[This is a particularly long piece on The Sims which was written for a project that was canceled at the last minute a couple of years back. Which is a shame, but at least I got paid for it, eh? It's sat around ever since, but since it really is particularly long, it's hard to work out a home. And I'm a little bit precious over it. So rather than cut it to something smaller, I'd rather present it here. Hope you enjoy it.]
It was the phone calls that made me certain. The Sims was going to cross over, one way or another.
I worked in a cramped games magazine office for just shy of five years. There were only three times that we really knew the eye of a media mini-storm was circling somewhere above us. We knew we were being watched at those moments, because every time we answered the phone the same questions came from different missionaries from the Real World Media. The first and biggest spike in calls was part of the fallout of 9/11 when every journalist in the world needed to ask us whether Counter-Strike or Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear or Microsoft Flight Simulator could be used to train terrorists to take over commercial airliners. Majestic, prompting the second and smallest peak, was publisher Electronic Arts’ great failure – a reality-blurring attempt to commercialise the alternate-reality game before anyone really knew what an alternate-reality game was, which bombed in the States and was never released in Europe. The third was sparked by The Sims, Electronic Arts’ great success and one of the most popular and groundbreaking games of recent times.
As much as an article has an origin, it is in one of those calls. It was from a freelancer from help-the-homeless-help-themselves magazine The Big Issue, which wanted to run a feature on The Sims’ runaway success. He was, essentially, looking for a quote saying that it was played by those with no social life to indulge in a surrogate fictional one. He wasn’t interested in the truth – he admitted he’d been provided an angle by his Editor and was working to fulfil it. So I just informed him that, actually, The Sims was actually already receiving a snobbish backlash from actual hardcore gamers, and its fans were in fact non-typical players. Normal people were digging it, not just crazed obsessives. All the while, of course, I was thinking that I should point out that phoning me and asking for that sort of quote was a little like me phoning him and asking him to say that all the homeless are work-shy layabouts who stink of piss.
He’d got it entirely wrong. His wasn’t the answer. But what was? It got my thoughts rolling, and eventually those thoughts coalesced to a single point.