For almost twenty years The Sims has been a very popular franchise with no signs of slowing down. Currently on its fourth iteration, with many console spinoffs in between, the games have raised a generation of gamers, including myself. If I were to apply those weird statistics where people figure out how much of their life they've spent eating or in the bathroom to how much of my life I’ve spent on The Sims, I would probably spiral into a deep depression from which there would be no recovery. Suffice it to say that I tried once and soon stopped.
The Sims appeal is that it’s a simulated life game, but how close to reality is it, really? What has it been teaching that generation of naive gamers? Well, here are a few poor life lessons I've gleaned from The Sims.
1.) You’ll Find a Job
I thought I’d start with the obvious and most notable item on the list. I graduated from University in June 2016 and since then I’ve spent more time unemployed than employed. Even if it is far harder to get a job now than when The Sims was first released in February 2000, I think we can all agree that it was never as easy as it has been portrayed in the lives of our sims.
True, spending months filling out applications and walking out of poor interviews that leave you wallowing in a vat of self-pity would make for a terrible video game, but finding your dream job by looking at the newspaper or the computer makes for a very poor life lesson. In The Sims, even if for a few days, you have to make a living doing a non-dream job (oh, such a hard life!). But with persistence, making sure you read the paper every day, you will find your dream career. Assuming you work hard for a few weeks by making sure to show up to work at least every other day, talking to yourself in the mirror or playing chess against yourself, you’ll eventually get your dream job.
In reality, a lack of money and desperation will lead you into a dead-end, soul-crushing job, which won’t necessarily have anything to do with the degree you spent all that money on, until you wake up one morning realising that your dreams have died.
Simulated life's more fun.
2.) You’ll Be Able to Afford Help
The French Maid is one of the most iconic characters in The Sims and, according to The Sims 2 loading mini-game, is Will Wright's favourite character. The maid has been present in all Sims games, including (most of) the console versions. You call her up, she comes in straight away, cleans up after you then runs straight off again.
Unfortunately, the maid will set you back 10 simoleons an hour, including a 15 simoleon base fee. But, fortunately, as we discussed in point one, you earn at least 106 simoleons a day, and since the maid will clean your entire home in only a few hours, you can easily afford a maid, never have to worry about cleaning your house, and can focus on an amazing career.
You want a beautiful, amazing garden but don’t have the time, the know-how or, indeed, the motivation to try? Well, after just a few days of work you’ll be able to afford a gardener who’ll do everything so you can look out the window at your wondrous flower beds and never have to lift a finger (let alone get it dirty).
Do you need a short break from your bundles of joy? Call up a nanny or babysitter who’ll take care of them for you until a time when you can stand to look at them once more. Need to go to work? Holiday? That’s fine! The sitter'll stay until you get back. No need to check in, just enjoy your independent life.
This isn’t how life works, is it?
Look around you. Those dishes that are piling up in the sink, mocking you…the pet hair on the rug...the dust on the bookcase.... There is no relief, no help that is a convenient phone call away.
You’re all alone now. You’ll always be alone.
3.) You Can Easily Maintain Your Friendships
All Sims games have a simple premise for friendships. Socialise with other sims and your relationship score with them will change. Positive interactions will raise it, negative ones will lower it. If you socialise enough with another sim and get your daily relationship score to 50, you will become friends. With time your lifetime relationship score will progress, determining the closeness of your friendship, but it’ll only progress as high as your daily relationship score. But the higher your lifetime relationship score gets, the longer it’ll take for the friendship to decay.
Your friendships will decrease over time if you do not socialize with them on a regular basis, but if you give them a call every now and again you’ll be able to maintain your relationships. The game will even give you a little reminder if you are losing a friend.
A development that I greatly appreciated came in The Sims 2. The game would simply produce a reminder bubble about your friend, rather than forcing your sim to receive 10 bloody phone calls every evening from a neglected friend.
This developed again in later games when a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while will become a distant friend, but a quick cup of coffee or invitation to hang out will soon resolve the issue.
I will admit that with social media it is easier to stay in touch with those from your past, but calling someone you knew 10 years ago and inviting them to hang out might seem a little off. If you just take a moment to think about all the friends you had a decade ago and how many of them you would consider close friends now, maybe you’ll get the gist of what I’m writing about.
