After playing The Sims 2 for months in 2004, Brian, more commonly known by his online handle Pinstar, realised that he'd exhausted most of the game. In order to keep things fresh, he created a challenge for himself. He'd play the game through ten generations, working his way up from rags to riches. These rules became known as The Legacy Challenge, a popular way to play The Sims. They made Brian famous in The Sims community, and they also led him to meet his wife, Christina.
There are a multitude of ways to play The Sims. You can torture your sims by leaving them in a room full of faulty stoves, no door, and a carpeted floor, or you can try to get your sim to WooHoo with everyone in the neighbourhood.
Nowadays, if you've gotten sick of killing sims or hooking a sim of yourself up with a sim of your crush, you can look for a challenge from the community to give your game some structure. The Legacy Challenge is the most well-known and longest running challenge for Sims players.
In a nutshell, it tasks you with playing through one family for ten generation, with a couple of other rules to make it a little harder for yourself. You start out on the biggest piece of land without a house, nor the funds to build one, and it's up to the player not only to accumulate funds for things like a toilet, a shower and food, but also find a spouse, marry them and have children.
Brian said it was in part inspired by one of the pre-made scenarios in the game. The Broke Family was a single mum and her two sons, and at the start of the game there wasn't a source of income. He said he found this scenario "the most fun" and wanted to create a challenge for himself that followed a similar arc.
When Brian first made this challenge in 2004, self-imposed rules like this weren't as common in The Sims as they are now. When he posted The Legacy Challenge to the official Sims 2 forum, Brian didn't expect it to take off. "I wrote up the rudimentary phase of the rules and posted it on the official Sims 2 forums and then went to bed," he said. When he woke up in the morning, the challenge had exploded.
As noted in Brian's interview on The Sims 2's official website, even only a month out, the entire community became obsessed with trying the challenge and updating their progress as they went.
As a guy just out of college, in his early 20s, living at his parents' place to save money while he started his first job, he tried to think of ways to capitalise on this success.
"I knew that trying to hide the challenge behind some sort of paywall would have been useless and just made people understandably upset," Brian said.
"I didn't want to try and copyright the challenge itself because I didn't want EA's lawyers to think I was trying to mess with EA's copyrights in any way."
In the end, he decided on t-shirts. He thinks they hurt his finances rather than helping. "Instead of doing one of those made-to-order things I got a bunch of stock of them," Brian said, "and then nothing happened with them."
He said that at least three went to friends and family who wanted to support him. One went to Christina, a fellow Sims obsessive in her early 20s as well, who is now his wife.
Brian and Christina, IRL
On the phone, Brian jokes that Christina's email to buy a shirt was just a pretext for talking to him, but she disagrees. "I was actually genuinely interested in buying a shirt, and that prompted me to email him," she said. "And that's what started us talking."
After she bought a t-shirt, they continued corresponding by email and realised they lived near each other. When Brian tries to remember how close they were to each other when they first started communicated he said, inquiringly, "We were about 45 minutes from each other?" and Christina cuts him off, saying, "Not even. It was about 20 minutes."
After talking for a little while they decided to meet up for the first time at a charity event for rescue dogs. Though they met up as friends, they quickly realised it was more.
Christina says, "It was just kinda ... I don't want to say 'love at first sight' because that's so cheesy and cliche ... but we definitely hit it off and we kind of knew very early on that we were definitely perfect for each other."
Two months later they started dating, and after a year they were engaged.
Today, Brian and Christina are a couple that you'd want to spend time with — they have a natural rapport when they talk, laughing and finishing each other's stories.
Brian has a authoritative but warm voice and brusquely says "well" before launching into long, detailed stories about himself and Christina. Christina is bright and cheerful, but also very organised and straightforward, often correcting Brian about small details as he talked.
They described their wedding as pretty geeky. "I think we played a couple of Sims songs or had the DJ play a couple of Sims songs," Christina said, with Brian adding, "I think they'd throw one of the Sims tracks in there just as background music while people were chatting and getting their food." While that's very nerdy, that's definitely not the nerdiest part of their wedding.
"Someone made a machinima of my sim self and her sim self, kind of like 'how they got to know each other,'" Brian said. "You know, my sim self talking on the computer and her sim self talking on the computer… sort of done as a little journey through the relationship."
"We actually showed it at our wedding," Christina said. "Some of our older relatives had no idea what it was, but everyone else was like 'oh, that's so sweet!'" Unfortunately, this animation has been lost to the sands of time — Christina said over email that it's on a USB drive somewhere, but that she couldn't find it.
Brian and Christina are now adults with jobs and kids. According to the official Legacy Challenge website, which Christina does most of the upkeep for in between running her YouTube channel and taking care of the kids, Brian now works at a payroll company.
He's made other challenges for The Sims, like the still pretty popular Post-Apocalypse Challenge, but as time went on both Brian and Christina's free time to play games has waned.
They both still play The Sims, however. Christina will still play Legacy Challenge games of The Sims when she gets the chance, and always adds to her real life family into the same neighbourhood as the legacy she's playing through.
Sometimes, after making a sim of herself and of Brian, she'll play around with the feature in Create A Sim that allows you to make a child sim out of two parents, to see if she can get children close to her two sons, who are five and seven.
She said that it never comes close. Both she and Brian are also interested in the upcoming Cats and Dogs expansion, as she used to be a veterinary technician, which the new expansion will add as a career. They're both really excited to make their dog in the game, a "very fluffy" mutt they described as their trial run for having kids.
As time has gone on, both have also branched out into other games. While neither has as much time to play games as they used to, it's still a hobby they indulge in.
On top of Christina's channel, Brian has a YouTube channel where he does Let's Plays of strategy games. Their oldest is also into games, and has started to show an interest in the game that brought them together.
"Our older son actually plays a lot of The Sims now," Christina said. "'He's really into electronics and technology, so he'll make a sim and have like, 45 computers scattered around the house."
The Legacy Challenge has had some more metaphorical children as well. These days, you can't enter a Sims community without people posting about their Legacy families or playing one of the many spins on the challenge — the Decades Challenge, where each new generation is outfitted as a different decade, or the Not So Berry Challenge, which has a new colour theme for each successive heir.
Back in his dorm room, typing the rules up for the Legacy Challenge on the now-defunct Sims 2 forums, Brian couldn't have imagined it'd leave him with an actual legacy. Now, with Christina, he has two.