So, the last couple weeks, amid deadlines, earning money, incurring bills, paying bills and other entirely grown-up pursuits, I’ve been thinking about The Sims, specifically The Sims 4. Some of you are rolling your eyes right now, but stop it. Seriously, you’ll hurt yourselves. Besides, it’s not as if every one of you doesn’t have that One Game; that game that goes beyond the bounds of your normal repertoire, and maybe isn’t seen as socially acceptable by your friends. But you know what? I don’t give a damn. I like what I like and the rest of the gaming world can bite me. I’ve been in love with The Sims franchise since the beginning. No apologies.
For those who have never tried The Sims, (or its escalating incarnations) think of it as a sort of virtual ant farm, but instead of ants, you get people; stupid people who frequently wet themselves and/or set themselves on fire. Also, you can build things.
To be fair though, there’s a lot more to it than that, and each successive iteration of the game has seen dramatic changes from the one(s) before it. And while I can’t say I’ve loved every version, (The Sims 3 gives me hairballs) now that we’re on the cusp of The Sims 4, I must admit I’m kind of excited.
What we know:
Well, we know that it’s the fourth game (duh.) We know that the new artwork is more cartoony than TS3 (goodbye, pudding-face!) and that it will be out in 2014. We know that there will be new voice acting, instead of just recycled assets from previous versions. And, thanks to the apocalyptically bungled launch of Sim City 4, we know that there will be no required online component.
That said, we also know that there will be some kind of online portal, as the original press release says,
“The Sims 4 encourages players to personalize their world with new and intuitive tools while offering them the ability to effortlessly share their creativity with friends and fans.”
This, however, is nothing new, and is in keeping with Sims releases since the advent of TS2. So far, so good.
What we don’t know:
Pretty much everything else there might be to know. Will it be riddled with DRM like the disastrous, hardware-wrecking nightmare that was SecuRom*, like TS2? We don’t know. Will it be a bare-bones release followed by a disappointing trickle of overpriced downloadable content, like TS3? We don’t know. Will it continue to follow the Original Star Trek movie pattern, with the even-numbered releases being way better** than the odd? We don’t know. Will the animals in TS4 have actual animal voices, or will they be a disturbing mash-up of animal sounds and human attempts at animal sounds, like in TS3? We don’t know.
What I’d like to see:
Honestly, I’d like to see something different than what’s come before. Everything in the Sims is so aspirational, so predicated on the idea of upward social mobility and the idea that that’s what players want. To me, that misses one of the greatest strengths of The Sims completely, and that’s its ability to allow players to create their own narrative within the game. Forget the bling. Forget the stuff packs full of high-end consumer crap. And if EA insists on coming out with the completely predictable movie star and globe trotter type expansion packs, then balance those out with some downward mobility. Give me genres, and let there be social, physical and economic variation within those genres. For example:
TS4: Down and Out (expansion pack)
An expansion pack that would allow players to explore a less pampered mode of Simming, packed with cheap, breakable household items, low-wage career tracks, debt, and the chance for Sims to develop/overcome addictions.
TS4: Urban Blight (stuff pack)
Made to accompany Down and Out, UB would give players several new sets of clothing, cosmetic and household items to flesh out and fully realize their depressingly downtrodden Sims’ lives.
TS4: Back to the Mothership (expansion pack)
Explore the world of the Sims from a whole new angle: Behind! Now you can swoop down on unsuspecting stargazers and abduct whisk them away to new horizons! Now with 100% more anal probe!
Okay, I’m kidding a little bit here. I’m not really advocating an alien rape expansion pack. But I do believe that EA misses some important opportunities by not including a wider range of possibilities within the Sims franchise. For Pete’s sake, it wasn’t until TS3 that Sims could actually be fat, instead of just a wee bit chubby. Why not allow for Sims with disabilities in TS4?
I’m not talking about killing the fantasy here, but then again, The Sims was never entirely about fantasy. It was never even about choosing one’s own adventure, but about creating that adventure in the first place. So why limit the character options to the (mostly) pretty and perfect? Again, not everybody aspires to that kind of Hollywood ideal. Not every in-game story has to go that direction.
What I don’t want to see:
Compulsory social interaction. If every Sim achievement from job promotions to bowel movements is marked by an irritating, game-derailing pop-up encouraging me to “share this with your friends!”, I won’t play it. No me gusta! The Sims Online is gone, never to return. And despite current industry “wisdom”, not every game has to have some bullshit “social element” crowbarred into its gameplay mechanics. Sure, let me share the item mods I make with others, but don’t insist that I chirp and derp about every minor thing that goes on in a private, offline game.
What do you think? Are you interested in seeing where the Sims franchise will go next? Is there some other game that you secretly obsess over when your favorite MMO has grown a bit stale? Tell me in the comments!
*Back in the day, SecuRom rendered my completely legal, onboard DVD recorder inert. Of course, removing that root-kit-POS did nothing to make it work again. Thanks, Sony.
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