Tech

Literally the Best Thing Ever: The Sims

What it reveals about you might not be pretty.

Illustration by Dylan.

Illustration by Dylan.

The first time I encountered The Sims was at my friend Monika’s* house when I was 10 and I overhead her mother complaining to mine that Monika’s older sister was spending six or seven hours in front of the computer playing this new game, and that she wouldn’t even get up to eat. This is a state I would soon come to recognize in myself, but at the time, I just wondered how a person could go that long without food.

Because my parents didn’t let me play video games, my previous experience with virtual reality had been very limited: There was a girl down the street I was friends with strictly for her Nintendo 64 (and her awesome snack cabinet) and an ancient version of Oregon Trail that my classmates and I played at school. So when Monika and I went into the study to beg her sister for a turn, The Sims was like nothing I’d ever seen before. The lot, or game board, that her sister had made was a modest brick house for two parents and a little Sim girl, who had her own attic room with sky-patterned wallpaper and a grassy green carpet. Monika’s sister wouldn’t let us play with her (if she wasn’t stopping for food, she certainly wasn’t about to do it for us), but the game looked so cool that I hounded my mother until she broke down and bought me a copy of my own.

I quickly came to love customizing little family houses, picking wallpaper and furniture, and living out the scenarios I’d painstakingly created for my Sim characters. Because of the nearly infinite possible worlds you can build, The Sims seems hyper-complicated, but the main idea of the game is actually very simple: You create these virtual people called Sims, then you design and control the direction of their lives, for better and/or for worse. What I adored most about the game was that it was a contained, tiny universe that I was in complete control of—and what else can you say that about when you’re a child? In The Sims, no one had to spend their weekends learning Polish and then going to Sunday school, like maybe some people did in reality.

At age 10, I was already a control freak, and most of the games I made up for myself had to do with the creation of new little worlds. Like, I would walk around my garden telling myself stories, repeating parts of them to myself until I felt like I had gotten them perfect, exactly the way I wanted them to sound in my head. So it’s probably not a surprise that I approached the lives I created in The Sims the same way, although the game didn’t let me be as perfect as I wanted to be: There are no levels to advance through, and, most frustrating of all to me, no finite way to win. The game only ended when my 1999 iMac crashed.

My mom thinks it’s embarrassing for me to admit that I still love The Sims at 22, but I would like to point out that I have seen Sims blogs written by people of all different ages—not only kids and teenagers but also bona fide adults, some with real-life children of their own. It’s not just the young folks that enjoy a little virtual role-playing every now and then! Just ask Liz Lemon, self-professed Sims devotee:

In my own real life, I’m always discovering friends with a secret love for The Sims, too. My roommate in college, for example, once confessed to me that she loved downloading Jane Austen–era costumes for her Sims and then staging re-creations of Pride and Prejudice with them, which also speaks to the fact that for every person who plays The Sims, there’s an entirely different way of going about it. Although the game’s possibilities are basically endless, in my vast experiences with The Sims, I’ve been able to narrow down three general types of players:

1. The Destroyer
A player who spends most of the game ruining their Sims’ lives, either by creatively killing them or by putting them in strange and cruel situations. One of my friends plays Survivor with her Sims by dropping them onto a lot with just a refrigerator and a toilet and letting them fight it out. Usually, twisted experiments like this quickly lead to chaos. Your Sims pee everywhere, frantically waving their arms in the air in futile pleas for your help, until they die. It’s the quickest way to lose the game, since your Sims have no access to food (or anything else, for that matter)—but that’s kind of the point for Destroyers. Personally, I find this mode of play a little boring, but for some people, it’s a way to take out real-life aggression without actually hurting anyone real. “When I was bullied in elementary school, I used to make fake Sims for the people who had been my friends and just fuck with their lives,” admits my friend Ryane.

2. The Creator
Players for whom the joy of the game lies in the stuff. They build crazy-beautiful houses, get creative with the interior design, and add the most eclectic furniture. Then, instead of actually moving Sims into them, they prefer to share their masterworks online. Creators may also specialize in building whole themed towns or custom objects, like haute couture Sims clothing, or historically accurate furniture for those of us who prefer to play period Sims, like my old roommate and, on occasion, me: I definitely had a Little House on the Prairie Sims phase (I won’t tell you when). There are also the extremely dedicated Creators who taking their Sims-ing to the next level by using the game as a medium for re-creating music videos. These efforts can result in masterpieces like this nine-and-a-half-minute re-enactment of Lady Gaga’s “Telephone.”

