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EA will never let The Sims reality show become the hot mess it needs to be

Reality bites

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We are half way through the inaugural season of The Sims Spark’d, a reality TV show based around being well good at The Sims. If you hadn’t heard, 12 Sim fanatics have been whisked away to… some studio, where they’re competing to win $100k by proving they are the bestest at The Sims 4. The first episode premiered last week on TBS, with the episode appearing on the BuzzFeed Multiplayer YouTube chennel the following Monday. Yesterday saw the second episode go up on YouTube as well. EA are as yet only dipping their toe in the murky sea that is reality TV, however, since Spark’d will only run for four episodes total.

Spark’d actually has all the ingredients that I love about terrible reality TV shows, plus it involves The Sims 4. On paper, it should be amazing. And indeed, there are already minor Twitter beefs between fans, and contestants complaining about the broadcast edit not showing the full truth. All classic stuff! But it’s clear that Spark’d will never achieve greatness unless EA loosens the apron strings enough to let their reality TV baby become a hot, hot mess.

In fairness, the way that The Sims 4 has been re-gamified as a reality gameshow is pretty smart. The contestants are divided into four teams of three, each comprising a Stylist (who designs and dresses the Sims), The Builder (who builds the houses and sets), and the Storyteller (who comes up with plots involving the Sims and their houses). They then have to complete challenges as a team – designing a scenario around random items they grab from a table, or creating two families with an intertwined story of conflict. That kind of jazz.

Thus far, this has all worked well to create conflict in the groups. Team Llama went into episode two as the underdogs, with squabbles between xMiraMira (vivacious Stylist full of ideas) and DrGluon (man in Fez who has made being British and doing voices his entire thing) meaning they often only half-finished their challenges. The squabbles, in my opinion, mostly arose from the fact the DrGluon’s ideas in episode one were transparently not as good as anyone’s else’s, but got used anyway.

But this is still very much an EA joint, after all. The judges include Tayla Parx, who does voice acting for the Sims and has a song in the game, and developer Dave Miotke, aka SimGuruNinja, who’s been a producer at EA for years. Plus, there’s the slightly unsubtle fact that every single contestant in this is already an EA Game Changer.

Game Changers get early access to EA stuff, in exchange for getting their hashtag-content boosted. Everyone in Spark’d is already part of the family. Also, one of the greatest struggles Spark’d is facing is that the actual episodes of the show are hard to find on YouTube when you search ‘Spark’d’, because loads of other streamers and Game Changers have made video reviews of the show, and the contestants themselves have made poorly-focused videos about going on it.

It means that EA has a vested interest in making sure nobody in the show looks like an outright asshole. The compelling thing about shows like Love Island, by contrast (my problematic fav), is the heady mix of real emotions: the times when undiluted drama is met with absolute poise and baddassery. But this is impossible when the show is driven by a massive company engaging in a PR exercise, rather than TV producers trying to get QUEEN SHAUGHNA trending on Twitter, with a side order of Gen X buying swimsuits from I Saw It First.

“EA has a vested interest in making sure nobody in the show looks like an outright asshole.”

Spark’d makes gestures towards this. There was a halfhearted attempt to portray Miotke as the Simon Cowell/Nasty Nick kind of judge, by getting one of the contestants to say that about him in one of her to-camera confessionals. But in the edit, Miotke just seems like a nice supportive dude who gives firm but fair feedback.

Team Llama’s llama drama was spun well into the second episode, so it’s clear the series knows how to structure a reality TV storyline. But they can’t really have a bad guy, and every episode always ends with everyone saying they totally like each other really – even when we suspect that it’s a naked, barefaced lie. And you need a villain in a reality TV show. You just do!

Spark’d does have a community challenge element running alongside it, where throwing your hat in the ring to build a Destination Wedding could see you considered for a future series of the show, when and if that ever happens. My Sims groups are full of nothing but screenshots of people’s entries (spooky vampire castle wedding! Moana-inspired, vaguely Polynesian wedding!), and it’s not like I’m not watching the show, clearly. And this is all avoiding a conversation about the ethics of reality TV in general, which… yes, I know. We live in a society. I’m just saying, if you’re going to do a reality show, fuckin’, do a reality show. And EA obviously never will. Which is sad, because Spark’d is so close to being incredibad!

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Alice Bell

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