Sims 3 in review

Endearing semi-bugs(?) aside, my recent Sims playing has been comparatively uneventful. I played a family through several generations; then, on advice to interact more with the non-active households to watch how those evolve, I set up a larger neighborhood, moved in every family I’d ever created, and spent a lot of time having my active Sims visit the ones that were running by themselves.

The result seemed to be that all the Sim families I wasn’t actively playing immediately got a new baby — presumably by adoption, since none of them acquired new romantic partners or spent any time pregnant as far as I can tell — but that otherwise they seemed rather static. The evil, mean-spirited Lars and humorless, snobbish Lisa still had fights, but still continued to live together until their family left the neighborhood entirely for no reason I could see. They didn’t seem to make changes to their houses, either. Maybe they can’t buy things when I’m not there to buy them new stuff. Or maybe it was just that they weren’t very proactive about job-finding on their own, so didn’t have the cash to make changes.*

Anyway. I’ve spent far more time playing with this than I originally intended to do, and I am still finding lots of neat and unexpected interactions; the amount of detail and care that has gone into the whole game is phenomenal. Many short-term interactions in it turn out to make good anecdotes, too — sometimes because they run into odd corners of the simulation, but not always.

I continue to think that it doesn’t tend to produce good long-term story, because there’s no arc structure. In this respect, it’s being true to what it is trying to simulate: my life also yields the odd anecdote but overall lacks narrative structure.

Does this generalize to mean that in all cases a sandbox won’t create good stories? I’m not sure. On the one hand, Sims 3 is a very thorough, lovingly detailed sandbox and accounts for a wide variety of traits and social interaction possibilities; it’s far, far more expressive than anything of its ilk I’ve played with before. So it makes a better test case than most, I think.

On the other, Sims 3 doesn’t (as far as I can tell) have a mechanism by which the Sims can recognize and address long-term patterns in their interactions. Lisa may develop a really negative attitude score towards Lars after he makes fun of her every day for weeks, and that provides some natural escalation, but at no point can she confront him about the habit, only about the individual instances. And what would she do if she could confront him? As people have already pointed out, the game resists making big changes to the active household without the player’s instigation. Sims also don’t change their own traits or lifetime goals in response to feedback; again, I assume that has to do with not wanting to override the player’s control, but it rules out character developments such as a Sim deciding that being mean-spirited is a disadvantage and seeking change.

So I can imagine a sandbox that would go further in the life-simulating direction (though I think I can’t accurately imagine the amount of work it would entail) and might also produce better stories. Maybe. But I remain skeptical that consistently well-formed narrative will emerge from a simulation without (at least) explicit drama management code (and I haven’t seen that really work yet, either).

Thanks again to Richard Evans for sending me a copy of this and for his suggestions about what I should try to get the most out of the Sims experience. I’ve had a lot of fun with it and found it very instructive and good food for thought.


* Tangentially: I find myself thinking sometimes about how I might appear to the Sims:

June 4. Woke up surprisingly hungry. Phee bee lay! as the kids say. Household God forced me to cancel maid service. Shame. Will miss perky uniforms.

June 5. Surprised on waking by how hungry I was. Blobby painting I made last night was on my wall. Guess Household God likes it. Wish could sell it instead.

June 6. Hungry this morning! But stopped wishing to be famous movie composer. Relief as don’t think it will happen. Chess: newly fascinating!

June 7. In the morning, gnawing hunger. Phee bee lay! Played chess. Painted small still life of chess board.

June 8. Woke up to find HG put still life of chess in my bedroom, with chess board and new chairs. What nice decor! No wonder was happy in my sleep. Couldn’t view for long though as was surprisingly hungry.

June 9. New marble floor in upstairs bathroom. Did not wish for it. Want giant television. HG not listening. Also: PBL.

June 10. Visited Hackworthies. V. bare decoration and some walls aren’t even painted. Baby underfoot and no crib for it. Everyone unemployed. Lars H told me during Chat, that’s what happens when household god abandons you. Brr.

8 thoughts on “Sims 3 in review”

  1. If only they were smart enough to notice you. To shake their little fists when you redecorate their apartments. To offer up Beefsteaks in sacrifice to implore you to change their life-goals.

    A version or two ago, when the game (seemingly) operated primarily on a materialistic, Friends-ish, stuff-getting mode (possibly unfair; I only played it briefly), I tried to get a programmer friend to create a spoof that would be called:

    LES MIZ

    –that would have covered workers in third world factories who fabricated all the crap that those first-world Sims went through so quickly.

    As I say, I tried to get a programmer I know to write the game (I was convinced it would make a bundle), but she just kept asking, “Conrad, why are you so angry?”

    Conrad.

    1. I would be a modest, undemanding household god, like in the good old days. They could have a shrine in a corner, perhaps with some figurines, perhaps just a jar decorated with fillets of wool, where the head of the household makes small offerings. I haven’t ever seen the Sims eating steaks, so my divine diet would presumably consist of Autumn Salad (Horrible Quality) and hot dogs.

      Hm.

      Yeah, never mind.

      1. Under Smite > Options > Daily Settings you’ll see “Inflicted On Sim-Prometheus (for tampering with divine diet)”

        C.

    2. Sounds like what you really want is a game version of One Over Zero, a comic where the creations are aware of their creator and have various reactions to this knowledge.

  2. If Richard’s still lurking –

    I’ll say this: if you guys were to put out a product that simulated a few pre-industrialized cultures — pre-contact Maasai; feudal Japan; ancient Athens; and like that — as well as your current product simulates middle America, I suspect I wouldn’t be able to peel myself away from that game.

    But it would have to really get at actual cultural forms, especially where they don’t match modern values. Where you’d watch and influence the household putting together a dowery for the 15-year-old Athenian daughter’s negotiated marriage, and so on. If it were more than just a costume thing, I’d be there.

    (It always bugs me when historical fiction cheatingly puts modern people in drag. Why then am I bothering with it?)

    Conrad.

    1. I’ve several times thought that a really good candidate for this treatment would be a farm outside of ancient Rome. We know a fair amount about Roman society in general, which would help provide the interpersonal stuff; and then we have an insanely detailed account of everything that a Roman farm needs to run during a year, in the form of Cato’s On Agriculture… down to how often you should give your slaves new clothes, what they should eat, how many slaves you should assign to each kind of task, when during the year they should do latrine cleaning; what is the best way to sell your grapes to the wine maker, what fodder to give the animals at what time of year, how to make medicine for sick oxen, what prayers to say when sacrificing a sow… All the primary source material a simulation could want. And really I think a good simulation is the only thing that would make the book interesting to a person in the modern world, since no one now uses it for the intended practical purpose.

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