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.