It all started innocently enough, a lanky 22-year-old recent college graduate hiding from his job hunt at MacWorld Expo, armed with nothing but a Bachelor’s in English and $45 to buy a cool new game. The $45 actually had some value, and he traded it for a copy of Maxis’ recent hit, the people-simulation game known as The Sims.
Players can choose the gender, race, weight, age and appearance for each Sim or choose from an offering of pre-created characters offered by the game. The player then places their Sims in a house of their own design after outfitting the home with the basics of modern survival (lights, phones, toilets, showers, beds, chairs, tables, cooking appliances and a fridge). The game is now underway and chaos is the norm.
From this point on in, anything goes. Players control every aspect of the lives of their Sims, directing everything from career choices, hygiene, eating and cooking habits to social skills and free time. In addition to this, the player can customize their Sims by using their free time to work on different attributes and skills available to the characters. Players can gain Skill Points for their Sims that can come in handy later in the careers and life in general. For example, working out can increase your Body skill and help with the Law Enforcement and Criminal careers while painting can increase your Creativity skill, Skill Points becoming the key to progress for your Sims.
Keep Your Sims Happy
Easier said than done, as Sims tend to be persnickety to the nth degree. The best way to achieve this is to follow the Moods menu on the lower-right hand side of the screen, clicking over to each of your Sims and seeing where they’re content and where they could just as well go stick their heads in the oven. If a Sim is energetic but not having any fun in their lives, things break down and you’re going to be there when it happens. Work on keeping your Sims happy and content by having them relax, eat as much as possible and socialize with both each other and any neighbors who may come by.
Build Your Skill Points
The most important part of the game, and definitely the most challenging goal is to build your Sims’ skills and fulfill their potential, thereby allowing them a better chance at succeeding in their jobs and lives. The only downside to this is that a depressed Sim will refuse to do anything that could build their Skill Points, meaning the player must keep them as happy as humanly (and legally) possible. Keep them happy and remember to make progress on your Skill Points when you can, and even gaining a fraction of a Skill Point before your Sim becomes too depressed to continue is progress.
Get Up Early
There are some basics in life that have to be taken care of, both in life and in gaming that can’t be ignored (namely eating and bathing), and ignoring this in The Sims will lead to your characters becoming extremely unhappy very quickly. Since tasks tend to take a while in The Sims, waking your Sims up early in the morning (5 am is generally a good time) can work to your advantage, no matter how much your Sims may bitch and moan about this in their own incomprehensible language. No, getting up in time to milk the bovines was never pleasant, but when else are you going to do it before the school bus and two car pools come by in just a few hours?
No, it doesn’t fit in with the somewhat revolutionary message of “Fight Club”, and perhaps the things you own do end up owning you, but not so for The Sims. As far as the game is concerned, buying upgrades to your home (nicer furniture, cooler computers, a pool, better home entertainment systems, etc.) will make your Sims happier. With this in mind, work on using the money you earn to upgrade your home whenever possible and the gameplay will reflect these changes. And for those of you looking to annihilate America’s consumer-obsessed culture in some way, shape or form, stick to training an army of belligerent otters to destroy several dozen credit card companies in the comfort of your own home.
Somebody to Love
And this is true for The Sims, each Sim needing love and attention throughout the game. Keep your Sims talking and interacting with each other as well as their neighbors, as love and friendship keeps your Sims sane and happy and friends are crucial to most career paths (politicians, for example, will require at least two friends to be promoted). Talk, serve food, socialize, compliment each other, dance, joke, brag, whatever it takes to make friends, they’ll come in handy later.
Is That Your Hand on My Thigh?
For you aspiring Casanovas, keep in mind that The Sims does portray life accurately, and attempting to make out with the attractive neighbor the first moment they come on your property isn’t the best idea. In real life, this will hurt. In The Sims, it will make life for your characters that much harder. Romance takes hard work and interaction, and if the mojo is there after a little conversation and a few jokes, make a move. Marriage will dramatically change life for your Sims, the new S.O. moving in, and while sharing resources, gives you one more mouth to feed.
There’s a lot to get done in The Sims, and more often than not it can be too much to try to handle alone. Between trying to improve your Sims’ Skill Points, keeping everyone relatively happy and constantly having to clean house (if conditions fall apart, this will drag your Sims’ Mood categories down the drain), trying to manage everything can be an exercise in entropy. Your parents couldn’t afford a maid, but you can, especially for about the cheap asking price of 80-100 credits per week. Hiring a maid will allow your Sims to return to a clean home and keep them content, while hiring a gardener to come every three days will keep them happy with their surrounding environment. The maid may not be Colleen Camp in “Clue”, but it’s worth the investment. Be sure to have enough money to pay the bills or the maid and the gardener will take their payment via stealing items from your home.
“I’ll Sleep When I Retire”
The cry of the 80’s yuppie. Thankfully, it’s not the 80’s anymore, and pop bands traded their keyboards in for official web sites. If your Sims are stressed out, burned out, emotionally exhausted or needing social contact, let them take a day off. Jobs in The Sims allow for your characters to miss one day of work without any consequences (two in a row and they’ll be cruising the classifieds), so use this to your advantage. Keep in mind that keeping children out of school for even a day will lower their grades, making this a last resort if things are about to fall apart completely.
Maxis has produced a wonderful game in The Sims, and the title is only becoming better as the company has recently produced add-ons and expansion sets for the game. Downloadable objects such as new lighting, floor patterns, moose heads and the “Livin’ Large” expansion pack (which allows for pimp-like housing and 70’s/casino paraphernalia) add replayability to The Sims long after you’ve mastered the basics.
Unlike any game on the market, The Sims has no concrete goal of rescuing the princess and/or slaying the lords of darkness, but will challenge just the same.