A Simulated Experience

I can trace my love of storytelling back to a lot of things. I live in a family of storytellers (mostly verbal storytellers, but an excellent influence nonetheless), I’ve always loved books, and I think the process of creating and retelling stories has always been a comfort for me. But as for what helped me practice my storytelling skills, there are few things (besides NaNoWriMo, Fanfiction, and make-believe) that are as influential to me as the Sims franchise.

I was first introduced to EA’s popular series of life-simulation games waay back in 2010 when I wasn’t quite old enough to fly under the “Rated T for Teen” rating. But I so wanted it – inspired by a litany of surprisingly well-made music videos and stories using the game on YouTube and other similar sites. I eventually managed to convince my parents to get it for me, and dove into a world of slightly off-kilter digital humans.

And now, seven years later, I’m still an avid player and fan of the series. So what makes it so good? What makes me come back to it again and again for years? And what makes it such an excellent tool for a burgeoning storyteller? Let’s sit down for a bit and talk about what makes this series tick, and why it’s always resonated with me.

I want to start this discussion by saying that I’ve never been much of a capital G Gamer. I’m really bad at most games of skill, and while I enjoy a few games considered more “Gamer”ish (It’s basically only Portal and anything by Nintendo), most of my video gaming experience comes from a variety of simulation games. As a kid, I was absolutely obsessed with any game that allowed me to create. I loved Zoo Tycoon and other games of its ilk, and I thoroughly enjoyed several Barbie and Bratz games because they allowed me to experiment with different outfits and other creative activities. I very rarely enjoyed a game for its difficulty, and I much preferred the storytelling aspect of games. If a game wouldn’t let me progress through the story because something was too difficult, I grew easily frustrated and would drop the game quickly.

For that reason, you could probably see why I gravitated easily toward simulation games. They’re all based on creativity, and there’s very rarely much of a difficulty aspect that you can’t bypass yourself via cheats or different game modes. Plus, any storytelling that exists in the game is based solely on what the player decides. And no game exemplifies this type of game more than the Sims franchise.

Sims is a game that lives and dies by the creativity of the player. It provides the player a number of tools – the Create a Sim feature, the Build/Buy feature, and the World Building feature, for example – without giving them much direction. Sure, your sims have wants and wishes and goals, but you can more or less set them yourself and even if you can’t, you can choose to ignore these things. Sims is very much a game that is just as fun as you make it. And when I was 12 years old and desperately yearning for a tool with which I could tell fun, visual stories, this was the greatest thing ever.

I mean, I’ve never been much of a visual artist, but I loved making up characters and stories in my head. But the difficult thing was always getting these stories into a consumable form. I knew at that point that I liked to write, but I wasn’t yet sure how to go about doing that. It seemed like an impossible task, taking all these things I had in my head and making them work on paper. But Sims made it into a game, and made it easy for me to illustrate all of the story ideas in my head.

Some of my first big forays into storytelling were stories inspired by and told through the Sims games. I was introduced to the “Legacy”, a game challenge where players take one sim and play their family through ten generations. Many players would then document their gameplay and share it with others, often using the ever-growing family as characters in a generations-long story. I loved reading so many of these stories so much that I was inspired to do the same in my game, and this was normally how I played, starting with one sim and playing their family for as long as I could, making up a story for that family as I went.

Whether I was sharing those stories on the Sims forums, on tumblr, or on a now defunct Blogger site I will never again touch, or keeping them to myself, Sims provided a sandbox where I could tell any story I wanted, all day long, with minimal effort and maximum enjoyment.

And that’s a pretty big deal. It’s an unconventional tool for creation and inspiration, sure, but it’s one that was incredibly influential on my own personal storytelling. Sims is a very character-driven game, and it influenced in me a love of character building that has stayed with me. And even as I get older, it remains a safe, fun environment for further storytelling and character creation. I think that’s why it’s remained such a constant in my life – it’s never not been relevant to my interests, never not been interesting, since it’s always as relevant and interesting to me as I make it.

So shoutout to my fellow simmers – thanks for continuing to share your gameplay and creations with the world. You’re inspiring me and so many others to continue creating. These seven years have been pretty fun, and I’m excited to see what happens with this game in the next seven years.

(Here’s hoping EA doesn’t screw it up anytime soon.)

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