Have You Played… The Sims?

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game recommendations. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Later Sims games were probably better games, in terms of how they fleshed out the fantasy (and accidentally gave it more than the intended degree of consumerism critique subtext with all those expansion packs and DLC), but Will Wright’s original people simulator remains unsurpassed, I think. It has this detached, sciency atmosphere, far more interested in people as behaviours than people as people – like an experiment which coalesced into entertainment.

I’m not convinced anyone involved with The Sims ever expected it to be the eternal smash hit that it quickly became. This was humanity as ant farm, rather than a doll’s house, but the latter aspect entirely governs it now. The Sims’ Sims seem so much more animal-like than those in subsequent games, helpless and stupid, so easily toyed with. Making them a home was more perfunctory: these are the things they need, psychologically, rather than than a pursuit of prettiness.

Of course, the ability to make Sims passingly resemble and bear the name of friends, families and celebrities sealed the deal: this was the soap opera simulator. Make your friends suffer, make your friends screw, make your friends the stars of your screen. Its success seems so inveitable now ,whereas at the time it seemed such a curiosity. Honestly though, if the Sims didn’t exist and a game like this launched from a big publisher, we’d question their sanity while potentially hailing it as a creative tour de force. The world needed The Sims, but The Sims’ success makes it all too easy to forget that.


  1. Lakshmi says:

    I think what I question is that no one has done a better version of it yet. EA keep grinding it to death breaking in into smaller and smaller pieces for larger chunks of money. They’ve gained and then lost so many nice gameplay elements over the years with their forever bloating engine.

    I’d love for there to be a new Sims-type game from someone else.

    • Nasarius says:

      I think the main problem is that it’s difficult to figure out how to game-ify this sort of life sim. How do you make it fun? How do you keep players interested? EA approached the problem by adding tons and tons of stuff, creating huge breadth but almost no depth.

      Some players just want a digital dollhouse, just as there are people who enjoy Minecraft in creative mode. But I think there’s a much bigger audience that wants something more. You can’t just clone The Sims; you need to find a way to evolve the game.

      • Lakshmi says:

        Well I’m not going to invent a new game in a comments section, but like you say, there are distinct sections of The Sims. One is the virtual architect, the second is the virtual god controlling the ants – be it a benevolent one or less so.

        I think any good games designer could use that as a starting point to evolve from. I’m just surprised no one has tried to.

      • Ejmir says:

        It seems rather easy to me : change the context.

        You can make a Sims-like in a heavily historic roman society. It would be a strategy game with goals like the cursus honorum, and can can even ake it less historical if it’s funnier or more interesting.

        You can make a Sims-like in a thriller, mafia context. In Chicago for example, or in Palerma. The structure of the sicilian famiglia is, I think a great basis for a darker, deadly Sims-like game. There have been action and strategy games about that, but a Sims-like would mean that you can set your own goals and embrace the mafian career you want. It would be a life simulation.

        You can imagine a Sims-like on a lunar base or a space ship. Maybe with aliens, so you would have to understand how they live and what they need.

        In fact, there are already many games that have the potential to be alternatives to the Sims, but all of them are focalized on other gameplays that always involve combat (strategy, rogue-like, roleplay…) or unchangeable scenarii (point&click, visual novels…).

        They don’t allow us to take the full control of the characters and their stories. They also refuse to make autonomous AIs who live their own lifes – it might be something difficult to do, in fact. Even in the Sims they tend to limit that aspect of the game (in the Sims Medieval for example, the AI could do almost nothing if I remember well).

    • Geewhizbatman says:

      Well, I’d argue that the real “game” of the sims is its capability for storytelling. The issue with that is, ya know, you kind of need to have a story to tell and someone to tell it to. The Sims has always been just a massive doll house and, just like the real world version, you can buy tiny lamps, tiny dogs, tiny malibu dream cars but all of it is meaningless unless you add the story to it. I think that’s where the majority of sims players fall off. They get, reasonably so, bored of essentially having to make their own fun in a pretty world of gibberish spewing dolls.

      I’d wager that Dwarf Fortress is the opposite side of the spectrum. You can build whole worlds, now with poems and dreams, but it has such an overwhelming barrier of entry I think that it has an equally unsatisfying experience for most as The Sims does.

      Personally, I think the dream lies somewhere in between and has potential in the idea (though unfortunately not the execution) of the multiplayer aspect of the latest sim city. The idea of having an individual look at an otherwise wider world. Just enough control to feel connected but enough other elements to make it a game rather than a staging room.

      I think it is easy to underestimate how difficult it is to take the desire for an experience and somehow transmute that into a game that will both adhere to the (depending on the person) strict definitions of fun and profitability. Maybe the real game is to make a highly efficient peter molyneux simulator that creates fully formed projects…yes…that’s it….xD

      • Lakshmi says:

        That’s an interesting viewpoint – but it’s not how I play. I’m guessing others might not play that way either. That’s why I broke the game into two distinct parts in my reply above.

        For me – the building the house is the part I love. I make a sim or a family and spend hours building them a house. I play with them for a lesser amount of hours before bulldozing the house and rebuilding into something else. The Sims themselves, their stories, are the side-dish to my main enjoyment.

  2. The_Player says:

    Of course we played The Sims, what kid of question is that?

    • rabbit says:

      a more valid question would be ‘how can a sims article have been written without mention of the one-tile-room / swimming-pool-of-death punishments that we all discovered at some point or other

      • Lakshmi says:

        Tiny room, no door, no cooking skill. Perfect recipe for flambé Sim.

