20 Years of The Sims – Why Do We Love it So?

Phoebe reflects on our 20 year love affair with Simulated mayhem

Forget your millennium-born friends, the game that stole so many hours from your childhood turns 20 this year. Believe it or not (delco webney, for those fluent in Simlish) the virtual simulation series hits two decades on the 4th February, and our love for it hasn’t dwindled since the original The Sims released in 2000. So, what is it that has enraptured us for so long? 

When described, a game where you go to work, build houses, meet virtual people and do the washing up doesn’t quite have the appeal of, say, the elaborate plot of God of War. And yet, 14 year-old me couldn’t get enough. I spent every free moment on The Sims 4, sitting down to play at 10am and emerging at 5pm, not having showered or moved myself, yet having obsessed over the cleanliness and fitness of my sims.

my desires, I think, were in the control of it all

Had I tidied my real room or hoovered the real kitchen?  Of course not, I was too busy building (from scratch) my open-plan manor house, complete with swimming pool, basement, gnome collection and 15 bathrooms. Where else was I meant to house my 30+ children?

I entertained the idea that the game appealed to me so much because it let me live out my wildest fantasies, but checked myself when I realised 30 children and an outdoor pool were, surprisingly, not on the top of my life aims. Whilst using cheat-code “motherlode” to get free money would be a lovely addition to anyone’s life, my desires, I think, laid in having control over it all.

That desire , however, wasn’t for control of my own life. I wasn’t one for remaking people I knew; mainly due to the lack of curly hairstyles, and the sims’ ability to act of their own accord (there are things you never want to see even your simulated grandma do).

I think what I loved was how much easier everything was: From my room I built friendship empires just by (ironically) making my sim talk to others for hours online. I mastered the art of cooking by making just 3 souffles (so much harder in real life) and it felt like an achievement. 14 year-old me could enjoy being “grown up” without taxes or dragged-out chores or money worries; all I had to worry about was sending the sim to the toilet once in a while. (Disclaimer: Real people are much harder to look after than this.) 

The Sims is a way to realise ideas you’ve pondered forever

Instead of creating your utopia, if you’ve played The Sims in any generation, you’ll likely have made your favourite fictional characters and replayed their stories the way you wanted. The list of sim-remakes (F.R.I.E.N.D.S, Mortal Instruments, BTS, Twilight) on YouTube is as endless as the money made from producing this “live action” fanfiction. My spin was making the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as green humans, with correspondingly coloured bedrooms – and yes, I only let them eat pizza.

The Sims is a way to realise ideas you’ve pondered forever; what if Rachael didn’t choose Ross, how would that play out? With the “woohoo” function and the ability to flirt at levels real you could only dream of, couples and families could emerge from your favourite characters – and yes, of course Twilight’s Edward and Jacob deserve to be a couple, it’s the twist the real books needed. 

And that was the more innocent part of the game. The Sims also exposed something dark in its playerbase. Many admit to drowning their sims in ladderless pools, to flirting with the Grim Reaper, to locking their sims in a burning building, or simply letting the sim wet themselves and literally die of embarrassment. Are we a generation of closeted serial killers? Forget the debate around gun violence in video games, we’ve been drowning virtual people for 20 years.

I’d suggest we aren’t as psychopathic as our actions in The Sims would have us believe, mainly due to the mass scale of such torture. My theory, (correct me if you disagree) is that this behaviour expresses a subconscious want to control death. Being able to control the who, when and how of death perhaps empowers us against something uncontrolable in our own lives.

… the world record for “most expansion packs for a videogame series”

This suggests we adore sending our sims to their jobs as a mixologist not because we want to be mixologists, but because we want control over their financial security. We can choose whether to or not to go to work because at the end of the gaming session it doesn’t matter that we might lose it, or get promoted; it matters that we were able to control that action, without real consequence. 

After twenty years The Sims is still releasing content, winning the world record for “most expansion packs for a videogame series” in 2017 and keeping players hooked with rocket-building, a career as a knight, or keeping that pet dog your dad would never allow.

Although the plans for a Sims film went out the window (boo!), it still entertains on YouTube, perhaps because we want to see how F.R.I.E.N.D.S should have ended. Perhaps we love it because it injects real life with more fun, or perhaps because we all need a little bit of control. I know I enjoy it for my gnome collection (much more expensive in real life).

Happy Birthday The Sims.  Litzergam (thank you) for stealing so many hours of my childhood. 

Phoebe Raine

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