The year 2000 was a weird time for me. I was fresh out of college, living in the basement of a family in Colorado while I went through a one-year youth ministry internship at a local church. Having just moved to the state and being generally introverted, I spent the year more lonely than I had the previous five in college. To fill the quiet hours, I purchased a new computer and spent a great amount of time gaming.
It was during this period that The Sims dropped in my lap. I don’t mean literally; iTeleportation from Apple was years away, of course. But I picked it up, curious at the thought of taking Sim City and narrowing it down to a single house. I kind of liked the idea, as it sounded similar to Little Computer People, a game I had read about back in 1985. One session into The Sims, and I was really hooked.
Since it quickly became one of the most popular computer games in the world, it’s hardly necessary for me to explain how it worked. You built and furnished a house, populated it with semi-autonomous people, watched them generally fail at living, and attempted to guide their progress through a daily routine. It was weirdly meta — you’re playing a game about someone living a life — but addicting too. Maybe it was about control; you could try to perfect this virtual person’s life even if your life was less than ideal.
For me, I guess I always liked the build mode more then the living mode. When I was a kid, I spent countless hours building structures with LEGOs, and here was a game letting me create whatever type of house I’d like. Sure, I’ll be man enough to admit that I was playing dollhouse, but so what?
The other day I downloaded the soundtrack to The Sims 3 (which is quite excellent… the OST, that is) and found myself reminiscing about hours spent meticulously creating a house. The music always relaxed me and set the mood, not to mention the charming little touches that the game would use (like its Simlish language) to make it clear that it was an alternate reality. A fun one. A not-so-serious one.
It wasn’t a perfect game and it didn’t keep my attention past a couple months (Sims 2 and 3 fared even worse in this regard). I didn’t want to hand-hold these characters — I just wanted to build a cool place and watch them live. But they weren’t the best at being left alone, and if you didn’t nanny a lot, you weren’t going to earn much money to build anything more than a very basic pad.
It also had a weird moral that stuff is the be-all, end-all to making you happy. The more stuff and higher quality stuff you had, the happier your Sim ended up being. Even other Sims could be replaced by certain items to satisfy social needs. Looking at it from that angle, it was kind of sad.
Then again, you could get slightly sadistic and try to torture and/or kill your Sims. The ol’ stick-them-in-a-pool-and-take-away-the-ladder trick was a personal favorite. Hey, don’t judge! I just wanted to see a ghost.
As I’ve said, The Sims franchise never did hook me back in after that. It did lead me to playing The Sims Online, which just failed in so many respects to copy the qualities of the core game. But at least for those few months in 2000, we had some good times, the Sims and me.