The Sims & stress relief

“Can’t afford pizza? Sell the window"

If you were a computer-room-dwelling kid during the early 2000s, you likely ran into some incarnation of The Sims franchise. The game series is one of the most successful simulated reality franchises ever made, winning accolades from every avenue possible.

Why are they so beloved? In my experience, playing Sims is downright therapeutic. Sitting down with my mom, I asked her if she remembered how often I would play Sims as a child. She answered “daily,” which was honestly a pretty fair assessment.“You were in your own little world when you were playing. Not a day went by. You were obsessed. It was weird.” 

Again, a fair assessment. If you’ve never played, it’s not easy to understand the appeal of a life simulator sandbox game, which is essentially a game in which you get to map out a life for yourself with no consequences and no real rules as to how you’re supposed to play. There are no defined goals or way to ‘win’ Sims, it’s there for you to unleash your imagination on.  

You can focus on keeping your Sims alive by doing all the mundane things people have to do, like eating, sleeping, using the toilet etc. If you let them go too long without attending to their needs, they’ll pass out, wet themselves, eat garbage or starve to death, perhaps in that order. 

Essentially, it’s like having virtual children with minimal free will and no self-preservation. Having your Sims survive all of those, along with their uncanny ability to be abducted by aliens, get hit by falling satellites, and burst into flames, is a feat in itself. 

There are many creative ways your Sim could tragically, randomly die, some of whom are taken advantage of by particularly sadistic players. In my opinion, no one who has consistently played is not guilty of intentionally killing one or two. 

When I find myself wound up and in need of a distraction, the immersive nature of the game makes for an easy, and sometimes all-consuming escape. These days, it also becomes a tool for exploring a doubt plaguing many soon-to-be university graduates.

One of the Sims creators, Will Wright, found inspiration for the game when his house was destroyed in a fire. He had to rebuild his whole life, which gave him an idea of what it’s like to feel rootless and undecided. 

At a junction in life when I’m asked to make real-life decisions about what I want for my future and how I want to literally build my life, coming up with a concrete answer is really tough. Part of what makes the game so enticing is that it provides you with an avenue to explore those options, on a simplified and metaphorical level. 

There are really two sides to the game. The surface focus, “live-mode,” which is the life-simulating gameplay that gives you control over the lives of the ‘Sims’ you create and the “build-and-buy mode,” where you create the houses and environments that your Sims inhabit. 

Both parts offer a creative outlet unlike any other: to design an ideal environment and to essentially play god and manipulate the people you create. There’s merit in creating your own space to explore and interact with. It provides a sense of control that can be comforting when the stress of real life feels overwhelming. 

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