The Sims 3

Many years ago, I played The Sims 2 basically all day, every day.  I owned all the expansions (I had way too much disposable income in those days, it’s a long story).  I friggin loved that game so much.  I hadn’t actually realized how long ago this was until a friend gifted me a copy of The Sims 3 for my birthday recently, and the game failed to detect my video card, because it’s too new to be in the game’s database of cards.

It’s a kind of guilty pleasure.  I like to make my IRL friends in the game, and then watch drama and sexytimes unfold when I put them all in a house together.  It’s basically an automated version of taking Barbie and Ken and mooshing their faces together making kissy noises, and I couldn’t be happier doing it.  I have two other favorite ways to play:

  1. Making a single sim, putting them in a super-efficient house, and micromanaging them to fulfill every single hope and dream they could possibly have, creating an immortal blissed-out super-sim, and
  2. Filling a house with every known hazard, dropping 8 random sims in there with silly names and outlandish appearances, and cackling madly as they all die one by one.

These can be combined, such as making a house where you only control one Sim actively, and micromanage them to fulfill all their hopes and dreams, while you let the rest of the house do whatever they want (or die).  Or do the opposite, creating a Truman Show type situation where you control everyone actively except for one sim who can do whatever they like.  Take screenshots, create a story.  In the era of internet forums and social media, The Sims is a fantastic storytelling tool, and TS3 comes with better built-in tools for capturing what’s going on than 2 did.

I guess I should get around to comparing the two games.  Basically, EA goes through a cycle with this series where they gradually implement as DLC all the things they slashed out of the previous game.  Up until TS4 (ugh, don’t get me started), this was still a nice progression, because the core engine was improving with each game, allowing greater flexibility and a richer feature set.  Then the expacs would come out and restore other things, like going to college, becoming a vampire, all the usual stuff you’d expect.

I find this kind of thing scummy as hell, for the record.  But in the era of Steam sales, it no longer costs several hundred dollars to get a full feature set, provided you’re patient.

You’ll have plenty to do while you’re waiting for expacs to go on sale, because the jump between 2 and 3 is huge.  This is where the series transitioned from instances to a seamless world.  It used to be that every lot, whether that was your house or a downtown bar or what have you, was its own instance.  Everything outside of the lot the player was controlling would be paused, leading to absurdities like sending a young adult sim off to college, having them go from freshman to graduation and come home, and it’s the same day it was when they left home.

Not so, in 3!  Now the whole town is being simulated all the time.  You can take a sim on a bike ride to the park, busk with a guitar or play chess with strangers, work out at the gym, go to a restaurant for a bite to eat, then go back home, all without any loading screens.  You have a lot more freedom, not just because of the seamless nature of the world, but also because they slowed down the rate at which sims’ needs decay and sped up the rate at which they get restored, as well as removing a few of the needs they had before.  This makes the whole thing a lot less micromanage-y in general, and gives you more time to actually do things with your sims beyond keeping them alive.  Sim AI has also been improved, so they’re less prone to keeling over if you don’t watch their every move like a hawk.

They also threw open the doors to full customization of a lot of things you couldn’t touch, before.  You can tweak exactly how long sims spend in each phase of their lives, creating mayflies that die in 2 weeks, or super-long-lived sims, or anything in between.  Want sims that grow out of the boring infant and toddler stages quickly, but spend a long time as adults?  You can do that.  You’re also free to adjust how autonomous sims are, both when you’re controlling them and when you’re not, and whether or not the game will simulate things going on in the town such as births, aging, and deaths, outside of your direct observation and control.  Want a completely static town, where all the sims stand around glassy-eyed until you tell them what to do?  Want things to happen that surprise you?  Either way, you got it, with a level of granularity that’s pleasantly surprising.

There’s fewer meshes and models for clothing in vanilla 3 compared to 2 with all the expacs, but you have the ability to mess with the textures and colors of everything, now.  Want an entire house, including all your clothing, the wallpaper and flooring, your car, everything in purple zebra stripes?  You can do that.  Want to create crazy layered patterns and complicated art for shirts and such?  You can do that, too.  You can place furniture at any angle, or completely free up your placement from the grid entirely if you want, leading to much more interesting and organic-feeling home furniture layouts.  And yes, your couch and chairs can also be purple and zebra striped if you want.