The Freetime expansion pack also introduced a new concept called BFF, where if two sims are best friends for a certain amount of time then they’ll always be friends. Even if you never. speak. again.
There is no limit to the amount of BFFs one sim can have, and they aren’t very difficult to accumulate.
The most annoying thing about the friendships for me was the link into careers. Somehow your new friendship with the pizza delivery person will help you progress as a scientist.
I’d like to squeeze in an honourable mention here: The Sims teaches the lesson that romance is inevitable. While some sims are more compatible then others, if you pester another sim enough, you can eventually convince them to sleep with you and stay with you.
Stay safe, kids!
4.) Sex = Love
And that leads me to my next point. Brace yourselves, this is about to get real.
Unlike the others, this point is one that was improved in later games and is only a problem in The Sims 2. It was one that bugged me repeatedly and made me feel very uncomfortable: the concept that you cannot "WooHoo" with another sim until after you fall in love.
While the idea of engaging in sexual activities in games is one I find rather odd, it’s never bothered me like has in The Sims. Even the silly euphemisms for sex creep me out. WooHoo wasn’t introduced until 2, before then it was simply "play."
In The Sims 2, before WooHoo is even an option, you must have two sims socialise enough to fall in love. In the memory recorded, the sim will say, "I love you," to the other sim. After this, you can walk away and never see them again, but the two sims will still remain in love and not lose this state unless they interact negatively when the lifetime relationship score is below seventy. This never has to happen, even.
I already know that I’m taking this too seriously, but unlike in other games, where sex is portrayed as a novelty, it serves a purpose in The Sims as it is a life simulator, and this is an aspect of life. It’s a poor life lesson that isn’t only unrealistic, but potentially damaging.
The sex-equals-love aspect is one that needs to be wiped from existence. It’s damaging to young people and their concept of love and relationships. It doesn’t teach the lesson "you should only WooHoo if you’re in love," but instead teaches, "If you truly loved me, you’d WooHoo with me" or "I WooHoo’d with them, so I must love them."
One Lifetime Achievement for a romance-aspiration sim is to "WooHoo with 20 different sims." Are you honestly going to put that in your game, EA, and convince us that these sims are hopelessly in love with every single one of their conquests?
I really want to make some kind of sarcastic joke to lighten the mood, but I won't even try to make light of this, so will move on.
Note that if you save up enough aspiration points for the love tub, you can engage in one night stands and use the WooHoo interactive option without falling in love.
5.) You Will Achieve Lifelong Happiness
In The Sims 2, the aspect of wants and fears was introduced to the game. If your sim achieve wants, then they would become satisfied with life. If they achieve fears, then they will become miserable. A sim may also have a lifetime want or goal, which if they achieve they will become permanently satisfied with life. This concept evolved with the sequels, becoming more complex and more flexible. It also added a key component that the Sims needed for a long time: a point.
Rather than the monotonous everyday life you had to put your sims through in the original, this wants-and-fears concept gave you something to aim for with your sims and made the game slightly less like a waste of time. It also made things a tad more depressing.
As you sit in bed in your underwear and stare at little Emily, having achieved perfect lifelong happiness, even though she is only a teenager, by maxing all her skill points, you realise how empty and bitter your life has become. It would be wonderful if at one point in life we are given a goal and for the rest of our life we have to focus on achieving that goal, be it career, friendships or family. But as humans we are too fickle for that. Our goals change over time and it’s nearly impossible to lead a life without any regrets. And even if your sim doesn’t achieve their lifetime goal, they’ll probably still be satisfied with a lot of smaller aspects.
In life you will never be as happy as your sims. You will never achieve the goals and the skills that they have. All you can do is stare at your sim with gut-wrenching envy, until you finally snap and drown yourself in a ladder-less pool as you weep into your keyboard.
So, I hope you enjoyed my fun little list, and, if nothing else, at least I can now try and convince myself that the collective days of my life I’ve wasted on the game franchise have now led to something productive.
While I was writing this both Sims 2 and 4 tried to load, on separate occasions, as if to tell me to stop taking things so seriously and just play with them and be happy… forever.