12 Days of Freshers

Universities In Games, From The Sims To Bully

Jack Richardson

On the first day of Freshers, Jack looks at how accurate our favourite uni-based video games are…

With COVID hanging around and a good chunk of teaching moving online this year, your regularly scheduled Fabled University ExperienceTM has gone out of the window. Truth is, the closest we’ll probably get to the fabled uni of old is through videogmes.

With its core tenets of lots of freedom and minimal responsibility, university and games seem a match made in heaven. But how accurate are these digital recreations to what’s actually to come at uni?

Well, it turns out most uni-set games don’t care much about the ‘university’ part. (See Disney Infinity: Monsters University, where instead of classes you’ll be stealthing around, waging a bitter prank war against rival campus Fear Tech – vandalising university property with a toilet paper-launcher or stealing the school mascot for a joy-ride).

Playing [City Skylines] might even give you sympathy for our university admins

If you want something a little (or a lot) more grounded, give City Skylines’ Campus DLC a try. This management sim puts you in the shoes of the uni administration: Build your own campus to attract students and squeeze out those sweet, sweet tuition fees to fund research.

Research in turn produces academic works that’ll unlock new buildings for you to expand with. You can even build and manage your own sports facilities. Playing this might even give you sympathy for our university admins.

But what about the student experience itself? Maybe the most faithful (and most fun) translation of university life to a game is in The Sims. Every Sims game since the second has had a university-themed expansion.

The Sims 2: University introduced a new Young Adult age state and moved you to a whole new college town. Degrees in one of the game’s 11 available majors take four in-game years, and ask you to balance classes, assignments and term papers

The biggest inaccuracy in The Sims 2, besides classes you can teleport to without doing any work (if only), is that you can buy and build anything you want for your accommodation. On a student budget? As if. And I’m not sure any landlord would take kindly to a student knocking down a wall because they fancied a bigger bedroom.

By The Sims 3: University Life, you could share rooms (the horror) and dictate which Sims were allowed into which rooms like a megalomaniacal tyrant. Outside of the requisite keg stands, beer pong, and microwavable ramen (it’s the little details that make this so scarily real), Sims spend most of their time falling asleep in lectures (completely unrealistic, I swear) and then trying to compensate with frantic group study-sessions before end-of-term exams.

The most unrealistic thing about all this is the free equipment provided with each course – from an entire radio tower for Communications majors to a scifi brain-enhancer for the Technology major (I could do with one of those).

Oh, and your grades are delivered the day after you sit your exams. I never thought I could be jealous of a videogame character, but here we are.

The Sims 4 functions much the same way, with new features like group presentations, tutoring other students and, my personal favourite, plagiarism! If only it were that easy in real life. The one thing that unites all The Sims’ university expansions is copious amounts of streaking, which I personally haven’t seen too much of in my time at Notts.

Still, The Sims manages to be accurate to the spirit of university life without getting bogged down in the stress of deadlines and your looming career- a microcosm of the full game with less responsibility. Just drown your worries in T-rated Juice and run around campus in a llama costume!

A final, honourable mention should go to Bully, GTA developer Rockstar Games’ most underappreciated game. Though set in a boarding school and not a university, Bully is one of the few games that manages to make classes entertaining with a unique slew of minigames that never outstay their welcome.

This mixes in with pranks, sneaking past prefects, fistfights, and the occasional random job like taking photos for a yearbook. Like The Sims’ open-worlds, Bully lets you explore the nearby town on your bike: Play arcade games! Harass the locals! It’s not exactly San Andreas, but exploring the world did evoke my first tentative excursions into Nottingham. There’s even a fairground that reminds mew of our own Goose Fair.

[Games] often skip the dreary education parts for the escapism of parties and dorm-room friendships

It might be a little early to look back on high-school with any sense of nostalgia, but Bully’s timeless aesthetic and ridiculous sense of humour draw it out of me anyway.

Videogame versions of university are fantastical and farcical (if you haven’t started a cult in The Sims 4 you haven’t lived), and often skip the dreary education parts for the escapism of parties and dorm-room friendships, the excitement of meeting new people and trying new things.

They get the spirit of the place right. And this year? With everything that’s been going on? I think a little more of that spirit could do us some good.

Jack Richardson

Featured images courtesy Arran Bee via Flickr. Image use licence here. No changes made to this image.

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