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The Ever Aggravating EA released a two day free trial of Sims 4. Having never played a The Sims game before, I curiously picked it up and soon squandered the better part of a weekend with nothing to show for it. So to convince myself it wasn’t a waste of time, I decided to make a new post out of my adventure with the big budget equivalent of a Facebook game.

I spent my first few hours in the character creator, trying to give Road, an athletic computer geek who refuses to be a conformist a wear a shirt, a massive dick. And by the time I gave up and accepted that the game didn’t have my sense of humor, I had somehow managed to give Road a wife and two roommates. His wife Dare was a Christian fundamentalist who brought the wrath of God to the courtroom; best friend Soul, a loner comedian with emo hair and all-black clothing; and Nokei, a bubbly author looking for her Soulmate (I like puns; deal with it). Unfortunately I couldn’t find an option to change a Sim’s height without changing their age, so my dream of making Soul quiver in Road’s shadow was kinda ruined. And thus the Road-Dare-Soul-Nokei household was complete.

Unfortunately there was no actual house for them, so I had to build one from scratch. After ten minutes of dismissing tutorial pop-ups, I got to work, and blew everything I had way too quickly, just like all Soul’s first dates. After selling a couple windows and one of Soul’s kidneys, the group could afford two beds, even if one had to go in the dining room. With a roof over their heads, it was time for them to get to work.

I opened the careers tab with the hope of making Dare a lawyer, but that wasn’t an option so she went down the generic Business route instead, starting in the mail room. On day one she found one of her co-workers had encased her office supplies in jelly. Ha ha, how clever of you, game, making an Office reference that would have been outdated if it were in Sims 3. Dare would not take this bad attempt at humor sitting down, she’s a fighter she is, so she pranked her co-worker right back, which somehow earned her points towards a promotion. I quickly learned this wasn’t just a “make the right choice” thing though, as a few days later the same thing happened again, only this time she go reprimanded for her sense of humor. What the hell, game? I pick one of two options, and a random number generator decides if I chose right? There’s shallow gameplay, and then there’s just artificial gameplay; if my input is arbitrary then why request it at all?

Thankfully, things made more sense over at Soul’s career tree.  That is, after I learned that acting isn’t a real career; in fact, for a game based around guiding fictional people through semi-realistic lives, the customization options were pretty limited in a lot of areas. Only ten careers. Admittedly that’s more than most games’ one –soldier, assassin, survivor, legendary hero– but it’s not enough for this type of game. Begrudgingly, I made Soul an entertainer, which didn’t get off to a great start, but at least I knew why. Depending on a character’s job, they have to level up certain skills, preform daily tasks, and go to work in the right mood. For Soul, this meant writing jokes and practicing instruments, but the group was too poor to get him a guitar and they had no computer, and the stingy bastard refused to sell any more kidneys. It’s a miracle he didn’t get fired.

I had initially planned to make Nokei a home-maker, an apparently necessary job, because Sims can’t be bothered to clean up after themselves, but part of that plan involved her and Soul having a kid. Given how difficult it was to manage four adults, I decided it was best not to add a bed-wetter to the group, and sent Nokei off to be a writer. In her free-time at home, I learned she can also write books from the home, and after selling a few to publishers, money became less of an issue. After realizing just how profitable writing was, Soul joined in and soon a second floor could be built on the home.

Well, not all at once. Again I got too ambitious with the house construction mode and tried to make a loft. Money got really short really fast, and the group was left with a stairway to nothing particularly interesting, and no roof over the living room. ADHD kicked in, and every penny that came in for the next several hours was spent on fancy microwaves and new hobbies for Road.

Meanwhile Nokei was the most boring one in the house. She made it through the job ranks quickly, becoming a novelist at home and at work. But as she climbed the career ladder, she gained immense amounts of free time. When she was home I have her crank out a couple books to keep the money coming in, but other than that I just left her to her own autonomy. She was probably the happiest one in the group, but not that interesting.

Eventually I did get around to finishing the second floor, and for a while I think I actually played the game the way I was supposed to. I kept track of my four sims, made sure their needs were met, they completed their daily tasks, they leveled up their relevant skills, they went to work in the right mood, they got promoted, they worked towards their aspirations, and they gradually increased the quality and value of their belongings and home.

