My first experience with the Sims series was when I was around 5 or 6 and an older son of a family friend was playing it on his computer, my older cousin watching on. I was fascinated. Now, this was 2000, the era of the original Sims game. I never personally played the original Sims, though I’ve played all three sequels. While I do appreciate the added game mechanics and improved graphics of the Sims 3 and 4, the Sims 2 holds a special place in my heart. I have no idea how to describe it other than the fact that it seems to have the most—well, heart to it, with just the right amount of quirkiness.
A proud Sims 2 veteran, thanks to a recent promotion by EA, I finally have all expansion packs and stuff packs—the full game experience. In the halcyon days of my last real “summer vacation,” I’ve dedicated some time to playing the Sims 2 (and any Sims player knows that “some” time means like…hours and hours). Playing the game (and visiting the wiki and keeping up with the blogs of some prominent members of the Sims 2 community) has had me nostalgic and reflective over these games. I’ve realized that in addition to being fun, the Sims 2 taught me some unexpected things and ultimately became a pretty prominent force in shaping my early adolescence.
1) The Basics of Shakespeare: In the Sims 2 base game, there are three neighborhoods. The first, Pleasantview, is basically a reiteration of the neighborhood present in the first Sims game, but 25 years later, with many of the same characters appearing. The second, Strangetown, is a sort of Area-51 Roswell-esque desert community, with a sci-fi and supernatural theme, with hints that tie it with Pleasantview. These are two of the more popular neighborhoods in the Sims 2 community.
The third one is called Veronaville and when I first started playing the Sims 2, my friend waved it off as “a farming neighborhood” and told me that Plesantview was where it’s at. So, I populated Plesantview, didn’t even touch “the weird desert place” (which would later become my favorite, go figure), and let my sister take control of Veronaville.
Turns out, Veronaville—which you can probably tell now, though I certainly couldn’t at the age of 10—is not a “farming neighborhood.” It is a reimagining of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, with a feud between the Capp family and the Monty family, complete with star-crossed teen lovers Romeo and Juliet and angry rivals Tybalt and Mercutio.
And it doesn’t stop at Romeo and Juliet. Every premade playable sim in this neighborhood is a Shakespearean character and their story set-up reflects their Shakespeare counterpart (ranging from very well, as in the case of Romeo and Juliet, to just slightly, as is the case of the Summerdream family, Titiana and Oberon with their children Puck and Bottom).
Regardless, when it actually came time for me to read Romeo and Juliet in high school—well, I was prepared.
2) Vocabulary: I can remember the exact moment I realized the impact the Sims 2 had on my vocabulary. It was during a 7th grade standardized test. They did this thing in my school where they measured our reading level by taking this test on a computer, which involved some questions about vocab—a sort of a fill in the blank thing, where you were given a few word choices and had to pick the one that fit the sentence the best.
Now the paragraph for this particular question was something about rich farming land made the town become _____ . One of the choices was “affluent.”
Affluent had never been one of my vocab words in school. But I knew what it meant because in the Sims 2: if you were an Elder with the Fortune Aspiration and you had a Gold-Level (aka if you were an old person whose goal was to be rich and you were doing pretty well in that goal), your Level would be titled “Affluent Elder.” So I reasoned, affluent = good progress on Fortune Sim = must mean rich.
This is not exclusive to the Sims series, I must add. A lot of video game naysayers don’t realize just how much reading is involved in games. You read the words on the screen and then using the context clues—much like in reading a novel—you figure out what an unfamiliar word means. I am not saying we should replace novels by any means, but it is important to recognize that there are hidden benefits to video games—knowledge acquisition being one of them.
3) Online Communities: The first online “fandom” community I ever was part of was the Sims 2 community. This was back before sites like Tumblr because more mainstream and the bulk of the Sims 2 players were on LiveJournal. I didn’t have an account or anything, but I remember stumbling across forum threads of Sims 2 stories.
This was the first time I experienced the phenomenon of an online fandom community—groups of strangers bonded by their common love of—well, something. I observed as an outsider; these people were all in their twenties, I was just a teenager. I followed along their Sim adventures, their personal stories. The icons of the Sims 2 community (who are still to this day, icons in the Sims 2 community) would share their sims stories, their game tips, their custom content.
