In The Sims 4, you can become an astronaut, make friends with ghosts or turn into a vampire. One thing you can't do is smoke weed, which is why one player has spent months working on a mod to bring that and other drugs to the game. He's earning thousands of dollars in donations for his work.
Filip, who only wanted to use his first name, says he first downloaded The Sims 4 in May of last year to try to make a virtual model of his kitchen while he and his wife were making renovations on their house. He's not a Sims player, and soon discovered that he wouldn't be able to use the game to simulate different ways to change up his kitchen. When he stumbled upon some drug-related custom content, however, he started getting more interested in the game.
He found drug-themed clutter objects, like lines of cocaine or bongs, but none of them were usable. Although he didn't have too much programming experience, he wondered if he could modify those objects so that they'd be more than just decorational. During a call, he told me that he started with making a mod that allowed a Sim to snort a line of cocaine that he'd downloaded, and then it just grew from there.
For the past six months, Filip has been working on Basemental, a drug-themed mod for The Sims 4. It includes four different drugs - cocaine, MDMA, amphetamines and weed - that Sims can buy, sell and use.
In order to use it, you make a sim with the "Drug Dealer" trait and move them into your neighbourhood to act as an NPC that other Sims can buy from. Sims can also buy from the the Dark Web on their computers.
Once Sims have drugs in their inventory they can use them - sometimes autonomously. Sims experience both the peaks and valleys of drug use. They will get high, but also come down and have hangovers. They can have fatal and non-fatal overdoses and form addictions. If you're using WickedWhims, a comprehensive sex mod for The Sims 4, they can also exchange sex for drugs when they're desperate.
There are dozens of other features, and Filip has a long list of ones he'd still like to add. "I've always been a creative person. I produce music, do graphic design, all that stuff," he said. "For me it's just a new arena to be creative, but in a completely different manner than producing music or whatever."
When you're using Basemental, things turn very Trainspotting very quickly. Raquel, a sim I made to test this mod, moved to the big city of San Myshuno to be a writer. Next to her lived Travis, a dealer. After she bought some weed and molly from him, they hit it off and started dating.
Now she's dealing too, selling cocaine to her friends and fellow partiers. She still writes occasionally, but mostly she's doing lines of cocaine, popping molly, going to the club and then sleeping it all off. She's even been arrested twice.
Things are pretty debauched for her and Travis. If Raquel has molly in her inventory, she will automatically take another pill every time she starts coming down, which means she is rolling hard pretty much 24/7. All the drug fuelled sex she's been having with her boyfriend has only strengthened their relationship, though, and now Raquel and Travis are engaged.
These aren't stories you can tell in the unmodded version of The Sims, and there's an appeal to crafting a narrative about someone going down a dark path. It's the kind of escapism that makes the work of Irvine Welsh, Hunter S. Thompson or William S. Burroughs compelling.
It's not surprising that the mod is a hit among players. After Filip released the first version on Lovers Lab, a forum for erotic Sims mods, another modder suggested that he make a Patreon. His highest goal was $US500 ($630). As of this writing, Filip makes over $US6,000 ($7,560) from donations a month, and he says the mod has been translated by fans into other languages.
"It's really nice to get not just great feedback from people that love playing with it, but also some money back from it, which obviously inspires me to just keep on working with it," Filip said.
His approach to implementing features is pretty thoughtful. When his subscribers asked him to add a drug-dealing career, he knew that he didn't want it to be a normal career in The Sims, where Sims will disappear to a rabbit hole for a set period of time on a daily basis.
Instead, Sims who deal drugs can have other careers, then sell drugs as their side gig, making additional cash from friendly Sims who need a fix. "I think it works a lot better having it this way," he said.
"They will also get annoyingly a lot of phone calls from customers." That much has been true for Raquel, whose friend Candy calls her for coke sometimes two or three times a day.
When Filip initially posted the mod on Lovers Lab, one poster took exception to it, saying that "we have enough problems with drugs in this world" without a drug mod for The Sims.
Other than that, he says that the reaction to Basemental has been positive. Sims players are usually hungry for mods that add new things to simulate in their games, from the Sacrificial Extreme Violence Mod to Sim Dreamer's Prostitution Mod. Basemental has been no different.
"There's a lot of people that actually play with the mod who would never have done anything like that themselves in real life, just like you can shoot people up in [Grand Theft Auto] or whatever. I'm not actually going to do that in real life." Filip said.
"It's a simulation and you want to just try to try out different crazy stuff."
What I found most interesting about Basemental was that it doesn't feel all that judgemental about drug use, even if Sims who repeatedly use drugs will experience their adverse effects. It's not moralising, but it's not demonising either.
"I don't really want to make this mod into a glorification of drug use," Filip said. "So that's why it was important to have the addiction system, to have non-fatal and fatal overdoses."
Filip also said he wouldn't be adding heroin to his game anytime soon because he doesn't find it that interesting. Besides, he still needs to add some more basic features, like adding levels to all the drug dealing skills. Right now, only cocaine has the full ten levels, and weed doesn't have any levels at all.
Filip described his list of things to do as "excruciatingly big." Two days ago, while home sick from his day job, he made a small change to how edibles work. "When I added the edibles, I used brownies from the game," he said. What he hadn't accounted for was that brownies were only added to The Sims 4 with the expansion pack Get To Work, so only players than had that expansion could make them.
He later fixed that mistake, allowing anyone to get weed brownies, even without the expansion.
Filiip described Sims who are addicted to drugs as "a pain in the arse" to play with. Sims with addictions get mood debuffs that make them uncomfortable, and Sims who are addicted to cocaine will occasionally get additional debuffs that make them angry or tense. When Sims experience discomfort, tenseness or anger they're often unable to do other things until they calm down. Recently, my sim Raquel start smoking a lot of weed to deal with the comedowns from MDMA.
She currently has a mood debuff, and will be vaguely uncomfortable for the next five days unless she smokes again. This has made it hard on Raquel's wallet. She can't always deal because she doesn't want to get arrested, so she's been trying to write more. If she's too uncomfortable, she can't write at all. Buying and smoking more weed eases the discomfort temporarily, but the mood debuff will eventually come back.
Playing with a Sim like this is kind of a pain in the arse, but it's a fun series of systems to juggle. If Raquel is stoned enough, she'll get the "Inspired" mood buff, which makes her a better writer. As a player, I have to decide whether or not the benefits of using drugs are worth the eventual toll on her mood.
I don't know that I'll use Basemental in every game of The Sims, but I've enjoyed what I've played so far. As much as I like playing wholesome games where my Sims all lead very Leave It To Beaver lives, the instability that Basemental introduces makes for some interesting complications.
Sometimes you want your game to be like a wholesome soap opera, and sometimes you'd prefer to play something more like the drug-fuelled British television show Skins. As Filip add more features, the possibilities for the kind of trouble I can get my Sims into will only grow.
"I feel at times that I have not even scratched the surface of things to do," he said.