You either play it for three days straight or not a single time in five months. Yup, we’re talking about The Sims. Nearly 21 years since its initial release, the life simulation game is still accumulating new players, exhibiting an exponential growth. In fact, CEO Andrew Wilson revealed that in summer 2020, The Sims 4’s player count reached a total of 30 million, 6 years after its release.
Although most of you reading this article may already know, The Sims is a life simulation video game where the player creates virtual people (Sims) and helps manage their moods and accomplish their desires. These Sims are placed in the world, in pre-built houses or the player can choose to build the house themselves. The game itself has no defined purpose.
It offers the players a dream life that reality simply can’t match.
I was first introduced to The Sims thanks to my cousin who was four years older than me. I was mesmerized. Years after that introduction, our paths crossed again. This time, it was The Sims 2, new and improved. The graphics, added features, new life-stages, more worlds to choose from… I was buzzed. As soon as I came home with my new game, I sat in front of our family computer and didn’t stop playing until the sun rose. I would spend hours building and decorating houses, and another few hours creating Sim families. Ultimately, the moment of truth… gameplay, which is when you finally get to test-drive your Sims (and their houses) that you spent hours crafting. Gameplay is where the possibilities are endless, where the world truly becomes your oyster. It offers the players a dream life that reality simply can’t match. I would like to even think it helped me explore and expand my creativity. I ran my own show, so naturally, I was hooked.
Here We Go Again
The Sims was all I thought about. I would spend weeks of my summer holiday exploring the world of The Sims, which quickly became an unsustainable lifestyle when school started again. Unable to keep up with my busy schedule, The Sims and I parted ways again. I haven’t fallen that deep down into the rabbit hole since, although I occasionally played.
Throughout the years of playing The Sims, my obsession came in waves. It would die out for months, and then randomly spark up again. I either played it non-stop for days, or I wouldn’t play it for months, even years. Although The Sims 4 (and a few extension packs) were installed on my laptop since 2017, I didn’t have the time to play properly until – you guessed it – quarantine. I felt giddy and impatient as the game loaded, knowing that I would be wasting the next few days in front of my screen. Here we go again.
So… Why Do We Enjoy The Sims?
Needless to say, The Sims never lost its appeal for me. In fact, The Sims never lost its appeal for a lot of people. There is a whole generation of people who grew up with The Sims, and a whole community that voluntarily creates custom content (CC) like outfits, hair, furniture, and Mods (modifications) that enhance the gameplay.
However, none of this explains why The Sims is so appealing to so many people. Naturally, I reached out to a few people in my circle that I know have played The Sims throughout the years. When I asked how often they played now, the answers varied from once a year to every week. Most often, I heard what I also experienced; not playing for months, followed by indulging for days. Some of my interviewees hadn’t played in years, before quarantine, while some of my interviewees stopped playing in quarantine, as they felt guilty about not being productive in the midst of a pandemic.
Perhaps the most interesting and common answer I got to the question ‘Why do you think you enjoy playing The Sims?’ is that people enjoyed being in control for once. They liked that they ran the show, and knew what to expect from it. About this, one interviewee said
‘Life keeps throwing unexpected stuff my way and I never know what to expect around the corner. In The Sims world, I am in control of what happens and what doesn’t happen so it’s my way to feel in control.’ No money? No problem.
Another reason for enjoyment of the game was living vicariously through their Sims. They could get the dream job, live in a perfect house, get an ideal partner without any worry in the world. No money? No problem, just type in motherlode into the cheat bar and bam, you have 50.000 Simoleons! Even bigger problems like aging and death are easily reversible (or even stoppable) complications in The Sims.
My interviewees also mentioned the benefit of making decisions and seeing the consequences right away, as 24 real-life minutes equal to one Sim day. Whereas, in the real world, it takes weeks, months, even years to reap the benefits of our actions and seeing the consequences of our own doings. Finally, there was one answer I expected to hear from all of my interviews. That is, to escape. Obviously, this idea of a ‘second-life’ comes in handy when your real-life feels overwhelming and unsatisfying. It could provide the players with a brief relief and a break from everything else. This is especially the case for quarantine, where there is time to pass and the world is anxiously waiting for the future.
The Sims-Appeal and Its Future
Through my and my friends’ experiences, I figured out why The Sims franchise didn’t perish over the past 20 years. The Sims is just a sandbox game, lacking any definitive goals. It provides a blank page that people can fill in with their own creativity, and go on to tell their own stories. It is just a base tool that functions in itself, where people can feel in control, create their ideal lives, and achieve their wildest dreams.
Finally, it is the added value of the community that keeps the wheels turning. If you don’t feel like creating everything from scratch, you can also just go to the community gallery and use the free templates players from all over the world post every second. That is very powerful.
It is very likely that we will see more from The Sims franchise in the years to come, whether through game expansion packs, or even a brand new generation of the game, known as The Sims 5. Let me be the one to tell you, it’s not going to vanish anytime soon. I’ll leave you with the words of one of my interviewees, “I will resume playing The Sims in five minutes after finishing this interview”.
Cover: EA Games