Quick confession time, to this point in my career, I am yet to spend any real time in the virtual world of The Sims. Be it the original, sequel, myriad of expansions or My Sims offshoots, all have passed me by due to lack of appeal stemming from an early realisation I could find myself controlling an on screen Sim who is sitting alone in his house playing a video game about controlling a Sim who is sitting in his house playing a video game .......
But my ignorance has not held Electronic Arts back from producing a franchise that has topped sales charts since the initial 2002 release. And it is evident that what developer Will Wright started back then, has, rather than been reborn, instead culminated in a highly polished and refined version of that vision.
New inductees to the cult of The Sims will be presented with a virtual doll-house cum doll-town , EA has, even in this base release of what is bound to be a franchise bombarded with expansions, given our creations a great deal to do in their doll like hamlet. Here is my experience with a ‘game’ that you cannot win.
Design a Sim/Sim family, a baby, toddler or anything through to an elder citizen can be the starting life stage for your creation – though obviously babies and toddlers don’t fare well without somebody to care for them. As the game progresses, Sims will age, though, like most options in the game, the aging process can be switched off. If only real life could be the same.
Pre-generated Sims and their associates are available, but much of the fun in the game is during the extensive character generation.
Whilst apparel cuts remain static, the fabric and colour options as well as facial and body morphing process is extensive. Sims can have a wardrobe range as well as the pitch of their voice altered during creation, and adult Sims can pass their digital genes onto their associated offspring.
Sims can be assigned or randomly generated ‘Traits’, these define much of a Sims in-game behaviour, how they feel or react to certain circumstances and so on. I liked the random option, ending up with an Unlucky Sim who was very Family Orientated and a Natural Cook.
On top of their Traits, Sims can learn Skills and have short term and life-long Wishes.
Skills help with the more base pursuits of a Sims life. Earned during game-play by simply doing an activity or studying they can buff attributes such as Cookery, or Logic helping out not only at home, but at work or other life time ambitions such as, and this is a neat segue, Wishes.
Minor Wishes, such as making friends, reading books and so forth can be selected from a dynamic and contextual list. Each Wish achieved results in extra shiny happiness points, putting the Sim in a better mood, and improving all other aspects of their lives
Each Sim has a life’s ambition/quest/goal/wish, this is a major aim for each individual Sim, and probably the only way you can gauge success in this game. Achieving a Lifetime Wish, such as becoming an internationally renowned writer, will result in even greater accumulation of Lifetime Happiness points, as well as sparkles and jingly music.
You cannot win a game of The Sims 3, in fact if your creations will, if you have default settings on, eventually die, be it of old age or accident. Before this happens, you may choose to abandon your created Sims, start a new family or take over another household in town.
The trick here is that life goes on, your abandoned Sims will continue to work, learn, perhaps acquire new skills and items, and if you wish, you can return to them later.
The town itself is home to a number of locations and other folks all ripe for interaction. Head on down to the library, spend some time at the beach, fish at the lake; explore the denizens of the grave yard and so on.
There are plenty of construction tools outside of the initial Sim creation set, populate the household with plenty of choice furniture and fittings, essential (in this material world apparently) to keeping our digitised inhabitants happy.
Work the garden, build new dwellings, heck! Change the entire layout of the town if you so wish. Make a video of your adventures (or humdrum existence perhaps), and upload your artistic flair to the EA servers, or customise the in-game music selection with your own choice tunes.
Despite all there is to do, sitting there as a Sims virgin, it was still hard to escape the feeling of ridiculousness. Wake up, make breakfast, off to work, take the odd Opportunity choice that the game tosses up, head on over to a work colleagues house for a bit of Bill-and-Ben dialogue and possible flirtation, and then it is home to clean up, have a piss and off to bed to replenish those energy levels.
It can all seem a little mundane, despite the delightful and flawless presentation, and small touches of the weird, it all comes off like an episode of Desperate Housewives, with the emphasis on “desperate”.
That was until my seven year old daughter walked in on a game, and instantly became fascinated. Together we rode the tribulations of our Sims as they occasionally burnt down the house in their attempts to get to work/school on time. As a pair we decided what they would eat, wear and what order they would wash.
Whilst most of this still remains mundane, playing dolls with my daughter, I finally got the fascination the world has with The Sims, more so than Wrights disjointed attempt at recapturing that feeling with Spore.
EA haven’t fiddled with this engrossing life simulator, well, simulator of a life where he with the most toys wins, rather than a life fulfilled by spiritual or knowledge expansion.
Devotees of the series might have a big decision in making the financial leap into The Sims treadmill of expansion packs, despite the changes; will the experience be new enough for them? Hard to say, but newcomers will find a game that engrosses, is hard to fault in polish, and will definitely suck up a significant portion of real-world life.