3. The Lifer
A Lifer tends to his or her Sims with gentle care as the characters grow up, get jobs, have kids, and grow old, then the Lifer plays the next generation of the family. Whether you’re like my friend Sarah, who’s interested in creating stable suburban-family arrangements (her vast Sims neighborhood comes complete with a granola family that practices yoga), or you’re more into making lasting romances happen, a Lifer sticks with their Sims through their whole life span (usually around 90 days).

I’m a Lifer through and through. I never drowned my Sims in the pool or starved them by deleting the doors to their kitchen. My world was populated by good computerized citizens, all dedicated to achieving whatever goals I’d programmed them to want. I would write out elaborate bios for them, draw floor plans for their perfect homes by hand, and assign them daily schedules to keep them on track for success, whether that meant a life of crime (which is a real career track in The Sims) or a big house filled with Sim children. My favorite thing was to make big, well-organized families and happy little farms. And I hated it when the game sent spontaneous disasters like fires, accidents, or eternally leaking sinks my way—basically anytime it was clear that I couldn’t control everything.

Sometimes striving for perfection in The Sims meant I slipped a little in keeping up with my actual responsibilities, but I mostly kept my priorities in order. But as I got older, those real-life obligations increased, which is probably why I don’t boot up the game nowadays except for during vacation or the summer. Being an IRL control freak takes up too much time to devote much of my perfectionist energy to The Sims.

I find that I do the same things in actual adulthood as I have always done when playing The Sims. The kind of obsessive behavior I used to work out in the game manifests itself in endless list-making where I constantly write and rewrite the tasks I have to complete. When I played, I didn’t use cheats (mostly, anyway). Instead, I got satisfaction when my Sims achieved what I wanted them to the old-fashioned way. But this didn’t mean I was patient about watching my efforts paying off—sometimes I played the whole game on 3x speed to get to the next achievement, zooming the game’s clock ahead to the job promotion or other big life event I’d worked so hard for my Sims to accomplish. And now, as an adult, my head is always five steps ahead of where I am in my life, so that I can’t relax and enjoy the things I’ve achieved. I just graduated from college, and instead of enjoying my new freedom, I’m constantly making lists of potential new professional opportunities to put on my résumé! I’m always waiting for the next big moment to hit, hitting refresh over and over, trying to live life itself on 3x speed.

I know, of course, that there’s no definitive way to win life, or to be totally perfect all the time. And even though it sometimes makes me anxious, keeping that in mind is a comfort. It helps me recognize that real pleasure doesn’t come from impatiently waiting for my next major personal milestone to roll around, but from the process of living. So the next time I sit down with The Sims, I’ll try to take my time and remember what was fun about it when I was 10, when I could barely figure out how to make my Sims go pee, and I loved it anyways. Instead of rushing them toward their next achievement, I’ll take my Sim kids to the park, sit back, and try to enjoy the virtual breeze. ♦

* Yes, we’re both Monika with a K. I haven’t invented some elaborate alter ego to create other fictional people with, though that would be impressively demented.

44 Comments

  • fc96 September 17th, 2013 3:27 PM

    I can so recognize myself in this. For my sims I always planned out their whole day ahead of time and then just sped up the time to watch it happen. Writing it down like that doesn’t sound like fun but that feeling of being in control is just amazing. To not feel alone in that, and feel that maybe being a control freak is sometimes okay and you can live past it, feels sorta awesome and liberating.

    • pulpfiction September 17th, 2013 11:19 PM

      I agree with this completely and sometimes its satisfying when you complete these goals faster it feels like an accomplishment.

  • Marguerite September 17th, 2013 3:42 PM

    What about the epic love triangles?????

    • farawayfaerie September 17th, 2013 5:44 PM

      Love triangles were the best! I used to make my parents fight for days and then neglect their children and it usually ended up in Destroyer mode, with family “murders” (me killing characters) and a lot of tears.

      I only really started doing this after I failed in Life mode and one of my kids died because he didn’t have any friends/social interactions. The mother was depressed for ages and would just cry all day, which made me angry with the game. I really enjoyed Destroying though, especially trying to find new ways to do it, and all the effort of destroying marriages.

  • maisiechain September 17th, 2013 3:46 PM

    sims music videos are the best things ever, does anyone remember the one for avril lavigne – sk8er boi? that took up a lot of my childhood

    • I W September 17th, 2013 4:10 PM

      Yes! Oh my god yes. I loved that thing so much!

      youtube.com/doxography

    • silvermist September 17th, 2013 5:08 PM

      Yes!!! Better than the actual music video imo

  • Livia Guimarães September 17th, 2013 3:53 PM

    This is so me! :)

  • Erin. September 17th, 2013 3:53 PM

    There’s also people who play in terms of stories (either people who create sim stories to post online, or people who play with stories in their head) or challenges (like the legacy challenge or the all-creatures challenge). I used to be really into the Sims (Sims 2, mostly, with all the expansion packs), and I was semi-active on their website’s forum. There was definitely all kinds of people there.

