A Disappointing Success
The experience of playing the Sims seems to follow a very predictable arc for certain people: Brief infatuation leading to a few weeks of intense mania, followed by an abrupt abandonment of the title. It’s like chickenpox: You get it, it gets worse, then it clears up and you are thereafter immune to the thing. There are a few people who contract the lifelong version of the affliction, where they must struggle to keep the symptoms under control to make the living of daily life possible, but among my friends the game burned brightly and died quickly.
In most other games you begin with one or two simple, base activities, and as you master them more are introduced, until you’re juggling any number of distinct tasks. In the Sims this process is inverted. You’re thrown into the deep end, and your job is to offload things until there’s no game left to play. The point of the game is to render your input superfluous. I never bothered with the sequel, because I didn’t see how I could ever play the game again. I don’t care what the graphics look like or how many lamps & wallpapers they add or what new hamster wheels they offer for the Sims to run in. These are all just different routes to the same destination, and I’ve been there.
But this isn’t true of all players. Some people derive satisfaction from the game for its own sake. They seem to enjoy watching over their little Sim, nurturing it, guiding it, bossing it around. For me that was simply a means to an end: Get All the Cool Stuff. For the true fans, it’s the point of the game.
I can understand this, because I’ve seen the reverse. Some people (of certain genders which shall go unmentioned) will watch a guy play a shooter or a roleplaying (computer) game and wonder why he does it. You’ve seen the cutscenes, you’ve beaten the game, you’ve seen the story. So why do you keep doing it? For me, killing evildoers and gathering up their belongings is a perfectly valid way to spend an evening.
I don’t think it’s an accident that the Sims – a game which features nurturing and guidance as gameplay mechanics – is popular among a certain demographic group. In the same way I’m not at all surprised that shooters – games which rely heavily on hunting and gathering – have a distinct fanbase of their own. Sure, there’s some overlap and people do cross the lines regularly, but the line is there. It’s a visible line.
Over at Gamesindustry.biz they have an article about Sims 3, which is still in development. Actually, it’s still in the prototype stage. They’re going back to the drawing board. The article even goes so far as to call it a “clean slate” approach. They know they want to expand the scope of the game so that your Sims can travel around the neighborhood freely, but beyond that they claim everything is up for grabs.
So now they are set to throw out a lot of the old Sims / Sims 2 thinking, but they have to work out just what parts of their game are baby and what parts are bathwater. This is a very dangerous move, because the answer depends on who you ask – hardcore gamers like me, or the true fans?
What drew me to the game was the underlying quasi-RPG stuff. Over time, your Sim accumulates skills and items. They could hook into that and try to make the game more to my liking, turning the title into a sort of non-combat RPG. But doing so may very well alienate the fans that have made the Sims the money-making juggernaut it is. Those people drove the community and – more to the point – bought their body weight in expansion packs. EA should be very cautious of jilting them so that they can court me.
A Disappointing Success
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