The power of Sims

Feb 28, 2020 · 6 min read

By Hope Henderson

Throughout history, the new advancements of media and communication technologies have influenced a certain way for people to construct the world around them. Since its release in January 2000 by Will Wright and co-founder Maxis, The Sims has been a growing phenomenon in the gaming industry. This game has been extremely successful by not only connecting with the players in emotional aspects, but also making them feel in control.

Sim City was one of the first games that placed the consumer in charge of producing their own environment. Wright describes the simulation metaphor of SimCity, as “being a gardening game; in which the player is in charge of the foundation and planting his seeds.’’ Several simulation games followed closely after including: SimTower, SimPark, and the rest of the SimCity franchise. In this series, the player is in charge of constructing a city, and maintaining it to an expansion of success.

I argue that the Sims game exemplifies the process of remediation as a reform, which Jay Bolter articulates in his essay “ Understanding New Media”, as “the goal of remediation is to refashion other media. Bolter explains that media is constantly reproducing, and replacing each other as a process of reforming reality (54). Borrowing and reorganizing the characteristics of an older medium allows for the new medium to enhance features of the old medium, by simply improving it. By borrowing past features, Wright paid homage to the older games in the series by adding emotional connection to one’s life. Although these games had strong metaphors, it was not until the release of the Sims, that overcame the classic formula of simulation games. The Sims is known as a life-simulation game which gives the player the ability in creating and controlling virtual avatars. The Sims demonstrated that the simulation genre not only allowed the players in designing houses and structures, but also gave them their own decision in creating a narrative through simulated people. The process of remediation enabled the creativity of the game by adding relatability to the player’s life.

By allowing the player complete control over the avatar expresses an emotional bond between players and avatar. The decisions the players make in the game are vital in the explanation of the human nature behind the Sims game. Creating a Sims avatar is arguably one of the most important aspects of the game. The player can create a virtual life of themselves, or completely fictional narrative. These virtual avatars provide conventions from our everyday identities and offer opportunities to adopt new personas without fear of disapproval from the real world. The player creates everything about the avatar; they have complete customization of the gender, race, physique, traits and aspirations, outfits, occupation, and giving them name. By giving the player their own creative freedom in customizing an avatar provides players with an expression of identity. As a designer, Wright states in the book, Modding the Sims and the Culture of Gaming, that “he doesn’t want to stamp the same mental model into every player’s mind.” He believes as a designer, he should have very little impact on the outcome of the game (100).

Player identification with the avatar is vital in gameplay experience. Identification impacts the players engagement and enjoyment by allowing for relatability of real life situations. The customization experience allows the player to get into the mindset of the avatar, increasing the effect of their self identity. Having the choice to create an idea of the perfect life gives a player a sense of freedom and power that can’t be experienced in other video games. This game is primarily played by a single player, and there is no collaborative fashion, again allowing for the players to be the making of their own rules, instead of following them. This video game doesn’t allow for outside influence from other players instead, it is all controlled by one.

The Sims gameplay practices remediation again, by paying homage to films by styling themselves as “interactive movies”, (25). For instance, the Game designs draw upon the custom of film and that film draws upon internet graphics. The player has complete power over the “interactive film” by being in charge of the Sims’s fate. When one medium sets out to remediate the other, Bolter explains that it does so by claiming to do a better job (25). In this case, the video game argues to be an ultimate transparent medium to film because the player fully invests themselves in the game and can essentially “live”as their digital avatar by putting themselves in charge of the story, rather than watching one.

Throughout the game, players direct their Sims journey through life, by dealing with emotions, making relationships and foraging careers. These elements are emotional aspects players can relate to. Just like real life, the player must teach the Sim how to take care of themselves: by cooking, working out, and working their way up the corporate ladder to make an income. If the player doesn’t have the Sim show up for work, they have the risk of being demoted from their job.

The player has all the power. If the player deprives the Sim from social interaction, the avatar will get depressed. Although the Sims have some autonomy, they need to be trained by the players. With no interaction, there is no relatability. The Sims exemplifies the digital phenomenon of hypermediacy known as “ An intense awareness of and even reveling in the medium” (25). In order to keep the Sim content, the player needs to engage with the avatar. This process develops an emotional connection between the player and Sim. The player is reminded that they have complete power over a life path. This emotional gameplay is driven by the idea that real life emotions impact the way people perform in aspects of their lives. It gives them the chance to put themselves in control in a virtual reality, rather than facing reality. As an executive producer, Rachel Franklin states, that the game “has to feel natural and make sense for who we are as human beings today.” The emotional dimension adds a layer of humanity to the game. The player has complete control on the outcome of the Sim’s well being. By determining the avatars fortune and emotional desires, the player gains a sense of empathy.

The Sims embraced a game that allows for an emotional connection and a sense of power within players. This remediated medium connects with players in a more relatable way, by implementing different elements of humanity within the game. It draws on its traditional media by combining forms of remediation and hypermediacy to enhance emotional aspects of its digital realm, making the game more personable. The total control over the game strengthens the connection with the players and avatars, by linking virtual reality to actual reality. The Sims has proved that its narrative control and emotional aspects aim to simulate aspects of the real world, allowing for relatability in one’s life, making the game a true convergence of digital media.

DST 3880W — Spring 2020

Writing and Theory for Digital Media

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