When I was in the suburbs with my family over the holiday, I saw my old hometown with new eyes. It has some fantastic architecture—lots of old Colonials and some fancy Victorians.
Part of my change of heart has to do with getting older and no longer being resentful of growing up in a small town. The fact that I’m obsessively building houses in The Sims 4 probably also has something to do with it.
I haven’t yet built a Victorian house, but I’ve added the architectural style to a growing list of ones I want to try out. Although The Sims 4 has the best Build Mode of the series by far, building houses in the game never clicked for me before.
I know what Sims need to live, as their needs are pretty similar to mine and yours. I just didn’t get what makes a house look like a house.
When I was home over the break and incredibly bored, I decided to just make my way through the YouTuber LilSimsie’s oeuvre. She’s a Sims YouTuber who loves building things, and her teenage enthusiasm for everything under the sun kept my spirits up as I spent an unreasonable amount of time in my childhood bedroom.
As I plowed through one of her playlists, where she takes builds that fans make for her, or sometimes just the default houses in the game, and remakes them, I got an itch to start building things. And so I did, kind of obsessively. I started off with really self indulgent builds, like this lake house:
And this enormous Arts and Crafts style mansion:
But then I started thinking about the more ordinary architecture that’s all around me. It’s fun to build things that are really picturesque, but that’s not really how people live. They live in houses that have problematic plumbing, or wonky stairs, or are kind of unremarkable, like the blue suburban houses LilSimsie is fond of making.
At first, it got me thinking about places like Big Star in Chicago, a taco joint with a postage stamp-sized dining room and a large patio that I lived close to when I was living in Wicker Park. So I tried to create something inspired by that:
Then I got even closer to home. Like a lot of New Yorkers, I live in a rowhouse, where the walls of our building touch the ones of the apartments on either side.
I’d seen people make those in The Sims, so I decided to give it a shot. It’s narrow and cramped, but it also feels more like a home than that house on the lake.
When I made a family to live in here, their narrative sprung up almost immediately. The kind of house you live in shapes the way you live. Every time this family sat around the dining room to eat together, it felt almost like I was actually watching an intimate moment of togetherness between people who love each other.
Even this weird Brutalist structure, a request from my boyfriend, felt like a real place when I started to consider how a person might actually live in it.
The library at Oberlin, where I went to college, was similarly shaped, and each floor was dotted with little, vintage 1970s living room set-ups. I had to ask myself what it would look and feel like to live in a cold, sterile series of boxes like that. Honestly, after I threw in a few rugs, it didn’t feel sterile at all.
Now when I pass by buildings I used to think were boring or ugly, all I can think about is building them in The Sims. As fun as it is to make an enormous fantasy mansion, it feels more like an accomplishment to build the things that are ordinary. I want to make a California Ranch-style home, a Colonial like the one I grew up in, a bodega, or even just a blue suburban house.
I used to think of houses in The Sims as just fancy boxes that contain the items that fill Sims’ needs. Now I see them as places where people grow up, fall in love, and live.