. So I invited goth girl to the bar, and everything was going fine, until my character started feeling uncomfortable. I didn't really know what this meant, or how to fix it, so I just kind of rode it out. Eventually, in the middle of conversation about battle tanks, Alex just...ran away from his friends.
The reason? He needed to play video games. He literally ran away from a friendly hang out, because he was too tense, which was because he hadn't played video games in a long while. It was at this point that I became a little peeved with my sim. There's nothing wrong with wanting to play video games, of course — I've wanted to bail on friends to play games before, too. But you don't have to be rude about it!
Still, I decided to indulge him by buying him a gaming system. Might as well, right? If he's going to run around like a junkie that needs a fix, I might as well make a good investment that soothes his mental well-being. The only options I could see were for motion gaming, with Maxis sort of poking fun at stuff like the Wii and the Kinect:
This contraption did not quite fit into my tiny living room. I ended up having to rearrange everything just to barely fit the gaming mat into my living room, and it was between this and my character deciding to take a picture of his half-eaten omelette in the game that I decided The Sims 4 was #tooreal.
So with the mat set up, I let Alex play his video game. Midway through, he gets uncomfortable. Alex, you see, needs to pee. So I tell Alex he needs to stop playing his video game, and go to the toilet. Except Alex refuses to go pee. Every time I click "use toilet," his little bubble responds with "gaming mat." Just, over and over, "gaming mat." Alex, do you want to go outside? No, gaming mat. Do you want to pee? No, gaming mat. Do you want to eat? NO I WANT THE FUCKING GAMING MAT.
Bewildered, I let Alex play on his stupid gaming mat, an activity that seemed to take forever. Which is to say: I angrily watched Alex play some Tetris knockoff while his bladder meter slowly filled up. The entire time, I just kept cursing at him — youlittlepieceofshitareyouseriousyou'renotgoingtofuckingusethebathroombecauseyouwanttoplayavideogame, thevideogameisntevenarealgameyoufakegamerfuckohmygodwhyareyoudoingthistomecantyoujustusethebathroom,whatareyou,afuckingtwoyearold!?
LOOK AT THIS ARSEHOLE
I was literally screaming at my monitor, I was so mad. Mind, having not played The Sims before, I wasn't exactly sure what would happen if the bladder meter filled up. I watched in agony as the inevitable happened: Alex Cooper, a full-grown man who works as a secret agent, pissed his pants because he refused to stop playing a video game.
I can't remember the last time I was this angry at a game!
The kicker was that, as a result of peeing himself, Alex (rightfully) felt embarrassed. The way the game suggested I remedy that problem? Calling a friend. So I got him on the phone and talked about aliens to the elderly lady I met on the street, all while wearing my piss-covered boxers. I then promptly sold Alex's gaming mat, because fuck that thing.
Confession: despite the anger I felt about this entire ordeal, The Sims has brought me a lot of delight. Yannick likened the experience to trying to control an unruly pet, but for me it felt a little bit like babysitting. This probably does not sound appealing to some of you, but the way I like to think of it is, The Sims 4 is a game about people — their whims, their needs. It's a very human game, and humans are messy people. I've never played anything like it.
As a result of trying to understand the game better, I've spending a lot of time in forums in an attempt to get a sense of the community. What I've found, admittedly, almost seems alien to me. As an example, I stumbled across something called a "100 baby challenge."
Here are the rules for the challenge, according to a post on a Sims modding forum:
Your goal is to have 100 babies in as few generations as possible with as many men you can and without using cheats.
Create a female Sim with any traits you want (Neat, Artistic, Hopelessly Romantic, Flirt, Family oriented are GREAT to start with)
You may choose to move her onto an already made house and expand later or start on an empty lot
Now you need to send your sim out to MEET GUYS!
Your founder may only leave the house to complete opportunities and meet men. She may not have a job.
Infants may be aged up immediately if you wish
Toddlers can be aged up as soon as they can walk, talk, and use the potty, but not before. If you don't get these done, you must wait for the game to age them up (same goes for Children and teens.)
Children and Teens may be aged up once they have an A in school and you get the message about your child reaching Honour Roll.
Teens may get a part-time job to help out.
Young adults may be moved out immediately or you can wait, but they cannot get a full-time job while living in the house
You may hire a maid, but you have to stop them from helping with toddlers (changing diapers, feeding, etc.)
You may not use Apples or Watermelon to determine the gender of a baby.
You may not choose traits for any Sim except the founder (trust me, my 2nd generation mum hated Art)
The last girl to be born from the founder will continue the challenge.
Your founder may not get married while living in-house.
Your founder may be moved out as soon as she is an elder to make room, as long as there is another adult sim in the house.
If you manage to not get a girl, obviously the challenge is failed. That's the only way you can really fail.
You may not use any cheats, except for to reset a sim if needed.
Fertility treatment is GOOD! USE IT!
Once you've had children with a man, you may not use him again for offspring.
Your sim may never hire a babysitter. You have to wait until other children are old enough to take care of it.
EDIT You may not send your children to Boarding School, as the school takes care of the child which repeals the point.
- REPUTATIONS SUCK! Once your reputation gets to naughty, sims stop wanting to come over, making life extremely difficult. I would suggest making the baby daddy a boyfriend before you do anything with him to try and avoid that.
- Use your teens! Teens can help out with children and get part-time jobs to bring in the extra money to expand. If a teen is artistic, make sure to expand that skill so that they can bring in money while they live in-house! Making the founder artistic really helps. I'm on the fourth generation and we're still living off of money from the first generation.
- Sometimes you get babies that are the genetic clone of their mum, and when you're constantly having kids, it gets really old really quickly. Though the youngest girl should normally carry it on, but obviously your happiness is more important and it's ok to use a different girl at that point.
Woah. At one point, coming across something like this would have made me pause, or might have made me dismiss the game. But now, it's just fascinating to me — I consider the 100 baby challenge to be no different than, say, a permadeath run, or a "kill everything" run in a game. I can see how someone could use this game to tell the sorts of stories that would feel right at home at a soap opera.
Just yesterday, I found out that one of my Sim's friends is married — and I got obsessed with the idea of becoming a homewrecker. Not because I'm actually that type of person, but, you know. It's just a game. Why not have some fun with it and see what could happen?
I haven't played enough to have a final opinion, but upon first impression, it looks like I was wrong about The Sims. I was too judgemental, and I should have been playing all along. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to make sure my character doesn't piss himself. Again.