Well, gaming isn’t among my Things I Do. At least, not board or tabletop.
I’ve been sick since New Years Eve, and only now am I starting to get better after 15 days and a round of antibiotics. It sucks. I’ve missed D&D on Sundays twice, Dungeon World twice, 13th Age (Moving Forward) once, and Epyllion once. I’ve been on the disabled list for two full weeks, and I’m glad to be both on the mend, and going to a gaming convention this weekend (BryceCon!) to make up for it.
But what I have played is a lot of mindless video games. I booted up Final Fantasy XIII recently, which I have barely played at all, and was struck again by how dark the beginning is. I switched that off because it was too troubling for me, and I really just needed to sleep. A lot.
But the game I’ve really played a lot of is The Sims Freeplay on Android. It’s a pretty casual game, and after playing Sim City 2000 for a while, and Sim City 4 because it was on Steam sale for $5, I decided to jump into the most casual of sims.
It is also, perhaps, the least interesting, and I think I figured out why.
In the original The Sims game, each Sim had personality and agency. They weren’t dolls in a dollhouse. If you didn’t tell them to do something, they would attend to their own basic needs. You didn’t have to give a command to use the bathroom– if the Sim needed to, and they weren’t tied up with other tasks, they would usually just go. They fed themselves, entertained themselves, and they had personality algorithms. One Sim would be markedly more fastidious than another. One might be more playful. Another more talkative. Their social/happiness needs varied as a result– a playful sim wouldn’t really fill their happiness bar with just watching TV, for example.
And they had manners. A Sim who stayed at another Sim’s house past 2 AM (game time) would be gently shown the door and asked to leave, unless they were deeply in love or something.
I have Sims who don’t even have homes, or haven’t been inside their own homes in four or five days. Why bother? Sims can pretty much get by with one house. They don’t need more than a few beds. They barely need to sleep, maybe a couple of minutes a day. A Sim visiting another Sim’s house to use their bed, kitchen, television, or anything doesn’t even need to introduce himself to the other Sim.
And they are all the same. They all start out the same. There are no aptitudes. The trajectory for a Sim working their way up through their career is the same for every Sim unless they specifically do extra tasks to train more.
They have the same body types. The original Sims let you make a rather portly Sim if you wanted to. Not anymore. And heaven help you if you want your female Sim to wear pants– you get knee-length shorts, short-shorts, short skirts, or a long hippie skirt. There are about 3 options for pants– most of them are jeans. So much for wearing a stylish suit!
Their houses are all the same. I know this, because I’ve visited all my Facebook friends’ neighborhoods, trying to fulfill one of the social quests (seriously, people: buy a damned fire hydrant!) They all more or less fit the same building type– I think I’m the only person who ever starts with a vacant lot (one of my Sims has two "shipping container" sized buildings for their house– another Sim has a ).
Doing fun activities or eating a meal together doesn’t improve their relationships, and their relationships don’t seem to ever degrade over time. Not that it matters– aside from playing chess and watching TV, there are almost no cooperative activities to be done anyway. Two Sims eating at the same table will not talk to each other or improve their relationship– they just eat. It’s depressing.
The exception is the night club, where Sims can dance together, which increases their friendship scores. However, the night club doesn’t have much else going for it, and although a Sim can be the bartender, the cost of a drink is 2500 simoleans– approximately 2 days’ pay. I don’t know if a drink has any effect on Sims; they’re too poor to even get buzzed.
Oh, that’s another thing. In addition to being all the same, all cookie-cutter, all bisexual (OK, that part’s kind of cool), and able to just wander in and out of each others’ houses without any manners– the Sims are also communist! Their money is all pooled into one account, and anything that you want to buy for any Sim is pulled out of that account. Hooray! So, the Stanimal, who is unemployed and lives in a shipping container and mooches off of everyone else has the same happiness and access to a 4800-simolean stereo system as Michael Wickens, my very first Sim, who works 9 hours a day as the Fire Captain and shares a home and baby with his partner, Casey Wickens (an artist who works about 7 hours a day).
That doesn’t even scratch the surface of the completely divorced concepts of "workplace" and "production place." For example, the car dealership is a place that exists to sell you cars. There is no job for a car salesman, however– the dealership exists as a robo-seller where you can only spend money, not make it. Similarly, a Sim only make money at the art gallery (as an artist), not spend it– an economic arrangement that, as a creative professional, I could dream were true, but which does not at all fall into the capitalist world.
I’m increasingly in favor of socialism and eliminating the 1%, but honestly, this is getting ridiculous. Perhaps EA is trying to make true economic equality unappealing to young people by creating the most boring game ever using it as a mechanic?
Speaking of which. Both Michael and Casey work! That’s great! Their daughter Sarah sleeps in her crib a lot. She is, after all, a baby. Fortunately, Child Protective Services, which used to step in if you left your baby unattended, is now completely gone. Yep– my Sims go to work all day and leave the baby in an unattended house. Which is fine. The baby won’t become a toddler until I complete three more quests anyway, and in the meantime, she just lies in her crib. Every day, I put her to sleep with the "Hibernate" command. It’s like a digital version of giving the baby Nyquil.
I suppose it’s nice that the environment never degrades. You only have to clean up after a meal or if your Sims wet themselves because, hahah– they don’t go to the bathroom without help.
I won’t get into the part where you can make the game actually fun by paying real money to buy simoleans or lifestyle points or whatever– the game clearly operates, like most of EA’s free-to-play games, on the principle that the game itself should be boring as fuck, if not virtually unplayable as a game, unless you pony up real cash. Dungeon Keeper was the worst for that, but Sims Freeplay is not far behind.
Conclusion: The Sims Freeplay is less like a neighborhood sim and more like the "Nursing Home of Clones Sim."