The Sims 2 came out my sophomore year at Wabash, and would be the game on which I would spend the most time (second place may go to World of Warcraft) during my matriculation. The reason this game worked so well into my schedule was that I could leave it running, come back to it, play a little, and never feel as if I wasn’t progressing.
Everything in the game is progress, in a very Zen way of looking at the game.
If I had not uninstalled the game in a fit of disgust after it deleted all my saved files, I probably would have intermittently logged more hours in the past few months and never thought much about the whole process.
Is this a game? A glorified doll house? Playing a god?
I’ve tried in various ways to understand what it is that appeals to me about this game over the years. My Sims tend to be people I know, and the stories in which I wrap myself only make me appreciate the stories all the more. There was the time when my friend Janathan’s mother came over to my and my partner’s house, stepped into our hot tub, and would have caught herself on fire if we had not quickly come to her rescue. When children would come along and then grandchildren, suddenly the personalities I had brought to the game were abandoned and new entities would arise.
A large part of my disconnect from the Spore universe is not being able to really connect with my creatures after the Creature phase. Personality was no longer a factor, as they all dressed the same, there was no variance, and as I entered Space, I suddenly was treated as an individual of my race in the first person. The game’s perspective shifts from a third person view similar to The Sims to an overview expected in an RTS to one that is more focused on myself as an individual of my race, except I no longer really see myself–instead seeing my leader who looks exactly as I left him at the end of the Civilization stage. It’s as if I, as God, stepped down to become an avatar, and have a very curious stake in my world these days.
While I may have made Denis Sims, I never felt like I was inhabiting the body of said Sim, so this stage in Spore strikes me as particularly odd, and probably speaks closest to my disconnect from my race. Perhaps that is the desired effect, but after nurturing my concern and eliciting small chuckles from me while in the first two stages, I no longer knew what to make of the race that I had created. In other words, I was no longer invested in the smaller progressions and only cared about ‘achieving.’
This may partly be expectation again. Once I reached this stage, my mindset shifted to one that I would normally adopt in a game more similar to the genres that had been represented more recently. When I play a game like Master of Orion, Civilization, et cetera I have no personal investment in the empire I am building, much more focused instead on the elements to progress, achieve the next goal, unlock more tidbits, and eventually win the game.
I don’t play The Sims to win.
One aspect of the game I have not tried is just playing the discrete portions and creating a different race. However, I cannot divorce myself from those fond memories of playing my first three creatures and seeing them nurture and grow. Perhaps the solution is to never move beyond the Creature stage–but the stages by themselves seem largely simple to me. The charm of the whole package was how this all connected, and I find myself almost regretting getting into this whole mindset.
The unfortunate aspect of playing these discrete portions is that they all seem small enough that I could finish them in one session. There is not enough content in any but the Space stage to actually entice me to play beyond reaching the goal marker to progress to the next phase of evolution. The game itself is encouraging and pressing me to go to the Space stage, where I am finally free to explore, do as I please, and have a more open-ended game. That was not what I was expecting from the promise of being able to play in any stage and ignore all others–but I did not carefully read between the lines.
This is the allure of The Sims 2, finally. It took Will Wright’s next installment to make me realize why I picked up the game so often. There is no expectation, no stages, and the game seems more like one seamless experience (albeit, one that has odd time warp issues which are apparently addressed in The Sims 3). While it does not allow the versatility of quickly starting a new game at the exact stage without cheats, it does allow me to actually stay invested in what I’ve created at all times. In retrospect, this is what I should have foreseen coming with the shift of the micro to macro level of experience for which Wright and his crew were aiming.