Since January 31, 2000, The Sims franchise has given gamers the world over an opportunity to live out virtual lives of their choosing. The life simulation games are mostly sandbox titles, with few goals beyond those set by players themselves. Being able to create virtual people, known as sims, and build their houses, lives and relationships has proven to be a successful formula. Originally conceived by Will Wright, the franchise is now one of the best-selling video game series of all time, having generated over $1 billion in lifetime revenue.
The Sims Franchise
The Sims franchise comprises 4 core games, The Sims, The Sims 2, The Sims 3 and The Sims 4. There have also been spin-offs including The Sims Castaway Stories and The Sims Medieval. Finally, there are two current mobile games, The Sims Freeplay, which has been around since 2011 and the more recent The Sims Mobile, released in 2018.
While some of the spin-offs, in particular, have not always been a success, the core series has continued to grow over the years. The latest game, The Sims 4 is now also available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 as well as PC and Mac. One of the main appeals for players, often referred to as simmers, is the huge flexibility which the game brings.
The Appeal Of The Sims
While The Sims 4 remains a sandbox game at heart, as the franchise has grown some goals and tasks have been introduced. There is an aspiration system, which sets a series of tasks for sims to achieve, as well as several career ladders to climb. These reward new items and traits for your sims.
Simmers themselves have also come up with their own ways to play. Over on The Sims forum, there is a list of different challenges that they've created. These include goals based on building generations of families, achieving certain career points, living off the grid, building a house from nothing and even on dispatching a number of spouses in less than honest ways. It’s this flexibility which appeals to many players, as well as the chance to live out their own dreams on screen.
Many players grow attached to their sims. They build up perfect lives for them, living out dreams that they may never be able to achieve for themselves. To an outsider, this can appear odd. We look after them, get them fit, make them eat well and achieve all their goals. What about our real lives? Are we neglecting reality and instead focusing in on an imaginary dream we’ll never see? Why would people give so much attention to a virtual person?
The answer is usually simply “because it’s fun” but for many people, their love of The Sims is far more complex than that.
More Than Just A Game?
A recent marketing push saw the team launch a campaign called #playwithlife, which focuses on what the franchise means to players. While the video did come under fire for only including simmers under the age of 25, the wider campaign has had a positive response.
If you search #playwithlife on Twitter then you’ll be able to read numerous stories about how The Sims has changed people's lives. For many players, it goes far beyond just playing a game. The franchise has given them the space to explore their sexuality, relieve their anxiety and grow their imagination. Often it’s not a case of putting virtual lives before our own but of using virtual lives to make sense of our own.
Many players talk of using the game to escape reality. It allows them to feel in control of life, even when their real-life is crumbling. Taking control of a virtual life, often one played with a sim that resembles themselves, can help give a sense of peace and grounding.
Sims is literally a comfort to me. Whenever I feel sad or there's something going on in my life, I play Sims a bit. I sometimes create a Sim that best reflects me, then I take care of her and play out life that makes me happy and somehow it helps a lot.#TheSims4 #PlayWithLife— Bianca 🌸 (@BeeSimsFanatic) July 27, 2019
For others, the simple appeal is in a world which lets you bring your own stories to life, whatever they may be. Not everyone wants to play out happiness and some prefer chaos and drama. Whichever you choose, the game allows you to explore it. It’s a safe place to let your emotions out and explore the consequences of bad choices, without actually making them in real life.
I'm a pretty recent addict to @TheSims; I started playing when I got it for Christmas in 2017. But I adore it because I can create characters and tell stories, one of my favourite things, and I can do it in a way that makes my imagination visible, which is exciting. #PLAYWITHLIFE— IzRosemary (@FeatherAura) July 29, 2019
Finally, the franchise has been a huge benefit to the LGBTQ+ community. The Sims has always allowed same-sex relationships, something which was virtually unheard of in gaming back when the franchise began. In The Sims 4, you can also play with gender features to make transgender sims. This has allowed many simmers to explore their sexuality and gender, playing out and exploring their truth on screen.
I am 14 years old. The Sims 4 was my very first Sims game. 1 year and 27 days in, I can look back and see that the game helped me truly discover my sexuality. Seeing homosexuality/bisexuality/etc be treated with such normalcy made me realize that I've been hiding. #PlayWithLife— 𝒜𝓃𝒶𝓈𝓉𝒶𝓈𝒾𝒶 (@daelacroix) July 19, 2019
For all these reasons and more, The Sims franchise will always be much more than just a virtual life, taking gamers away from reality. The game allows many of us to cope with reality. It has been a constant in so many lives and a safe haven in times of stress.
On a personal level, I’m amongst those who've found refuge in the game. It’s helped me explore myself, my beliefs and my dreams and has been a source of calm in times of stress. The Sims isn’t a distraction from life for me and many others, it’s a huge part of our lives, and one which helps us deal with whatever is around the corner.