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October 16, 2011 / jwaxo

The Sims (Architecture)

Watching your Sims… watch TV.

Around 2000 there was talk about a new game. A game that wasn’t quite a game, but more of a simulation. A game where you control a number of little virtual people, living in a little virtual house. You only goal was the same as in real life: whatever you wanted it to be. Want to grow rich and have a huge house? Have a huge family? Divorce seven different people? You can do it in this game.

The first I heard of it was on the bus, with kids in front of me talking about how their Sim had grown so tired from working all day that he had just fallen asleep on the floor instead of the bed. I was pretty much instantly intrigued, just from this one factoid. After all, if a character in a game could make this strange distinction between what’s normal and what you do in an emergency, that’s pretty interesting, isn’t it?

It was November, after all. Christmas was coming up. And there were things to put on my Christmas List…

The Sims didn’t go on.

I had other goals in mind. My main wish for that Christmas was for Majora’s Mask, the sequel to the ever-awesome Ocarina of Time (which is quickly becoming my most inter-linked article). It had come out that October, making my mouth water in anticipation. I didn’t dare buy it, though, due to that horrible gap of time between Halloween and Christmas. As a rule I never buy anything for myself that there is the slightest chance of having it bought for me during this time, due to a few mishaps in the past and my patented inability to lie.

Oh hey, this book. That I have two copies of. Awesome. Thanks.

So it was over two months of excited waiting for Majora’s Mask, hopefully hidden in one of the flatter packages under the tree. Best Friend also wanted it rather desperately, and we were both absolutely sure we were going to get this game.

Come Christmas morning, I get a call from an excited Best Friend. “My parents did get it for us! And an N64! This is so awesome!”

My parents, though, just got me some lame game that I had heard one thing about and was somewhat interested in. They got it because they knew that I liked “those Sim games.”

What’s the most frustrating about this is that I absolutely loved The Sims. Still do. I’ve owned the two sequels and quite a few expansion packs in my time. And here’s why it’s popular and why I love it and why it’s one of the bestselling games of all time:

People enjoy life.

If they did not, people wouldn’t like living it. They would stop. And with The Sims, life is easy. You almost always move up in your job, if you’re a decent worker. You fill up bars and skills and it’s all very quantifiable, and I’m pretty sure the genre of “Facebook games” has proven that people really like that kind of thing.

Plus, people really like the ability to just drag-and-drop walls.

It would make moving hottubs a lot easier.

This is really silly, but I didn’t realize that I was actually interested in architecture back when I actually was playing with architecture software. Back then I was too obsessed with building the perfect maze. By the time The Sims rolled into my life, though, I had matured a bit, developed some aesthetic side. Plus, there was the added aspect of actually having critics of my work. Tiny, virtual critics with a lot less needs than some people, but critics nonetheless.

Fun fact: Will Wright, the creator of The Sims and all of other Sim-games, originally started The Sims as an architecture game. When he started programming little virtual people to test out the buildings and live in them, to give the user some feedback, he realized it was a lot more fun taking care of those people than it was creating the actual buildings.

But building a good house for those Sims was an entire game in itself. My brother and I would spend hours (and lots of virtual dollars) making the coolest, most efficient and useful houses that we could. We made exact copies of our house, or of our relative’s house, or of our dream houses, then would run them through the Sims organ grinder. And we learned a lot about what makes a house visually and functionally appealing. And those things did not often go hand-in-hand.

My love of architecture was started there, really, and while it didn’t lead many places other than a few college courses and the ability to throw out words like “prairie style” or “arts and crafts movement”, it did inspire a good interest.

Also, locking Sims in rooms with no doors was more my brother’s territory.

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