I have fallen, my friends. I have been sucked into the all-consuming world of Sims. They warned me that it would tear my world apart, but I never imagined it would be like this.
Thankfully, while I’m getting my soul sucked out, I’ve been able to notice some nice worldbuilding tips for y’all.
In case you don’t know, Sims is a virtual reality game in which you create animated characters to inhabit a small town (or a city, if you have the right expansion pack). There isn’t a stated goal, but I think it’s to live the “ideal life,” whatever that is.
Now, the Sims games are owned by Electronic Arts, an American company located in California. For the most part, the in-game culture reflects American styles, values, etc. However, there are a few notable differences, and this is what I think we writers can learn from.
- No personal space.
This was the first thing I noticed. Your Simmy friends will just walk right into your house, eat your food, use your stove, play your video games, and sleep in your bed, and no one bats an eye. The first time this happened to me, I’d made a lovely plate of hamburgers in the park, and another Sim just waltzed up and started eating my food. What’s up with that, bro?
A logically minded person might argue that because the Sims are automations they can’t be expected to comply to social rules, but I say nay! The programmers could have put this in if they wanted! The Sims society seems to be a strange mix of pluralism and individualism — although each Sim is pursuing their own goals, friends are quite open with each other and expect all houses to be open spaces.
Notable exception: Bathrooms. Apparently they’re still not okay with undressing in front of each other, even family members.
What writers can learn: When designing a new culture, you’ll unconsciously model the social rules after your own. Think about bending this, even though the results may seem inappropriate or offensive at first.
- Lax parenting.
I’d really like to get the Sims 4 City Living expansion pack to see if this holds in that environment. (Someone tell me please.) It’s not unusual to see kids walking around the neighborhood with no parent in sight. Sim parents don’t seem concerned if the toddler wanders out the front door naked. (This did happen. I am not making this up.)
From a creator’s standpoint, I wonder if this is supposed to hearken back to the “good old days” when kids could run all over town without fear of muggings or alien abductions. (Oh wait. Alien abduction is a thing in the Sims. Never mind.) But no matter what they were thinking over at EA, it seems that Sims expect their children to be much more independent than your average American child.
What writers can learn: Think about how safe your society is, or how safe it’s perceived to be. Think about familial expectations. Do the kids do chores? Do they wake themselves up in the morning? Who gets them to school? Who stays home with them? Do both parents work? Do they hire a nanny? The possibilities are endless.
- Time has no meaning.
The last two cultural quirks I suspect were borrowed from other cultures. After all, if Sims is going to be played internationally, it’d be nice if the “ideal life” isn’t exclusively American. However, I don’t just think this one’s borrowed. I know it is.
Being late isn’t a problem in the Sims. If your job is set to start at 8:00am, you can head out the door around 8:15. Same with school. There doesn’t really seem to be a standardized bussing system. (This may have something to do with the fact that Sims just teleport from place to place, but shh.)
In America, we tend to be pretty uptight when it comes to time, but I know that some cultures are not. It seems that Sims Culture is one of these.
What writers can learn: How does time factor into your society? Must you arrive early? Late? Have futuristic teleportation devices affected the way your society sees time? What about stories set in the past? What about before clocks were invented?
- Goodbyes are optional.
This one I find particularly interesting. Occasionally the Sims will say good-bye to each other, but the majority of the time they just leave. As an American, this seems incredibly rude to me. However, my good friend Maggie recently told me that in France people don’t say “you’re welcome,” and my Chinese professor told me that in China you don’t say “excuse me” if you bump into someone. So every culture’s different.
What writers can learn: Don’t be afraid to remove components of conversation that you think are crucial! On the other hand, you could add a component that you don’t generally have. What if every conversation had to be preceded by remarking on the color of each others’ clothes?
Well, who’d have thought I’d make a whole blogpost based around the Sims 4 game? I guess the purchase was worth it after all. Now to go procrastinate some more…
Stay crazy, friends.