  • GlitterKitty September 17th, 2013 3:57 PM

    In the sims, I was a strange combination of the lifer and the destroyer. I would build these nice houses and families and make there lives all nice. Then when I wasn’t getting through new achievements fast enough and got bored, I would unleash total hell on my sims. It was pretty entertaining.

  • Vasia September 17th, 2013 4:04 PM

    @maisiechain: OMG I thought I was the only one who was so obsessed with the Sims Sk8er boi music video!!! I liked it more than the original! lol

  • Velvetmary September 17th, 2013 4:15 PM

    I love The Sims! I started quite young, I think, with about 8 or 9 years with The Sims and by the age of 12 with The Sims 2. (And I’m still playing it, when my computer doesn’t crash down after half an hour.) I obsessed about both of them, but right now, I’m really proud to have a family in the, I guess, fourth generation, filling two cities and a bunch of dreamy houses, haha :)
    I just love to make up all the lives and personailites and stories I can’t have in real life – simply because they’re too much fr one person.

  • soretudaaa September 17th, 2013 4:32 PM

    I’ve had my Lifer periods (about 80%) and my Destroyer periods (the remaining 20%). I haven’t played in YEARS, but I had so much fun making my sims career oriented and having them become millionaires from scratch and then have them raise a shitload of kids and all of them getting straight As and growing up to be super important people in the Sim world… but then I’d get bored and fuck everything up :D

    • soretudaaa September 17th, 2013 4:34 PM

      also this “I know, of course, that there’s no definitive way to win life” made me chuckle because whenever I played The Sims my dad was like, “That game is so boring, no one ever wins!” and I was like, “EXACTLY.”

  • ghoulinterrupted September 17th, 2013 4:55 PM

    Wow. I remember the summer between fourth and fifth grade when I was completely obsessed with the Sims 2. I was playing the Sims 1 since it came out (I was around 5), but the Sims 2 was so addictive that I played from like 3pm to 7am all summer until my computer finally gave out xD

  • Maryse89 September 17th, 2013 5:31 PM

    hey I’m also Monika with a ‘k’!

    just wanted to give a little shoot out…there aren’t that many of us! (at least not in the US) :)))

  • jessmargo September 17th, 2013 5:41 PM

    this reminds me of a really bad phase where I would set up a family with a series of really unattractive children with bad qualities and then trap them all in a boxed in pool, the grim reaper is a little terrifying though…

  • pij_sirup September 17th, 2013 6:21 PM

    love. foreverrrrrrrrrr

  • amescs September 17th, 2013 6:25 PM

    it’s literally like you are inside my head. The Sims is everything to me. oh, and the music videos people made were so so great.

  • Ariella95 September 17th, 2013 6:32 PM

    I actually never had much patience for Sims. I wanted a game you could win. And so I created a Neopets account, mostly for the games, although I fed my pets out of the guilt i felt every time I looked at that little box and saw that they were “dying”.

    • Ariella95 September 17th, 2013 6:34 PM

      Unlike Sims, though, Neopets never actually die. Yay for no consequences!

  • abbeysoda September 17th, 2013 6:33 PM

    omg this is me down to the age. lifers 4 life. i am kind of excited for the sims 4 but i have already put a lot of money into buying expansions for sims 3. the struggle is real.

  • jessthetics September 17th, 2013 7:02 PM

    I am 21 and I still LOVE The Sims! I don’t play it that often though, as it requires at least 3 days of uninterrupted concentration and, well, I have stuff to do. I am a lifer too, all my Sims have great grandchildren.

    http://www.jesthetics.wordpress.com

  • Imogen-Rose September 17th, 2013 7:03 PM

    YES I LOVE THE SIMS SO MUCH

  • rachaelreviewsall September 17th, 2013 7:09 PM

    I’m a cross between a lifer and destroyer. Like I enjoyed looking after them until I got bored and then would just fuck with them. I don’t think it was any subconscious anger to anyone… I think…

    I was trying to explain to my friend in IKEA about how I was a destroyer and he had to tell me to shut up because we were getting really strange looks from people after I said I had figured out a way to stop social services getting my baby while I set the house on fire.