Here’s something interesting: you get bills in the mail in this game on a set schedule, and the amount of money you have to pay depends on the value of the lot.  Basically, the size of the house, and how much stuff that household owns.  So your expenses in this game are a percentage-based upkeep cost on your possessions.

What I think is really interesting about this mechanic, however, is that it’s not actually an anti-materialism statement.  Instead, it serves to balance against another mechanic, wherein more expensive possessions have better effects than cheaper ones.  A pricier fridge will store food longer before it goes bad.  A pricier toilet will clog less.  A super expensive bed means you get a better night’s sleep!  If your sims can’t afford those really nice things, they’ll spend more time out of their day fixing broken sinks and clogged toilets, they’ll have to take more showers, they’ll have to buy food and ingredients more often.  They wake up in a worse mood and need to sleep longer, which affects everything they do.

So, the overall political statement the game makes by pairing these mechanics is not that “owning more expensive things is bad” or “owning more expensive things is good”.  It’s more along the lines of “comfort can be bought, but it’s expensive”, which in turn serves not as an anti-materialist stance, but as an anti-capitalist one (with pro-automation overtones).

Let me tell you an illustrative story.  My husband and I lived together for quite some time before we got married.  And during that time, we didn’t have a dishwasher.  Even before we got together, neither of us had ever had a dishwasher.  We’d both grown up doing our dishes by hand, for decades.

Doing dishes by hand takes a long time.  You have to fill up a sink with hot water, squirt some dish detergent in there.  You have to put dishes into that water, and usually let them soak a bit to get the tougher bits of food off.  You have to actively scrub the dishes, being mindful of any special finishes like Teflon that you have to deal with in a certain way.  Then you have to rinse each dish, and set it out to dry for a few hours before you can then come back and put them all away.  If you don’t have a large enough drying rack, you have to do this in several stages.  If there’s anything especially tough, you might have to let it soak for an hour or two before you can even start scrubbing it productively.

Dish detergents are pretty hard on your skin, as is immersing your hands into hot water for extended periods of time.  You can wear gloves to help with this a bit, but some damage to your hands is unavoidable, especially if you do dishes this way for years.  Your hands get hardened and rough, cracked and dry.  Lotion (which also costs money) only does so much.

It’s also just a huge pain in the ass.  When you work 40 (or more) hours a week, or you work odd shifts on retail and fast food schedules (which are a fucking nightmare designed to keep you a subservient zombie), you often don’t have the time or the inclination to take like 2-3 hours out of what little time you have to yourself to do the dishes again.  You end up using disposable dishes, or eating unhealthy pre-packaged food, a lot more than you otherwise would, and you really don’t have an actual choice in this.  Despite what boomers will say in their oh-so-infinite wisdom from 50 years ago, it is not an acceptable solution to just suffer 24/7 for the sake of having clean plates or whatever.  People have lives, and non-boomer people have human brains that need stimulation and relaxation in order to not go insane from stress.  Especially when your job already sucks.  Eventually, inevitably, you fall behind.  The dishes pile up, and mold starts to grow, which not only stinks but also endangers your health.

Got the picture?  Okay, fast forward about 3 years now.  My husband and I got married, we lucked into much better work, and we moved into a new and much nicer apartment.  That apartment has a dishwasher.  You know what “doing the dishes” is now?  It’s putting all the dishes into that machine, throwing a little detergent pod thing in there (a “forbidden juicy boy”, as the kids say), and starting it up.  That’s it!  Now, we can enjoy the privilege of not having to dedicate hours of our days to washing dishes.  We can have clean dishes to eat off of, consistently.  We can cook even very complicated things that use a bunch of pots and pans, and it’s literally no extra work for us on the cleanup side.  All that stuff was impossible for us, before.  Now it’s trivial.  And we have hours of extra time every day to do whatever we want instead of fighting with the Sisyphean task of the mountain of dishes.

The Sims series, by attaching a high monetary value to possessions that reduce your sims’ daily workload and improve the quality of their interactions with those possessions, accurately captures the cost of ease and quality of life under capitalism.  Automation exists for many mundane tasks, but that comfort is denied to the poor.  I find it really fascinating that The Sims 3 not only captures this situation accurately, but also makes no overt statements about it.  It’s taken as a given.  But it doesn’t have to be this way, Mr. Wright.  We don’t have to charge people for basic human dignity.

Basically what I’m saying is, ancom Sims when

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