Wednesday, February 24, 2010

SimCity, The Sims, and Other Computer Games in the Sim Series


No wonder all of us 90s children have such a puffed-up sense of self-worth and entitlement. What else would you expect after repeatedly encouraging us to play the role of virtual God throughout our childhood and adolescent years? Through the magic of computer games, the Maxis company gave us a unique opportunity to create our own little worlds complete with a population of inhabitants to control according to our benevolent or occasionally sadistic whims. We may not all have been kind and compassionate gods to our burdgeoning creations, but we certainly were powerful.

The first SimCity computer game debuted in 1989, featuring a simulated city-building program. It seemed like an innocent enough concept, and almost extensively educational at that. The object of the game was to build fully functioning cities that could withstand the impact of various disastrous scenarios, ranging from the realistic (1906 San Francisco earthquake) to ridiculous (Tokyo attacked by unlicensed Godzilla knockoff). Upon first glance the game seemed tedious, but it quickly became exceptionally addictive. Dealing with zoning laws and tax codes are a small consolation for the unlimited control of our little city. We commanded our anonymous miniature townspeople to do our bidding, and we saw that it was good.

SimCity was a runaway success, leading to countless reincarnations and reinventions. Clearly, people just could not get enough of ruling their own microcosmic universes. It was a pretty good feeling, after all. For the cost of a computer game, you could elevate yourself to the status of almighty ruler. All in all, not a bad deal.


The follow-ups to SimCity were endless. We had SimEarth, in which we got to design and guide the development of your very own planet. There was SimLife, allowing us the opportunity to mold the "genetic playground" of an ecosystem of plants and animals. We even had SimFarm, a primitive predecessor to that pesky Farmville on Facebook. The next time you have to endure endless newsfeed posts regarding the sad encounter of an ugly duckling or sad brown cow found wandering on the outskirts of a friend's farm, you may want to shake your fist in disgust at the Sim creators who planted the idea in the first place. Yes, I said planted. It's a farm pun. Get over it.

Early predecessor of Farmville? We may never know, but I'm going to blame them either way


By the year 2000, it seemed nearly inevitable that the computer whizzes over at Maxis would run out of ideas at one point or another. SimCity 2000 and SimCity 3000 seemed to have covered all possible ground for the game. It was hard to imagine expanding beyond the already exhaustive details of the SimCity series. By SimCity 3000, the programmers had gone so far as to insert angry citizen protesters when we made an unpopular public works decision. It sounded like they must have used up all of their viable computer game ideas. How much more could they possibly squeeze into a reissue?

And then, suddenly, Maxis issued us an entirely new vantage point from which to get our world-ruling jollies. In 2000, they released The Sims, through which we could live the complete simulated life of a virtual character. We may have thought we had been playing God in all previous incarnations of the game, but that all seemed pretty entry level once we saw what was to come.


In The Sims, we had full control over a virtual person (or people, if you were an adequate multi-tasker). Many of us saw fit to actually model a Sim after ourselves, christen it with our name, and try to control its life decisions. What we may not have known, however, was that our mischievous little Sims were imbued with the pesky power of free will. Yes, that's right. The video game versions of ourselves over which we thought we had full control were actually wont to rebel against our commands and make their own decisions. Even if you tried your best to give your Sim an exclusively happy life devoid of disappointments and unfortunate experiences, he or she was bound to go off on their own and make some poor choices. Go figure.

Not all of us were kind and just rulers of our virtual underlings, either. Many of us derived great pleasure from cruelly experimenting with the emotions and reactions of our Sims. There were countless instances in which to muse, "I wonder what would happen if I..." and then proceed to subject our innocent Sim to all forms of unhealthy deprivation and morally ambiguous scenarios. "I wonder what would happen if I blew up his house?" "I wonder what would happen if I won't let him use the bathroom for six days?" "I wonder what would happen if I force him to have romantic liaisons with every neighbor on his block?" I wonder what would happen, indeed. Even without the aid of my handy Simmish to English dictionary, I could tell my Sim was not especially pleased with the lifestyle choices I'd made for him.

What , you don't like discussing Uncle Sam's hat with your neighbors?

What started off as an interesting concept and novel idea for a computer game quickly morphed into an existential experiment in human behavior. The trickiest part was there was no way to win the game. The combinations and permutations of situations were infinite, and as long as you kept your Sim eating and sleeping, they would keep on living. They dealt with the same minutiae as the rest of us; their circumstantial residence in a virtual world didn't preclude them from having to pay bills and brush their teeth. Unluckily for them, the original version of The Sims didn't give them weekends off. Bummer.