    Really hoping nothing subconscious…

  • Sophie ❤ September 17th, 2013 7:42 PM

    Tell me about it! I am absolutely in love with the horses in the pets extension.

    http://theneonpapaya.com

  • SkillzBeat September 17th, 2013 9:06 PM

    Whenever my Sims had kids, it was only a matter of days before they died, haha! They couldn’t handle taking care of the baby and themselves, so the whole family would just sort of die. Woops! Lol

  • spudzine September 17th, 2013 9:32 PM

    These categories of Sims players are LEGIT, guys! I guess I was the destroyer…I just can’t wait to get my hands on Sims 4!!!

    http://spudzine.tumblr.com/
    http://emotwins.tumblr.com/
    http://rockogirl.tumblr.com/

  • Adrienne September 17th, 2013 10:19 PM

    I LOVE THE SIMS!!! My friend also introduced me to it.

    I’m definitely a lifer, but also love using the 50,000 simleon cheat! And oh my god the Sims music. I can still play the buy mode in my head.

    Also kind-of-embarrassing-but-not-really story time: in middle school my sister and our friend created a Sims 3 soap opera series on Youtube. We had scripts and sets and everything. It’s still on Youtube haha!

    On another note: Sims 4 is coming out…

  • pulpfiction September 17th, 2013 11:17 PM

    As a huge Sims fan this spoke to me, Id like to say I’m a bit of all three and looking back on how I played the game totally explains my personality.

  • ifellfromlalaland September 18th, 2013 2:39 AM

    YES SIMS REALLY IS THE BEST THING EVER THANK YOU SO MUCH ROOKIE THIS IS THE BEST LITERALLY THE BEST THING EVER EVER. I was 5 when the game first came out and I’m pretty sure I stayed playing is ASAP so it makes me proud (and it’s a little weird) to say that I’ve been playing sims for most of my life. I just don’t understand how some people don’t get the JOY of it. How could you not love your own multi-verse??? Ps. I’m definitely a creator. Building houses is my favourite thing ever; I actually dream about it! I’m working on building my dream house so I know what I want when I’m older

  • starsinyourheart September 18th, 2013 9:25 AM

    this makes me so HAPPY. I love the sims, even all these years later. my families and neighborhoods were always so full of trauma and drama.

  • evangelinemay September 18th, 2013 11:40 AM

    i was literally about to go on the sims (island paradise :]) then i thought i’ll check rookie first and then i see this!
    so exciting haha
    sims 4 comes out next year!!

  • evangelinemay September 18th, 2013 11:41 AM

    also last year for my art exam i painted the green diamond!

  • Dottie Jane September 18th, 2013 1:17 PM

    Ah, Sims. :3 I usually make one female Sim, and play her adventures and never let her get old or die. I always get too attached to them.

  • trassel September 18th, 2013 1:34 PM

    I recognize myself so much in this text! I am definitely a lifer too. But I have dabbled in the other two. When I was a kid I wanted to make a graveyard, and killed off a lot of sims by keeping them in a house without a door and lots of things that can cause a fire. Most of them died, but one of them survived by peeing in the fire he was currently standing in the middle of. I thought it was hilarious and of course I let him live.
    I love those definitions of different types of players you made, it puts a name to the thoughts I have had on the game too.

  • flocha September 18th, 2013 5:12 PM

    When I first started playing sims, the whole being able to kill/ mess around with people thing appealed to me, but now I like making people who get really good jobs and huge families (I once made one guy who had 30 children). However, it has remained throughout all these years the main reason why I get nothing done.

    http://www.whimsicalprocrastination.blogspot.co.uk

  • Adrienne22 September 21st, 2013 10:04 AM

    The Sims is hands down one of my absolute favourite games. I can totally relate to what you said about being The Lifer. How you play out an entire family tree and seeing them achieve their goals. It really does apply to reality at times.

    http://thefashionetudiante.blogspot.com/

  • speakthroughvision September 22nd, 2013 9:32 PM

    My mom came home when I was reading this and while she was washing her face I started to kind of pet her back because we hadn’t spent much time together and after 2 minutes of doing this while she was still over the sink I realizedhow Sim-like it was what I was doing and and burst out laughing. My mom was really confused. The Sims really do help put things into perspective sometimes, even over stupid little things like that.
    Cool article.

  • Ella W September 27th, 2013 7:23 PM

    I love the sims! I have Sims 2, where I am completely a lifer, all my families follow the same set pattern of ‘make the couple fall in love, have a child, make the child fall in love, they have a child, etc. etc.’

    I also love Sims Medieval! It’s quite different, as there are ‘quests’ and so on. My favourite thing to do is base all the characters on a theme, i.e. Merlin, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings etc.

    Sims for ever!!

    Ella x

    http://gorillalegs.blogspot.co.uk/

  • loregrrrl December 4th, 2013 10:16 AM

    This is perfect.

  • Barhbie December 22nd, 2013 5:31 PM

    I love the sims and whenever i play i’ve always been much of a lifer kind of player and i can really relate to you in the way the sims can affect or put things in the non-virtual world in perspective :)