For example, Road’s aspiration was Renaissance Man, and after he got far enough in his IT career, he wanted to try something different. I switched him over to be a bartender (well, dishwasher, but at this point I realized the importance of imagination if I wanted to have fun), and bought him his own bar to practice at home. Then he wanted to be an athlete, so I moved him over to that and bought some exercise equipment. It was a grind, but I was engaged with it.

Then something odd happened. He glitched. As far as I could tell, he had confused Dare with Soul for social interactions, which caused some problems in their marriage. Dare tried her best to mend this, offering more sex than a college sorority, but Road refused on the basis of his AI was busted, and the two were driven apart. Road eventually realized his mistake, and from that point on all he ever wanted to do was hug Dare, but the glitches continued as now he couldn’t interact with her at all. I tried to keep making him do his daily routine, but every time he started on something, he would quickly stop and just stand their wanting to hug Dare. He wouldn’t eat, sleep or shower. It would be romantic if it weren’t so blatantly messed up programing. Though he could still go to work, and having given on up him as a virtual person, I just let him go out and be a source of income for the household.

Around this time, I realized my time left with the demo was running short, and my star player was suddenly out of commission. Nokei’s aspiration didn’t have much progress done, and Dare’s was just to keep going to work. So, I turned to the Hugh of the group, Soul. He wanted to be a great writer, and with my greed forcing him to write five books per day, he was nearly there. Dropping all else and making him write non-stop, I got Soul to fulfill his aspiration, rewarding him with a couple new traits, and the chance to choose a new aspiration. Since he was already a musician, I got started working on making him a music lover, buying him a grand piano, a guitar, and a new violin.

Soon that aspiration was done too, and Soul set out on a third one: being f*ckin’ rich! Specifically, he wanted the house to be worth at least three-hundred-fifty-thousand simoleons. The group had more than that in savings, but transferring it all into home value wasn’t easy. I started by trying to just buy two-dozen high-end PCs, but they seemed to have diminishing return, and the value of things depreciates over time. Also, space was a problem, so I built two more floors just to store expansive junk. He also wanted a certain amount of the value from trees, columns, windows, etc. So I made a rooftop garden and covered it with a dozen massive willow trees, which apparently is not a problem for structural integrity.

The walls were lined with expensive art, every utility was replaced with the most expensive alternative, we had seven coffee makers, more windows, more pillars, more trees, expensive rugs were put down over expensive carpets, and three more grand pianos sat out on the front lawn. And the once shy and reticent artistic soul, Soul, stood in the middle of it all, presumably with a cigar hanging from an evil grin, yelling at his wife, Nokei, to keep writing best sellers so the money flow would continue.

I was snapped back to my senses by a simple sight. On the fourth floor, in the far corner, there was an unlit room. I had made it a themed room, a child’s bedroom, just because I hadn’t used children’s furniture anywhere else in the house. There was a crib, a small bed, a night stand, and a bunch of toys spread across the floor. While looking for Nokei to make her write another book, I found her in that room, sitting on the floor and playing with the toys. A pop-up tutorial reminded me of one of her personality traits, “childish”. For a moment the game actually affected me in a Catcher in the Rye kinda way. Seeing one of the first characters I had ever made actually acting like herself gave me this hollow feeling, like “why wasn’t the rest of the game like this?”

A short time later the house value hit 350k, Soul’s aspiration was complete, and that’s where it ended. I stopped playing to have dinner, and when I got back on, the trial time was up. I didn’t care. I enjoyed the game but was done with it.

This was the second Sims game I’ve played, after Sim City, and I think I’m starting to understand what they’re for. They’re about franticly trying to keep things from imploding just long enough for the next bit of cash to come in so you can buy the thing that will keep your head above water just a little longer. But in Sim City things got harder to manage as time went on and traffic didn’t, while The Sims gets easier over time as income increases faster than costs. It keeps you busy early on, but eventually allows you the freedom to actually play with the game, not like a game but like a toy, like a doll house. Whether this is fun or not depends on the player –will you send their sims off to work every day and try to keep their needs met, or will you lock them in a room with no doors? If you chose the latter, congratulations, you get to have more fun than I did.

Don’t Lose Your Way

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