More often than not, The Sims 4 is a peaceful game. Players can kill their Sims if they wish, but Sims never kill each other. At least not intentionally. So what's this guy doing — smiling serenely in his underwear, not acknowledging the blood all over his hands, like some whimsical Patrick Bateman?
No, longtime Sims publisher Electronic Arts hasn't released an American Psycho-themed expansion pack or anything like that. Rather, the bloody hands are a small piece of custom content for The Sims 4. SimsVIP, recently posted a macabre tutorial video that will bring players up to speed on the more... grisly side of the stuff that average Sims 4 players are creating and sharing with one another — things like open wounds, bloody and ragged bandages, scars, bruises. See for yourself here:
I love the material she shows off in the video because of the way it seems to turn The Sims into a much darker and more morbid experience than the base game is. But the thing is, these changes only take place at a highly artificial surface level.
SimsVIP editor Alexis (she asked that I only use her first name) explains at the beginning of her video that these are purely cosmetic changes. See, a Sim decked out in bloody bandages didn't get that way because another Sim harmed him or her. No, they only started to show their wounds when a Sims 4 player decided to add them as decoration. Wearing these bloody markers therefore doesn't say anything, or change anything, in a given Sim's constitution.
By Alexis's reasoning, the gory custom content is therefore meant primarily for Sims storytellers — players who document their gameplay and turn it into short films or narrative-focused screenshots. Looking over the stuff she shows off in the video, I can certainly see how the game's "Custom Scar & Blood Makeup" could be used that way. Like when it turns an otherwise silly moment in the game's character creator into a scene of a woman laughing maniacally despite her throat being freshly slit:
It becomes a straight-up horror game, in other words:
Alternatively, it can also be used for slightly...happier purposes. Like, say, giving your Sim and old-school Nelly face bandage look. Only with more colours!
Or maybe a boxing drama, à la Cinderella Man?
Other add-on assets evoke something much darker. One image late in the video is so striking, and so visually reminiscent of photographer Nan Goldin's famous self-portrait taken after she was physically assaulted by her lover, that I wonder if there could be Sims storytellers bold enough to tackle domestic abuse in their work:
I'm sympathetic to the idea of players using custom content to tell these kinds of stories. But I'm also wary of whether or not they will do so with the same creative tact and personal courage that Goldin did when she captured her own physical wounds. Obviously, the base Sims 4 game doesn't provide players with the tools to wade into this murky territory — an omission that tells me a lot about the game. It renders passages of domestic life in spectacular detail. But rarely, if ever, does The Sims show the issues that take shape in that sort of life.
Again, much like making ghost Sims pregnant in appearance alone, Alexis reasons that the graphic "custom content" material will be useful for Sims storytellers. Specifying that, however, suggests that it won't be quite as useful for people just playing The Sims 4. And that's an interesting limitation to consider, because it reveals a lie at the heart of the game.
The Sims 4 is a game about life. But it's only a specific kind of life, isn't it? It's one where violence isn't commonplace, where economic opportunity, personal safety, heck, even congeniality, is a given. Though it's present in the game, death is so comic and arbitrary that it often seems unnatural.
It is not a world with the same problems as ours. There are no violent crimes in The Sims 4, no calls for justice or retribution, no lingering fear that your Sims will be anything other than pets — both docile and obedient.
There are no scars from these violent episodes in turn. Except for the ones that we can now place on our Sims, with all the force of a temporary tattoo.
See the full list of custom content featured in the SimsVIP video here.