This article originally appeared on VICE Asia
In the world of The Sims, you are god. You get to create, customise, and control the characters, along with the world that they live in. Now on its fourth iteration, the massively popular franchise has reportedly sold over 200 million copies worldwide. Whether you just gave it a try once or twice or have put in hours into building your own world, most would agree that there is one element of the game that sticks. I’m talking about Simlish, the fictional language on The Sims. It’s emotionally-charged gibberish you wish you knew how to speak. Sadly, it turns out that it’s nearly impossible to master.
Simlish was invented by The Sims creator Will Wright. It was first introduced in the 1996 flight simulation game SimCopter but was further developed and gained popularity after the release of the first The Sims in 2000.
In building a world with endless possible interactions and emotions, using the English language for dialogue, and then translating it into different languages for international markets was impractical. Repetitive actions would also eventually lead to repetitive dialogue, which would bore players, as shared by game designer Mike Perry on his diary while they were developing the 2003 entry to the franchise, Sims Bustin’ Out.
During the early stages of sound recording and development, the plan was to base Simlish on real languages. One of the first languages considered was the Philippines’ Tagalog. However, after further experimentations with other languages including Estonian, Ukrainian, and the Navajo code used in World War II, Wright opted to develop an entirely new language instead. One in which words or phrases have no actual meaning.
Thousands of ad-libbed recordings later, the Simlish we know today was born. Voice actors Stephen Kearin and Gerri Lawlor were simply given situational prompts — a Sim feeling flirty, hungry, or annoyed — and given the freedom to respond with as much nonsense as they wanted. In-game, players are guided by intonation, context, and visual cues.
Having no attachment to actual words and languages, the gibberish that eventually became Simlish almost completely removed the need to localise voices and text in The Sims’ world. However, this means that no matter how hard we try, it’s nearly impossible to learn Simlish.
Being improvised, it lacks the structure that is necessary for language-learning and communication. Unlike other constructed fictional languages like Star Trek’s Klingon and Game of Thrones’ Dothraki, Simlish does not have defined parts of speech. And, as your grammar teacher told you, it’s impossible to form complete sentences without nouns and verbs.
But this has not diminished Simlish’s influence. Whether or not its developer Maxis intended it, Simlish is arguably the most distinguishable feature of The Sims, and has developed a following of its own. Now, players congregate online to piece together and make sense of the language. Some have even created fonts based on the written form of Simlish featured in the games, and started blogs dedicated to the language.
Casual players are able to recognise some words and phrases, while more dedicated ones can figure out how their character is feeling just by hearing them say a certain word. For example, even though my teenage Sim is not on-screen, I know that when he says “Gronk,” he is not only back home from school, but also in a bad mood. I don’t know how I know this. I just do.
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