The Sims was released in 2000 and its popularity baffled both game designers and players. Games were supposed to be about fantasy, adventure and challenges no? At the time we conceptualized games as an escape from everyday life, but in the middle of this was The Sims: a successful game about cleaning the house and getting married. Eleven years later The Sims Social is released for Facebook. But, in a time where seemingly everyone goes online to do repetitive and mundane tasks (such as harvesting tomatoes) – does this game really have something new to offer?
I am on Day 4 of playing The Sims Social (TSS). So far I have done pretty much the same as I have done before in other Sims games: expanded the house, learned skills and talked to neighbors. The interface is clunky, the bugs are plentiful and most features from previous Sims games have been dumbed down. So why on earth play this game?
It’s not only that I can compare the value of my own house to that of my friends (allowing for a competitive game), it’s the fact that my neighbors are my friends. After all, one of the more enjoyable aspects of Sims was to model oneself, family and friends and see what happened when you put them in a digital playground. Now that there are real people behind the Sims I’m sure the need to put them in pools and remove the ladder (so that they get exhausted and drown) is lessened, but hey – can’t have it all.
So what does it mean to play TSS with your friends?
The only direct contact between you and your friends playing TSS is through gifts and status requests. The rest of the time you are playing with scripted representation of your friends. They have the look and personality that your friends chose, but it’s not your friends you are actually interacting with. To call these Sims representations of AI would be to stretch the word in the very longest of directions, but it is some beauty in how the majority of social interactions are actually between humans and computers.
The fun part here is how a Sim can behave completely different during its script, and during its “active” play. Also, since you don’t control your Sim when other people are visiting – things can get a bit interesting. How are we going to relate to avatars that do stuff outside our control?
For example: My Sim went to bed with one of my neighbors in TSS, and the only reason I found out was because I happened to be talking to my this friend at the time. It was one of the more absurd conversations I’ve had, so I figured I should share (a slightly edited version of) it:
Me: How is the pickup going?
Neighbor: we are getting there rather quickly. just a couple of clicks
Me: oh teh lulz…. Somehow I am no longer your neighbor [meaning I cant visit or interact with her]. I can see the bugs getting annoying.
Neighbor:i wont let it get between us
Me: easy for you to say. You’re getting all the action.
Neighbor: you are quite easy if dont mind me saying so. although my char is running to bathroom every 5 seconds
Me: l2 invest in steel bladder
Neighbor: I took it to the “next level”. oh lol. too much caffeine + this = awesome
Me: I also find it funny how it is non-concentual
Neighbor: we exchanged numbers
Me: I am clearly a bit of a slut
It seems that while my Sim in TSS is not an AI, she still has a life on her own. I’m not offended, or on a crusade against game pickups of digital scripts, it was a very funny evening as we were figuring out what the game could and could not allow. But there is a tension here in regards to what the player can and cannot decide when it comes to her/his avatar. On one hand TSS “railroading” of avatar actions in certain cases is not different to what happens in many single player games where you cannot decide the outcome. Still, I have been used to at least an illusion of an avatar that is always in my control.