What is it about my life that is so boring I have to find other ones? I’m sure there are many answers, and many a late night is spent adding to the list. Though I’m not the only one feels this way. As a small interlude before launching into this article, allow me to present you with some statistics:
- The best selling PC game of all time is The Sims, having sold at least 16 million copies.
- Its sequel, predictably named The Sims 2 is number 3 on the list, having sold at least 13 million copies.
Now, take another look at those statistics. 16 million copies. This beats the amount of World of Warcraft players by 5 million (WoW‘s playerbase is just over 11 million, based on October 2008 data).
What does this mean, you may ask. It’s quite possible living a virtual “real” life is more addictive than living a virtual fantasy life. So this article is dedicated to those games that, despite simulating a life that may seem boring, never let you go.
Let’s start with the biggie: The Sims series. Released in 2000, the original Sims took the world by storm, offering gameplay never seen before by a PC audience: Nothing. Tell you what, innovation’s sure as hell changed since then. Anyway, The Sims was notable in that it attracted a massive female audience, notoriously hard to reach in standard games. But what was the lasting appeal of a game like this? Player-made content, it would seem. The Sims 2, with its relatively simple video or photo-capture equipment, provided a springboard for players wanting to post their creations over the internet to anyone willing to look them up on Youtube.
Watch it. All of it. Anyway, that’s not all the internet creates when given little fake people. Some people (ranging anywhere in computer literacy between “master coder” and “Brick with a lemon on it”) go to the trouble of creating new clothes, makeup, genetics, houses, beds, toilets, ad nauseum, for their scene teen Sims. I must admit, I’ve partaken in several years of The Sims, and it pains me to admit I’m looking forward to the release of The Sims 3. Why? There’s a couple of reasons. Firstly, The Sims allows me to create a fantasy world I’d rather live in. It’s very easy to make Sims that look like yourself and your friends, and then it’s just as easy to go wild and hook two up. Every time I play a neighbourhood of my virtual self (often living close to other real-life friends), I’ve married the same girl, often divorcing her to marry a different one when the need arises. My little superego remains the only version of me to have had children and a successful job. If anything, playing The Sims 2 ticks me off more than amuses me, as the smiling effigy I name “Healey” seems to be saying to me, “That’s right. YOU’LL NEVER ACHIEVE THIS.” Then I deprive him of sleep. It’s oddly theraputic, satisfying both my lofty lifegoals and my sadistic fantasies in one sitting. And now I sound like a crazy person, so I’m going to move right along. The Sims, along with many other of Will Wright’s games (see Spore) keeps fresh based on the creativity of its users. Whether or not that’s a good thing remains to be seen, and hopefully number three maintains its moddability. Until then, I’m going to create a new neighbourhood and get married again.
As far as occupations go, farming must be pretty boring. Waking up at 4, scooping animal dung with a pitchfork, eating the half-dead corn you grew yourself… Oh, and fun fact: Farmers have the 8th highest death rate as a profession in America. It’s odd then, that the Harvest Moon series has been going on since 1996, and was first playable on the almight SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System). The basic premise of the game hasn’t changed: You maintain a farm in a small town. Along the way, you have the chance to raise animals, make friends with the villagers, get married to one of the local ladies, and participate in some of the local festivals. Yep. That’s about it. It keeps going, and will keep going indefinitely, unless you overwrite your game. Your kid (When/if you have one) will always be a tiny baby, even after fifty years of marriage. Creepy, yeah. Anyway, Harvest Moon tends to be less about custom-content or fancy-schmancy graphics, and more about… err, repetitive tasks. Somehow it works, and a lot of people report the games to be rather theraputic. I’ve noticed it too; after a couple of years of trying to attract the local nurse, I couldn’t help but think of the futility of life itself, and began another slow spiral into depression I hadn’t felt since I played The Sims 2. The game’s enjoyment comes almost entirely from the sense of freedom. I mean, sure, running a farm is fun, but sometimes I snuck in a quantum of solace and went fishing instead, or dedicated an entire day to cooking for the lady I wanted to woo. Come to think of it, if I put as much time into real life as I did Harvest Moon, I might actually have a girlfriend and fishing prize by now. Still, its easy to take refuge in the mundanity. Rather than worrying about deadlines or civil war, it’d be easier to go farming for a while. Oddly enough, Harvest Moon is a perfect game to play for something relaxing or to get rid of tension; Y’know, before going off to play a killer rock solo or sometahing. Though the odds are if you’re playing Harvest Moon you’re probably not likely to be playing killer rock solos. At least, not on a real guitar.
There’s a great article out there written by someone using the alias of “Chewbot”, chronicling his dark misadventures through the world of Animal Crossing. Animal Crossing is another life simulator. Come to think of it, of course it’d be; that’s what this article is about. Anyway, Animal Crossing takes place in a bizarre world where the player is the only person and the rest of the inhabitants of the town of Animal Crossing are all… Animals. Hmm. You know, I really should’ve paid more attention before writing this article. Anyway, like Harvest Moon, Animal Crossing is all about living a lovely boring life. Having not played the game myself, I can’t attest to any first-hand praise or criticism of the game. As ar as I can tell, though, Animal Crossing is even less goal-orientated than Harvest Moon, with no farm to run or “must-reach” goals. The only real goal could be getting your loan paid off, as you’re basically imprisoned by the local business owner, Tom Nook (a raccoon. Go figure.) until you release yourself from his financial oppression. The series is well-known (Well, to its fans) for the cute art style and utter charm it permeates. Not only that, but the DS version (Wild World) uses the DS’s internal clock, thus the game is played in real time. I guess if it’s utter realism you’re after, it works (considering the… well, unrealistic setting) but I’ve often found myself irritated with real-time events. It often means if you can only play games at certain times (eg, not during work or school hours) you’ll find yourself constantly missing out on events ingame. Then again, there is the other way; I’ve heard a report of a student who ran out of a university exam to play through a festival occuring in his own little Animal Crossing. Personally, I think if there’s a game that has that great an effect on you, there’s even more support for a matrix-esque virtual reality life system. Well, either that or a real life. Who am I to talk about real life, though, when I’m a gamer? Maybe I’ll go ask one of my Sims about it.