Something strange and wonderful happened on the internet this week: Rotten Tomatoes adjusted the film score of Citizen Kane down to 99% based on historical reviews, and Paddington 2 officially became the best reviewed movie of all time. I wrote about this miraculous phenomenon for Gizmodo, and in the process I realised a very fun gaming fact: that Citizen Kane plays an important part in The Sims.
For kids growing up in the early 2000s, The Sims was the game to play. It was fun, accessible and for some lucky pizza fiends, it was free via a Pizza Hut deal.
While the internet was still rare when the game released, many kids had access to the world wide web via public libraries or the sole school computer — meaning if you needed any “help” with the game, it was never far away. Sure, some kids liked to play through The Sims in the typical fashion: having your Sim get a job, raise a family and build their wealth. But for everyone who wanted a shortcut to fame and glory, there was one magical phrase: rosebud.
For every time a player typed “rosebud” into the cheat window, they gained another $1,000 simoleons. If they added “;!” to the code, they’d get an extra $1,000, with the effect stackable for more profit.
But while kids likely thought it was just an innocent phrase, it’s actually a reference to a key moment in Citizen Kane.
The iconic film opens on the death of Charles Foster Kane, a rich businessman living in a vast palazzo. As he dies, he utters the word “rosebud” and a crystal snow globe falls from his hand and smashes on the ground. What “rosebud” means and how it relates to Kane’s life is central to the story of Citizen Kane as an intrepid reporter attempts to decipher the code.
After a desperate search, the reporter is unable to find the meaning, concluding: “I guess Rosebud is just a piece in a jigsaw puzzle, a missing piece.” At the closing of the film, the audience discovers it’s the name of his childhood sled and a representative of his last happy, innocent moments — but the reporter never solves the puzzle.
So while kids were frantically copy-pasting “rosebud” into The Sims, what they were really doing was pursuing the same empty wealth that plagued the life of Charles Foster Kane. For all his money, the only thing he really valued was his childhood memories — proving just how hollow the pursuit of money over happiness really is.
Ironically, when using this code in The Sims, players may find their enjoyment of the game lessened. If you can purchase everything you want from the beginning of the game, then where’s the fun in playing? For some, it may become a hollow, empty experience — just like the life of the titular Citizen Kane. “Rosebud” is as much a warning as it is a real cheat.
It’s an Easter egg loaded with meaning, and an important reference that likely sailed over the heads of most kids playing the game.
So as it turns out, The Sims is a much deeper game than you’d think.