Swimming pools made their long-awaited comeback in The Sims 4 today. Some players responded warmly to this news by starting to build the most intricate architectural fixtures they could muster. I had something else in mind. Something much darker. Once I got the update, I immediately started trying to drown my Sims.
I know, I know: I'm a monster. But hear me out. The Sims has always offered players a number of different ways to torment their little virtual critters, and ultimately nudge them towards shuffling off their mortal coil. The Sims 4 is no different in this regard. But as Patricia has noted on more than one occasion, killing Sims can be pretty darn tricky this time around. They're resilient little buggers, and making them that way was an intentional choice the developers have explained by saying they didn't want players to kill them off by accident.
That's a noble thought, in its own right. But part of the reason players were so upset that the The Sims 4 launched without swimming pools was because they have long been an iconic fixture of The Sims universe precisely because they served as a sort of gateway drug for virtual killing. Discovering that you could trap a Sim and effectively force him or her to drown in one of the early Sims games is a memory that many gamers hold especially dear. The Sims doesn't necessarily prohibit violence. But unlike countless other games that require players to kill, these games never explicitly condone or invite violence either. Its relative moral ambivalence made the realisation that you could kill feel oddly transgressive and exciting in a way it isn't in more explicitly "violent" games.
So: how do all these dirty deeds work out this time around? From start to finish, it took me roughly an hour to kill my Sims with the game's nifty new swimming pools once I'd downloaded them earlier today. I'll admit that when I say "start to finish," I might be tipping the scales slightly. I created a new family from scratch because, as I learned when I tested out The Sims 4's other ten killing techniques, putting down the virtual pets I actually care about can be a pretty traumatic experience. So for my deadly pool testing purposes, I made the Joneses. Here they are, staring at the virginal, verdant grass of their very first lot:
Little did they know what they had in store for them once I plopped down a watery death delivery device.
This was around 12:45 in the afternoon in New York. Not wanting to waste precious Sim-killing time in build mode, I flipped over to The Sims 4's gallery and downloaded one of the first pools I could find. I tinkered with the creator's original build slightly to maximise visibility, and then got to work.
I started out by trying the most basic of maneuvers: switching over to build mode and removing the ladders. That didn't quite do the trick:
So much for a dastardly plan. One of my Sims — the youngest one, at that — paddled around the pool for a moment before swimming over to the side and climbing out.
Ok...I probably I should have seen that coming. Seeing how Sims can now sit on the sides of pools and everything. Plus, the artificial intelligence of these potential victims has been sophisticated enough to not fall for that trick for a while now. It was time to bring out the heavy artillery. And by "heavy artillery," I mean walls.
I built a little fortress around the pool, closing off the three Sims who were swimming around inside at the time:
The family members who remained outside looked in through the windows I was kind enough to add. They seemed confused why their relatives were suddenly behind a cage of class and tiles:
Soon enough, they were back to doing normal Sims things: hanging out, playing with their phones, even napping, in the case of old man Marshall — the one elder Sim I created for the family.
And now, I told myself, we play the waiting game.
The three Sims pictured here are Fred, Rose, and Daisy. Rose is the child Sim. The three gathered at the center of the pool and started chatting. This seemed odd to me at first, because for whatever reason I assumed they would scramble around in search of an exit. Or maybe start banging on the windows, asking their fellow Joneses for help trying to escape?
I don't know. In any case, the three of them continued to tread water. Slowly but surely, their moods and energy levels began to fade. The iconic plumbobs atop their heads faded from bright green to yellow, to orange...
...and eventually red:
This was around 1:45. "It's 2:50 in the morning in Sims land," I wrote in my notes. "They have been treading water for more than 13 hours at this point. They're finally starting to get tired, but they're not giving up. Jeez, these guys are persistent."
Over the next few minutes, the three of them waved their arms and called out for help — their speech bubbles lighting up with pictures showing they were desperate for food and rest. Then, suddenly, Fred and Daisy started thrashing around helplessly, before sinking below the surface a moment later:
Rose stuck around for a moment, crying to herself. She followed them to the bottom shortly thereafter:
"Rose died a few moments ago," I wrote in my ongoing and increasingly morbid account.
"She's the only corpse left in the pool. it's almost 8 in the morning now. I just earned the 'all-nighter' trophy."
I realised that killing Sims with the new pools was easier than, say, trying to set them on fire. But that's only because murder in this game is a matter of tactful planning and environmental positioning. Starting a fire is difficult in the first place — you have to prime your house in the least safe way possible just to make sure it happens. Putting Sims in a pool is much easier in comparison because you're not leaving as much to chance. But still: these Sims were in the pool for almost an entire day before they kicked the bucket. They were in their for so long that each of them leveled up their respective conversational and social skills, three separate times. I certainly couldn't tread water for that long — let alone maintain a conversation while doing so.
Anyways, back to the scene of the crime. When I pulled the game's camera out of the pool, I saw that the Grim Reaper had showed up. he was having an unpleasant conversation with John, one of the survivors:
He doesn't look too happy, now does he? I just hope that The Sims 4's nifty new AI isn't powerful enough for John to realise that really I'm the one to blame here, lest he try to exact his revenge.
Joneses, we hardly knew ye. I promise I will commemorate this sacrifice by building a spectacularly snazzy multi-tiered pool in your honour.