The Sims went on to become one of the bestselling computer games of all time, proving that we all must deep down have some morbid fascination with the notion of playing god to a host of virtual people. In The Sims and all of the Sim worlds that preceded it, we got our first taste of complete power, and it felt good. It wasn't until more recently that they unleashed the ultimate virtual rulership beast: Spore. Seriously, if you have not played it, go pick it up. It's amazing. You grow from a spore into a sea creature and you evolve and you kill things. Just don't blame me when you start dreaming in tribal strategy and have sudden flashes of inspiration for a redesign for your creature's aerodynamicity. Yes, I just made that word up, but didn't you hear? I'm entitled. I'm a creator.

16 comments:

// krissy ♥ said...

The Sims is one of my favorite games ever! Thanks for this post, very informative! :)

Melanie's Randomness said...

I am a computer game junkie & somehow I missed the whole Sims craze. I dont understand how?!?!?! Maybe cuz back in the 90's computer games were so expensive you had to take out a small loan. hehe. Maybe??!?!?!

Shannon SVH said...

I still play the Sims 2. I'm trying like crazy to get through ten generations but just can't quite make it.

Jay said...

As a 'family friendly' and educational game, my parents bought me 'SimEarth', not the most exciting of the series by a longshot but kinda interesting. But in more than one scenario when I played whenever the humans started creating robots, the robots eventually took over, except for this one time when sentient whales took over the planet. Then I'd get bored and start launching meteors everywhere.

Andhari said...

I love the sims but my favorite was hot date. Was overly hormonal back in the days and I love getting my characters to make out with each other :p

hollywoodjane said...

My dad (an architect and urban planner) got me playing Sim City, and I had the first version of the Sims on my PC (had to get rid of it because it was consuming my life) but the one I was really hooked on as a kid was the little known SimTower. I have no idea why, but I loved putting in escalators and fast food restaurants, and then watching my building progress from a few stores to an elegant hotel.

I was also crazy about SimTheme Park for awhile, but that love didn't last.

Sadako said...

Killing off the Sims--ahh, that game made sociopaths of us all. :D

I also loved Zoo Tycoon though I haven't played that one in quite some time.

Literary Crap said...

I might still own SimTown. And the Sims. And all of the expansion packs. And the Sims 2.
And I might be a regular Sims 3 player...Whoops!

I definitely spent a great deal of time last week trying to find out how to make the original Sims compatible with Vista (I know, I know). I'm kind of sad that I haven't cracked that mystery yet.

Anonymous said...

I'm gonna go out on a limb here, nobody crucify me, but I hate Sims. Always have, always will. Although I did enjoy one time having my friend make a Jass family and name the dad Hugh. ;)

Ashley @ KiwisandCocktails said...

I WAS SO Bad at this game!! Everyone else was good and loved it, and I just sucked. the only video/computer game I have ever been good at is Tetris.

Little Mrs Domestic said...

Oh I used to love to play SimTown which was one of the first then was all about The Sims when they came out. I could sit and play that game for hours. A part of me wishes I still had it now and could play but I have no time for it.

Mrs EyeCanSee said...

I will fully admit to skipping many a college class my freshman year with The Sims craze hit the dorms. It's addicting!!

Miss Kitty Boo said...

OMG, i can openly admit to wasting away a good chunk of my tweens playing The Sims. This game was amazing, then when they brought out expansion packs... and gosh who even needed to leave the house?

Cheats for unlimited cash flow and being able to delete unwanted visitors... oh if only life was as simple lol.

Always had a good chuckle building a room around the fireman and pizza guy and leaving them in the room, or deleting the ladder when someone was in the pool. So cruel, yet so entertaining...

Andy said...

Man, I used to play SimCity all the time, as I wasn't allowed a video game system. You'd spend hours putting together a city and doing all the upkeep.
On a related note, I had few friends.

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Ah, constant plane crashes. Happy memories.

Jillian said...

I remember when I first started playing The Sims. I had a friend who got me hooked on it and my parents wouldn't buy it for me so I would always go to her house to play on her computer. Which is even more hilarious because I didn't even really get along with this friend very much but she had The Sims! I still play the newer Sims games as well but sad to say that I do not think this former friend still plays as well.

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