The Sims Helps Me Find Order In The Chaos Of A Pandemic
For someone who, like myself, has had to contend with a painful socially awkward streak, it’s reassuring to lose yourself within a game where there are logical cause and effect interactions.
Offer somebody a compliment, and you will see your friendship soar through the roof. Slap them with a fish, and things go downhill sharpish.
Some misunderstood teens head for furiously violent video games, where they can get catharsis through destruction. But for me, it had to be The Sims – a world where I could create order and steadily build an ever expanding, fruitful life.
In offline life, social interactions are far more nuanced. Words become misinterpreted, party guests don’t always click after being pelted with knock knock jokes and no amount of ‘woohoo’ can salvage a flailing relationship.
But in the world of The Sims, human ability and progression marches at a different pace. If a Sim applies themselves to chess or electric guitar, they will improve in neat little stages; rising through levels like, well, a computer game.
This is a world where you get promoted for simply showing up to work. A world where you just have to keep talking at someone and they will fall in love with you. Babies spring up in cots like flowers and you get life points for reading a book or painting a picture.
In The Sims, you can peel back a simulated character’s profile and examine and address what will push them to a full bar of contentment. Do they need the toilet? A nap? Is the bin in need of emptying?
Unlike in real life, a Sim’s woes can be fixed quickly – bringing them from tears of exhaustion to clapping, unintelligible joy in a matter of minutes.
There are no lasting pangs of grief – although you can grieve at urns should you so wish – and all heartaches and disappointments add up to lost points which ultimately can be retrieved with relative ease and a little perseverance.
I started off with the old school PC version of The Sims bought with my birthday money after playing it for hours at a friend’s house and eventually upgraded to a more sophisticated PS2 version.
I honestly took pleasure in giving my Sims the best life possible, taking care to decorate houses as tastefully as the catalogue would allow, and to give them plenty of fun things to do.
As a person who always loved to make up stories, imagining characters appealed to me. But, more than this, I loved that unique sense of satisfaction which comes with seeing a virtual house and a virtual life ran well, even as your own, non-digital life feels hopelessly muddled.
In adulthood, I admittedly all but forgot about the joy of The Sims, only recalling the hours I spent laying garish carpets and swimming pool tiles during nostalgic conversations about Jane Norman bags and MySpace.
By the time I hit my twenties, the appeal of earning Simoleans and ensuring my kids didn’t end up being carted to military school had worn a little thin.
The rewards and accomplishments of The Sims felt, well, a little ordinary and I sought escapism and adventure instead. Why would I want to concern myself with a sped up, pared down version of adulthood when I had my own bills to pay and appliances to fix?
But then the pandemic hit, and I – like countless others – was left cut off from the various enjoyable, deceptively humdrum aspects of being a grown up. Going out for a coffee. Stopping on the street to speak to an acquaintance.
And so it was that I found myself downloading The Sims on my phone, harnessing the desire for independence that motivated me as a teenager, and building a tiny, trimmed-around-the-edges life in my pocket.
My primary playable Sim – creatively named Julia Banim – is a chef currently at the ‘Gifted Gourmet’ level of her career. (There are, sadly, no career paths for professional Lads on the app.) Her hobby is writing and her main personality trait is ‘ambitious’.
In her few days of life, Sim Julia has thrown an overwhelmingly successful birthday party, completed a ‘Posh Pastry Course’ and has begun a complicated, slow burning love affair with a ‘Secret Crush’.
Of course, the fingers and thumbs that crafted her dark hair and mini-pudge belong to me, a woman who currently has to write ‘brush teeth’ on a to-do list and for whom the idea of kissing or hugging anyone holds a new and particular kind of horror.
While Sim Julia attempts a flambe, IRL Julia chows down a Babybel and a brown banana for brunch. While Sim Julia wanders around public piazzas making pals and talking gibberish, IRL Julia sits about pondering whether she’ll ever bother to wear a bra again.
In many ways, you would think I would be jealous of my pixelated daughter and her whirlwind life of uninvited visitors and first meetings which escalate to full blown proposals after a bit of time spent gossiping and ‘acting coy’.
You would think that I would resent her being able to just invite her friends over and sing ‘Happy Birthday’ together before choosing to kick up a fuss by boasting to a party guest. In all honesty, I would give anything to kick up a fuss right now.
And yet, I just want the absolute best for Sim Julia and take genuine pleasure in filling her life and home with fun and comfort. An electric guitar. A boom box. A flatmate who doesn’t appear to get on her nerves even when she hops into her bed for a snooze.
Founder of The Sims, Will Wright, was inspired to create the game after losing his own home in the Oakland-Berkeley firestorm of 1991.
The process of having to examine his losses and address material needs led Wright to consider big questions about the value we as human beings place on possessions as objects which fulfil us and propel our lives forward.
Speaking with Berkeleyside in 2011, Wright explained how this event led to him considering what life is ‘made up of’:
Rarely do you do that in your real life. When something like this happens, you get a big picture. Where do I want to live? What sort of things do I need to buy?
You see your life almost as a project in process. When you’re embedded in your day-to-day life you don’t get that perspective.
These questions have perhaps never been more pertinent than right now, when so many of us are isolated within our homes, surrounded by our possessions and forced to order our lives in very different ways than ‘Before’.
UNILAD spoke with Sarah, 26, a ‘huge Sims fan’ who first started playing The Sims when she got a game as a Christmas present when she was about seven years old.
Having played The Sims 1 and The Sims 2 throughout her teenage years– as well as a bit of The Sims 3 – Sarah stopped playing as much after graduating university. However, she has since found herself getting back into The Sims 2 while in lockdown.
Sarah told UNILAD:
I think The Sims has definitely helped me cope better – I’m really bad for sitting overthinking things but when I’m playing The Sims I get so engrossed in it that I’m not worrying about anything, which is a nice comfort.
I think that unlike other games there isn’t a set path that you have to complete, you can pretty much make the game whatever you want it to be depending on what you decide to do with your Sims, which is great as it means you can play again and again without repeating the same situations/outcomes.
Also, it doesn’t have a specific end point either so it feels good knowing that you’ll always be able to go back to it.
UNILAD also spoke with Julia (yes, this article just got confusing), a marketing professional who found herself feeling ‘really isolated’ after first getting furloughed, and turned to The Sims as a means of escapism.
Julia told UNILAD:
It’s an environment that’s completely within your control – and in a way, it feels really nice being able to send your Sims out into the world to go to the gym, hang out with pals etc. Especially when we’re craving that so much.
If you’re like me and hate in-game fires or when the grim reaper comes you can just remove all the hazardous items too. This feels lame now to say it, but it’s ingrained in me to keep it as stress-free as possible!
Ramping up The Sims once again, I assumed I would have nostalgia for the young girl I once was who thought building a home, starting a family and climbing through the career ranks would be a simple, and ultimately fair, matter of racking up points and scores.
Turns out, there is still a vulnerable part of me which craves the endless checklist of The Sims during a time of almost incomprehensible confusion. A time when, like unhappy teenagers trapped in their childhood bedrooms, it often feels like we’re waiting for our real lives to begin.
Like the game’s creator, many of us are suffering through grief, loss and uncertainty in a time of collective, yet ultimately very personal, trauma. The urge to rebuild is so very strong right now, this cause-and-effect based micro-universe is a great place to start.
It’s okay to not panic about everything going on in the world right now. LADbible and UNILAD’s aim with our campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we’re facing. For more information from the World Health Organization, click here.