        • rabbit says:

          “I said MORE grilled cheese!”

        • OctoStepdad says:

          I was a fan of small room, no doors and fireworks (I believe that was a expansion pack item).

          • Lakshmi says:

            I was pretty much a fan of any way I could bump off sims I could. I do like how creative they got once they realised just how homicidal to Sims players are.

    • LionsPhil says:

      I have never played any of the The Sims sims.

      • baozi says:

        What other Non-Sims sims are there? Do you mean sims that are unlike The Sims, or do you mean Non-Sims sims that are like The Sims, that is, Sims-like sims other than The Sims?

  3. Faldrath says:

    I played the first Sims. My guy took 30 minutes or 1 hour to pee, can’t remember now. Then I realized the game wasn’t a social simulation at all, just a consumerism simulation (friends are useful to get jobs and buy stuff! etc.). Never touched the series again.

    • aoanla says:

      Precisely this, for me, too. I assume that Sims still take a stupidly long time to perform normal actions, and so that later Sims games would annoy me as much as the first did.

    • Beefenstein says:

      Oh, you sociologists and your desire to see the cycles of history turn once more and defeat capitalism.

      Now, if the Sim could pay for a gizmo which quickly vacuumed the pee out of their urethra… THAT would be a true pinnacle of consumerism.

      • DeusExMachina says:

        Lol, no one needs to defeat Capitalism, since Capitalists is defeating themselves. It is an auto-destructive system.
        And no, I ain’t communist, sociologist etc.

  4. Mr Chug says:

    One of the great regrets of my gaming career is that I walked straight into the Sims using the money cheat from day 1, and never had that singular experience of playing something so radically new for its time as it was meant to be played.

    For me, the Sims 2 + early expansion packs will always be the definitive Sims game – it improved on the original in almost every way and expansions like Open for Business added meaningful features without the money-grabbing aura that descended on the series after EA realised quite how much of a cash cow it had on its hands.

    • X_kot says:

      Agreed – The Sims 2 seemed to mostly refine the most annoying parts of the first game and elaborate on some of the rudimentary mechanics. S3, for the most part, wanted to redo S2 but in a way that encouraged microtransactions. One need only look at how user-created content was treated: the former made it relatively easy for people share their creations, whereas the latter shunted user content to the side to make paid content more prominent (in addition to all of those Stuff packs – uggh).

  5. Kefren says:

    I loved the first, dabbled in the second, never went back after that. Great concept but the accelerated time (which John complained about in his impressions of EHB today) came to really annoy me with The Sims. It would take a whole morning to shit, shower and shave.

    • int says:

      That reminds me of the story of the constipated wookiee who’d spent the night in a garbage compactor.

  6. Kemuel says:

    What I find kinda is how the original Sims had a big red BBFC 15 certificate thanks to the showering and sexytime which magically got replaced with a ELSPA 3+ for the sequel once Maxis realised how popular it would be. Content’s hardly changed at all, but the difference in tone and target audience between the two games is pretty huge.

  7. Jay Load says:

    “Have I played…” an EA game is similar to asking “Do I enjoy having my soul sucked out through my eyes, ears and fingers?”

    Nevertheless, I actually own The Complete Sims 2 from, I think, one of origins Free Sprees? Or I bought it somewhere, I dunno. I’ve never played a Sims game so I’m tempted to install it to see just what the deal was, see just why the series clogged the retail gaming charts so successfully for as long as it did.

    The impulse fades swiftly, however.

    • Lakshmi says:

      While I understand your point about EA, The Sims was originally a Maxis game, before EA cannibalised them.

  8. JFS says:

    Ohh. Yeahh. I have.

  9. caff says:

    I played this a lot in my underpants when I was unemployed once.

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    Bluerps says:

    This is the only Sims I ever played. I made a dude who looked vaguely like me, played until he had a nice house and maxed out his career, and then I was kind of done with the Sims.

    I really liked building houses in the game, and sometimes I thought that it would be fun to play one of the later games for that – but I’m not paying that much money just to build some houses.

  11. Sic says:

    This is, of course, the best version; but there is a problem:

    How the hell do you play it today? It’s pretty much impossible to get ahold of. I simply don’t understand why EA just doesn’t make a pack of the original game with all the expansions for download on either Origin or Steam. It is sorely needed.

  12. iMad says:

    Kinda wish there’s an equivalent of Cities; Skyline for the Sims but knowing EA, the threat of “copywright infringement” lawsuit will stop anyone of ever making a decent clone or successor of it. Until EA stops making money from milking its cash cow, I doubt we’ll ever see it failing.

    • Harlander says:

      Well, they didn’t go after CS on copyright grounds, did they?

  13. Ejia says:

    I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t like torturing their sims. Everywhere else people seem to be indulging their inner psychopath and find creative ways to kill their little puppets.

    Although I never actually played The Sims – I started with The Sims 2, which looking back is probably the best of the ones I’ve played. I wasn’t fond of the art style of 3, and 4 is massively hampered by not being able to shape the neighborhood as I see fit. TS2 had the delightful little option of letting you import SimCity 4 cities as neighborhoods – I wish TS4 let you do that with SimCity 5/’13 ones.

  14. Tux250 says:

    I do not think the original Sims was better, its just that the later versions didnt change much.
    The Sims really stopped at Sims 2. After that the changes really were not enough to justify buying a new version