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Livin' With The Sims
theAntiELVIS explores the wild and wacky world that is Will Wright's The Sims, asking the inevitable quesiton, "is The Sims the first step toward a virtual life where everyone is Swedish?"

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Livin' With the Sims

Vol. 2, Issue 15
March 13, 2000

The French have carved a name for themselves in the depressing minimalist existentialist niche of the Philosophy market. Only the Germans give them any real competition. The Sims has a bit too much humor for it to qualify as really hard-core c'est la vie wrist-slitting existentialism. In fact suicide is just one more of those options a sim doesn't have available. I'd place the life philosophy of the game a little farther North in Scandinavia, probably Sweden. You need a sense of humor to get through the Winters up there, but at the same time, six months of sleet isn't a fertile growth medium for a positivist moral philosophy. Thus the Vikings. But I digress.

The value of the experience of creating a game like The Sims lies in appreciating all those things you had to leave out, like religion and cancer and divorce and death. Only by exploring a concept like "people simulator" within a very narrow feature set can designers and developers explore the foundations of this kind of program. Just as Wolf 3d had to come before Half-Life or Soldier of Fortune, The Sims has to come before Virtual New York. Right now people are building the first truly persistent 3D worlds for online play. I'm sure a few of them are playing with The Sims and rethinking some of their assumptions about what gameplay is. One of these assumptions is that you have to let players kill other players to have a good time. Another is that if gameplay involves thought or problem solving, that's just another kind of "key" to open some sort of "door", to allow the player to run into a room and kill some other people. In real life one thought often leads to another, while the reward for solving a tough problem is generally six or eight even tougher ones. Most people who burst into a room and mercilessly slaughter everyone end up on the news channels. For a little while, anyway.

What's the value in playing a game like The Sims? Besides having your game-playing mind sent in directions it rarely travels, it's fun. What other reason is there to play a game? But if you need a larger context to place things in (and when your game machine costs as much as a small recreational vehicle, a larger context helps), it proves that Real Life™ has commercial potential as entertainment. Television has been onto this for a long time. "Reality" shows are huge ratings wells, sucking in millions of people who may not realize they are having their own lives repackaged and sold back to them. Me, I've been coming home from work for a week and "relaxing" by making sure my sims get off to work on time. The other night I was paying some bills, and I looked up, and Otto was paying his.

Sting, Lassie, The A-Team, and The Message in The Medium

Arletha Lithium is a middle aged waitress who has given up on love. Bitter in her loneliness, Arletha sits in her filthy bungalow and watches television while she waits for her ride to work at the Stuckeys out at exit 39. Arletha only enjoys the Romance channel - there is nothing she would rather do then sit on the couch and watch other people live interesting lives…

As for The Sims itself, its philosophy is clear. Life is about the Three C's: Companionship, Consumption, and The Can. Especially The Can. We're talking 8-bit bladders here. Of course, it could just be that they all eat and drink like rhinos. Life in the Neighborhood is a real Jungian/synchronicity/Sting-concert affair. Just as the fluttering of a butterfly's wings in Tibet causes a tornado in Kansas, a sim needs to make money to buy food to eat and then eliminate to keep living so they can make money to buy food…. And along the way it all gets just unbearably dull, so to keep them interested in the whole process they also need to have comfort and fun, which generally costs money - well, you see where that's going. It's really an American Suburban Commuter Simulator, without the driving. Which only makes the fact that everyone is speaking Swedish that much more confusing.

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Credits: Illustration © 2000 Tinusch. This article is © 2000 theAntiELVIS. All other content is © 2000 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is prohibited. So don't do it, or we'll deport you.