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Reflections On A Sims 3 Binge

EAMaxis's The Sims 3 is certainly an impressive cash cow.  At release, the game was among the top ten PC games ever sold.  However, there are also regular expansion packs released which cost about as much as the base game (about $20-$40 each).  This is not going into the lunacy of stuff packs, which add "stuff" to the Sims 3, and sell for about $20 apiece.  On top of that, they've a microtransaction store built into the game, a feature that have been used to financially support other games all by itself.  It's little wonder EA is such a determined pusher of downloadable content: the Sims reassures them continually how willing we are to fork out for it.

Or you could just save yourself some money and watch this video, 
which is the most fun in Sims 3 you will never have.

Being the frugal person I am, I waited until the Sims 3 was on sale, buying the base game and the first four expansions for 50-66% off, saving about $100 while simultaneously losing about $100 I'd still have if I never bought it.  Funny how I call that frugal.  After playing it for a couple weeks, the impression I came away with was that here is a game that is both extremely limited and that possesses limitless potential.  

The extremely limited aspect of Sims 3 is that the central game comes down to a very simple formula for each sim: the accomplishment of their lifetime wish.  This will generally involve one of the following:
  • Get them to level 9 or 10 (the maximum) of a career path.  This entails just making sure they're in a good mood and have increased the appropriate skills.
  • Maximize one or more skill level.  This entails making sure the sim reads books and/or participates in activities that raise that skill level, something best accomplished while self-employed as doing that skill.  Being in a good mood speeds the learning process.
  • Accomplish a milestone in a profession.  For example, solve 35 cases as a detective.  This is perhaps the most interactive gameplay aspect, and it's little wonder the Ambitions pack that introduced professions was so well received.
  • Do something or get something.  For example, create 3 monsters.  Have a certain amount of money.  Have a certain number of friends.  Have a collection of artifacts.  Accomplishing this can also be more satisfyingly interactive than a basic career, depending on which.
Each path ultimately ties in to earning happiness points and money.  Happiness points can be spent on any number of perks that do everything from granting that sim free dining to preventing them from aging.  Money is mostly spent on upgrading your house, which makes caring for your sims even easier, and grants a bit of satisfaction to the interior decorators among us.

Eventually, you reach the point where your sim's lifetime wish has already been accomplished (they do not get another one after the first is complete) and the house is ridiculously upgraded.  At that point, there's really nothing left to do but start over.  You could reason that it was not the destination, but rather the journey, that was the point of it.  However, there's nonetheless a feeling of severe limitation that emerges after a few plays: every sim is just another sim doing the same old thing.

Yet, this is a game of limitless potential in that there's enough stuff to play with that it creates a staggering combination of scenarios and (impressively) each scenario never really ends.  On top of the base content (e.g. the provided lots and NPC sims, expansion and DLC content, ect), players can generate their own content (e.g. player-made sims, outfits, homes, venues, ect), and procedurally generated content (e.g. new generations of sims born from existing sims, old sims dying off, ect).  Most everything on the expansive maps of the Sims 3 is mutable, and this creates an unusually advanced platform for telling a story.

If the Sims 3 is not unlike an expansive neighborhood of dollhouses that is supplemented by a child's imagination, it's sort of sad that this child has a one-track mind into a very narrow, family-friendly tone.  Even if you go out of your way to create a megalomaniacal villain - an advertised feature - you'll find that you can't build a death ray (or do anything else that does lasting harm to another sim) but you can kick over garbage cans or mail money off to undermine charity. The average Disney Channel cartoon villain is more dangerous than that.  In this way and others, the Sims 3 would appear to simulate a world without true adversity, without glass ceilings or personal limitations, optimistic to a fault.

This leads into the main fault I find with the game: the most challenging thing about The Sims 3 is trying to make it challenging.  A player determined to challenge themselves must resort to highly unusual scenarios, such as single moms trying to care for six kids while hold down a job, or else adapt an arbitrary set of rules.  The game is ultimately a sandbox for escapism or fantasy: you may not be an immortal genius millionaire with a harem in real life but, even if you design a sim with terrible traits, it's fairly easy to accomplish in the ridiculously over-accommodating simulation generated by the Sims 3.


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