Postscript is Cameron Kunzelman's weekly column about endings, apocalypses, deaths, bosses, and all sorts of other finalities.
I knew that I had to play The Sims 4 when I saw the cat escape his house prison on a roomba. This is it, I thought. This is the real simulation that I’ve been missing all of these years.
I’m no novice when it comes to The Sims franchise. I played the first game (and its Livin’ Large expansion) when they were released, and I dug into The Sims 3’s extensive expansion packs toward the end of that game’s lifespan. I have taken simulated people from the lowest to the highest station; I have seen them live, die, and live again in the strangest circumstances and weirdest interactions between game systems. There are few surprises left for me in the lives of these simulated beings.
And yet that damn cat on a roomba brought me back. Every time I try to get out, a cat and a robot drag me back in. As I perused the available content packs for the game, some of which add those adorable pets and others which infest your world with vampires, I came to a weird realization: I’ve been here before.
This is how I play the various versions of The Sims: I create a single male Sim. He lives the bachelor life for a while, and I try to take him from unemployed to the master of his chosen profession. Along that route, I give him some interests. He might become an artist or a writer. He’ll try to be buff. He’ll buy wall art, and eventually, with enough grit and serious effort at work, he’ll be able to buy a dishwasher for his home.
Along the way, the bare drywall interiors of his home will get painted in glorious colors. The house itself will transform, too, from a bare-bones utilitarian nightmare to a middle-class experimental structure to a full-fledged wealth nightmare chock full of garbage objects that no one needs to own (like, I don’t know, a globe or dozens of pink flamingo lawn statues).
The Sims is just a simulation of consumption. You work to buy things to expand your influence in the world. You can be the owner of a restaurant, you can invest in properties, and you can create a vast network of friends who you can summon for expensive events at gyms, museums, and clubs around your neighborhood. And I don’t think that any of this is surprising to anyone who is reading this. This is the way the game is played. It’s all there is to do in the universe of The Sims. You buy things, you grow the world of your sims, and then they pass away into the nothing. In the past, that was enough for me.
My “standard game” of The Sims 4 went normally for the most part. I moved into a blank lot, created my little house, and began my slow crawl up the ladder. My sim talked to his neighbor; they eventually entered into a relationship. They moved in together. They got married. They tried for a baby. The very next morning, while my sim was still asleep, she stood up from the bed and went to the kitchen. She wanted French toast. The stovetop caught fire as she was flipping the delicious slices, and the fire spread quickly. My sim panicked; he couldn’t manage to extinguish the fire fast enough. She died there in the kitchen, the victim of an alliance between breakfast and faulty wiring, and as she collapsed her last thoughts were of her career as an astronaut.
It’s a tragic story. It’s also a story that I have experienced a dozen times before in the various iterations of The Sims game. This dynamic, sad narrative is one that could be in the original game or any of the sequels. In my disappointment and sadness over the death of this sim that I had grown to really like, I caught myself wondering if there was a content pack for The Sims 4 that might make this kind of tragedy more interesting.
The Sims 4 has four major expansion packs and more than a dozen “game packs” and “stuff packs.” The expansions add bigger, more interesting things (like pets), and the others tend to augment or simply add more customization options to the things that are already implemented (like more restaurants or clothes for toddlers). While The Sims might encourage you to think about all of the options that you have inside of the content that I already own, it is the specter of these content packs that animates a lot of how I have been playing The Sims 4.
What it be like if there were vampires in my game? I wonder. This game has me caught in a vice between two feelings: One is that this is the same damn game I have been playing for fifteen years; the other is that this game could be fundamentally different if I spent a little more money on it.
I’m not often lured by loot crates or boxes of in-game items. As far as I know, the only time I have ever spent money to unlock items in a game was earlier this year when PUBG allowed you to get items inspired by Battle Royale for a short time. But I am infinitely lured by my own speculation that The Sims might turn a corner into a truly new type of game if I spend $15 on a pack of new content.
My fantasy that the monotony of sim life might be broken if I spend a little more money is a recreation of how we’re intended to play these games. In the game, I buy marginal upgrades for my shower so that my sim’s life gets marginally better, but it never really changes. The same thing can be said for me, and it’s been this way for half of my life. And yet here I am, again, eyeing the sales that accompany all of The Sims on this week of sales and mass consumption.
The horrible thing, I think, is that I can see it and I don’t care. I’m going to buy that vampire pack. I’m going to get a pack of new jobs for my sims. I’ll play the game the same way, again, and hope that it changes totally. Maybe French toast won’t be the killer this time; maybe things will be completely different once I throw more money into the game. And yet, in my heart, I know that’s not the case.
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