I had my first real-life experience with “catfishing.” Without getting into too much detail Someone pretended to be three different people—when in actuality, she was just one person and made up that whole fake life for—well, I’m not sure exactly but it was fascinating to watch unfold.
There were the good (game advice, life advice), the bad (aforementioned catfishing, internal rivalries), and the weird (inside jokes—oh so many)—all which I have seen pop up in other online communities that I have partook in (and not just as a spectator this time).
4) Storytelling: The Sims series is famous for having no set plot. Basically, you make your characters and you set them lose in the world. You can raise generations of successful Sims, or use the complex architecture system to build houses—or you can trap your Sims in a house and kill them off one by one.
There are quite a few premade families in the Sims, though a lot of players delete them or leave them alone.
But one of the coolest things that Maxis and EA did was leave little hints and storytelling opportunities for the players who did want to explore the “plot.” And the beauty of it is that though hints may point in one direction, players take what they have and turn them into unique, engaging stories.
Take Olive Specter, for instance, one of the icons of the Sims 2. She lives in the aforementioned Strangetown, and there are multiple hints that she is, in fact, a serial killer. For one, the massive graveyard in her home—which is not unusual for Sim homes, especially those with large, rich families. But Olive’s boasts not only her dead family, but three dead husbands, and a lot of strangers—including the missing mother of a family across town.
And oh, yeah, in Olive’s memory panel, there’s a memory of “Woohoo”-ing the Grim Reaper before her only child was born.
Now the beauty of all this is that players look at Olive and they decide what they want to make out of the plot elements they have. They aren’t following a specific plot written by game developers. They are given tools; they get to make their own.
Lots of players chose the route where Olive is a serial killer—though many interpret it differently. Some say she’s merely vindictive after being scorned by her first husband. Some say she’s a witch, obsessed with death. I’ve seen one where she and Death have a loving, healthy relationship and she only helps him complete his job.
But—you don’t have to do that. You can have Olive throw lavish parties. Your story can be that Olive was possessed by aliens (which would make sense given the Area 51 feel of this all).
The Sims 2 showed me how to make a story out of ideas. Maxis and EA planted these plot bunnies, these little ideas, and people nurtured them into full-fledged stories.
5) There is more than one way to lead a happy life: To end on a somewhat cheesy note, a big thing that the Sims 2 taught me was that there is more than one way to lead a fulfilling life. In the Sims 2, each Sim is assigned a life aspiration—the thing that they strive for most in life. Taking into account all the expansion packs there are 7 in total: Fortune, Romance, Knowledge, Popularity, Family, Pleasure, and Grilled Cheese (yeah, you read that right).
If there’s one actual “goal” in the game, it’s to make your Sims happy (or massively unhappy). And you do that by fulfilling the wants that come up, which are usually related to their aspiration (and with the introduction of one of the expansion packs, their secondary aspiration). So for instance, Knowledge Sims may want to reach the top level in the Logic Skill, whereas Family Sims want to have ten kids, etc, etc.
As you continue to play your Sim family, you realize that not all of these wants solely reflect their aspirations—it’s a mix of that and their hobbies, their interests, and your own input as their nameless god. I had one Sim, who as a child, would wake up every morning with the want to play the piano. The Sim I made of my best friend recently, for some reason, always wants to eat spaghetti.
Additionally, things that are Wants for some Sims end up being Fears for others. Commitment-phobic Romance Sims often fear marriage or engagement (unless they have a Family secondary). Most Sims fear becoming supernatural creatures, getting abducted by aliens, or seeing ghosts—but not Knowledge Sims!
Taking a step back out of the game world, one can see how this reflects real life. There’s no one way to achieve maximum happiness, to score the most “aspiration points.” Maybe, like a Fortune Sim, your idea of happiness is reaching the top of your chosen career and leading a comfortable life. Maybe, like a Family Sim, your idea of happiness is spending time with your family and watching them grow and achieve their goals. And Maybe, like a Pleasure Sim, your idea of happiness is jumping on the couch, going out to restaurant’s, and just taking joy in the little things.
The important thing, I’ve learned, is not how you chose to live your life, but the fact that you do have a goal. Even if it means dedicating your life to Grilled Cheese.
Images from the Sims Wiki, except for 3 (Savant Supreme), 4 (The Aspirations picture), and 5 (The Grilled Cheese picture)