The Sims is the perfect video game for writers.
As someone who first got into the franchise over twenty years ago with The Sims (no numbers) on Windows 98, each new incarnation of The Sims has been more inclusive of telling stories while also escaping from the real world by making your Sim a corrupt detective with six lovers and seventeen kids and a secret side-business drowning work rivals in his underground basement pool…or alternatively, a dedicated single mother who’s just doing her best while changing the world building rockets and rocketing off into space in her spare time.
It was a lot harder back in 2001 to keep the storytelling alive—mostly I was trying to keep my Sims alive with their thrice-daily showers and constant bad moods. However, over time, the sequels have made it easier to keep your Sims, well, alive, contrary to Will Wright’s original goal of making Budget Simulator 2000, it’s become an immersive storytelling tool. I’m not about to wax poetic about how amazing the later games are. Sims 3 no longer has the appeal it did back in 2009—it’s a laggy, bloated mess with empty lots and a map screen filled with Steve Jablonsky’s ‘Expansive Vistas‘ that will give even the cheeriest of folks a traumatising case of crippling existential dread at 5am they never even asked for. Don’t even get me started on the current brouhaha over the latest Sims 4 game pack. We’re here to talk about The Sims from a writer’s perspective. That’s what this blog tends to be about. Writing. Writing accessories. I hope you weren’t expecting a list of songs from Sims 3 designed to give you maximum existential dread. Or a list of reticulating splines. Not today, reader. Not today.
There is no set way to go about storytelling in The Sims. Here are the popular ways:
- The default method appears to be to create and live as yourself, albeit in a more idealised way
- Click on one of the pre-made Sims in the gallery or on the map and follow the story set out by game lore, e.g. You’re Bella Goth—now, go get abducted by aliens and build a backyard mausoleum just for the hell of it
- Create your own Sim, but follow one of the many fan-made legacy challenges, e.g. everyone in your legacy follows the letters of the alphabet, or you’re having a grand old time WooHooing your way to the 100 baby challenge
- Create your own Sim, and say fuck it to the rules. Whatever says, goes! This is perfect for creatives with a lot of room to explore ideas
You wanna use The Sims and utilise your full potential as a writer? Number four is where all the fun starts!
My favourite Sim of all time is evil politician Havner Brewster. He started life on the Sims FreePlay in 2012 as the proud owner of the cinema house and, as the saying goes, the rest is history. Every incarnation is a fresh chance to add to the Brewster lore. In Sims 3, he was the second President of the Free World with a daughter, Arianna, who went on to be a mad scientist. In Sims 2, he was rebranded Harron, after brilliant American Psycho director Mary Harron, and his son was almost sent to military school from the depression he suffered after his mother, Havner’s wife, died of fear after seeing their dead cat’s ghost. In The Sims on PS2, Havner’s mother Belle was introduced as the erratic stalker of party boy Peter Tutti. Currently in Sims 4, he’s an evil politician implementing damaging environmental policy and the widowed father of three daughters.
There’s endless possibilities.
And it all translates to endless ideas. The perfect tool for the writer struggling for ideas. Of course the alternative is to just daydream up your entire novel’s lore in the course of an afternoon, but that’s not feasible for most of us. Unless you’re a Sims with a high Writing skill.
The Sims community is filled with many writers, some with questionable writing skill, most with boundless energy and ideas, who will play their game (legacy, if you’re playing more than one generation) with the written word in mind. Of course most of these are for fun, much like writing fanfiction is fun, but as I’ve explained in previous posts, sometimes the best way to write serious shit is to write fun, lighthearted shit. And there are people who take both fanfiction and Sims storytelling very seriously—believe me, I know my fanfiction.net from my Wattpad, and any writer who says they’ve never used either is either technologically illiterate or Frankie Muniz’s Big Fat Liar.
Here’s why video games like The Sims can help you, the writer, out:
- Playing the life of a Sim is nice escapism. Nothing more, nothing less. No need to be embarrassed. Peak hustle culture is over. Sometimes we can do shit just for the fun of it. Sometimes we need a break, and sometimes that break has glaring similarities to the other thing we love
- They can help you get into the heads of people who aren’t like you, albeit in a stylised way. Whether you use that empathy to write your villain a la Joker (2019) or to see them crash and burn, that’s up to you
- Don’t know how to continue your novel? Stuck at the precipice, waiting for relief that never comes? Plop your characters into The Sims, see what happens. Maybe it’ll help you write what comes next
- Reading Sims “fanfiction” can help you see where to improve in your own writing, and what works and what doesn’t. Note to self: Never write in the “POV style” of mid-2010s Wattpad
- Seeing April Brewster as a superstar author with 35 bestselling novels with parody knockoff titles of real books will inspire you into writing 35 bestselling novels. Don’t forget the Inspired moodlet.
- Realise writing IRL is much harder than April makes it look, so don’t look at the simplified writing in The Sims as akin to the complicated real-world writing process. Be proud of your achievements
- Back in the early-2000s, the loading screen for Sims: Makin’ Magic could take aaages, so I’d read physical books while waiting. As Stephen King said, Good writers read, and if your game’s running a bit slow or the game crashed and you lost two hours of progress, instead of screaming into the blue void of Sims 2, pull out a book and start reading. Or switch tabs to SmartEdit Writer/Scrivener/Word and write a sentence or two. Who knows what will happen next?
- There’s no right or wrong way to play The Sims. Install some fun mods or just do the ol’ Pool With No Ladder and have some fun. Just do it.
Has The Sims helped you with your creative pursuits? Has another video game been a life-changer for you—did you delve into Sid Meier’s Civilization for a quick break and get stuck in your fascinating, horrifying alternate universe for twelve hours? Let me know in the comments below!