My SimSelf had just gone through a breakup. Determined to stop relying on men for happiness, she decided to focus on her career. And so, like a trooper, she sat down at her computer and began to write.
But she was still sad: every few minutes she'd stop what she was doing, hunch over her keyboard, and sigh.
With its new Emotions system, The Sims 4 has brought Sims much closer to life. These Sims can embarrass themselves in social situations, and then recover with a self-deprecating joke, get a burst of confidence from doing something they're good at, or cry it out in bed because nobody bothered to celebrate their birthday.
What they can also do, I realised during an excessive play session one lonely weekend, is drown out their negative emotions with positive ones. As I sat trying to fight my own malaise with an unreasonable dose of video games, I watched my Sim work through enjoyable actions until her satisfaction outweighed her dissatisfaction and she flipped from sad-blue to happy-green, and I thought, "That's not a bad idea." I stuck on the Pitch Perfect soundtrack and imagined my own little Moodlet – +4 to happiness – tipping my emotional scales. It worked.
The great thing about being a Sim is that there really is a higher power that can come along and fix your problems for you. We can't rely on that, but we can waste an entire weekend playing The Sims 4 and call it research. What other lessons can we learn from how Sims live? I'm glad you asked.
This first bit is kind of cheating because I already knew it from real-life experience, but the different career tracks available to Sims make it clear: don't be a journalist. In The Sims 4, as measured by the amount of money a Sim can expect to bring in per week at the top of the career ladder, journalism is one of the lowest-paid jobs you can take, only slightly more profitable than being a patron of the arts or a mixologist. You're better off working in business. Or crime.
In fact, in The Sims 4 your best option is to avoid a traditional job altogether and make money from selling your creative works: paintings and books. The great thing about this is that you can work much longer than a 9-to-5, and it only takes a Sim four hours to write one book, whether children's book or biography, so you can crack out several in one day.
Quit your job. Start writing novels.
BUILD A ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP
The Sims 4 – and I – would recommend that you avoid making anything official with the person you like so that you can continue to flirt with whomever else you want without the risk of jealousy. Also, the length of time for which a Sim gets a happiness boost from a new relationship is shorter than the sad Moodlet they get for a breakup, even if they initiate it, and while I don't have a lot of data on this kind of thing I can only assume it works the same for humans.
However, The Sims 4 has taught me that there are advantages to a romantic relationship that you can't get from no-strings fun, most notably that you can go to that person's house and sleep there, eat their food, or even do some cleaning and they're not allowed to get annoyed about it.
So, if you're really set on this whole relationship thing, here are some lessons from The Sims 4:
A Sim's romantic advances are more likely to be successful if they already have a friendly relationship with their target, with a higher success rate the better friends they are.
Make friends with that person you like. Find out their interests and talk about them. Invite them for a friendly sleepover. Tell them your secrets. Become their BFF. Then hit on them.
Play it safe
Some romantic interactions are less risky than others, so build things up with those less likely to be rejected: ask if they're single (it doesn't matter if they're not, as long as you're okay with making an enemy of their current partner), flirt, try a pick-up line. Don't just go in for a kiss.
Set the mood
Mood matters, for both parties. In The Sims 4, different emotions boost success rates by a different amount; from most to least effective: very flirt, very happy/confident, flirty, dazed, happy/confident, playful, energised/inspired/focused.
If you're a painter, you could try painting some flirty pictures and positioning them around where you want the date to happen. If you're a writer, you could send the object of your admiration a love email to get them in the mood. If you don't have the skill to make someone feel flirty or happy, try something further down the chain. In The Sims 4, Sims can get dazed from drinking too much coffee; why not have the date in a cafe? The drinks are on you.
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GET THROUGH THAT BIT THAT COMES AFTER THE RELATIONSHIP
When Sims break up, it puts their relationship in the red (the "Break Up" interaction is under "Mean" in the dialogue wheel) and makes both parties (let's call them the breaker and the broken) sad, which I would've scorned until I experienced it for myself.
Thankfully, this sadness is always temporary, and for Sims always lasts the same amount of time: ten hours. (A side note: the "Drifting Love" Moodlet for when your Sim catches their loved one flirting with somebody else is worth more sadness and lasts for longer, so if you suspect your partner might do this to you then a pre-emptive breakup is probably your best bet.)
As explained in the intro, the way to negate unhappy feelings is to overwhelm them with happy ones. One way to do this in The Sims 4 and in real life is to find somebody new with whom to have a first kiss (+2 happiness) and first "WooHoo" (+2 happiness), though choose your partner carefully: unsatisfactory "WooHoo" will just result in discomfort or embarrassment rather than the happy glow you're after.
COPE WITH LOSS
The best way to avoid the pain of losing a loved one is to never have any in the first place. Instead make enemies, and then you'll get a boost every time one of them dies.
If that doesn't work for you, the important thing is not to witness the death. In The Sims 4, the death of a loved one causes a Moodlet that gives them 2 points of sadness for just four hours, which is less time than a breakup (so your post-breakup strategy of sex with somebody new will also work here). If the Sim is actually present when their loved one passes, however, they get a whopping 5 points of sadness for two whole days. To avoid this, stay well away from elderly relatives and anyone else who's at death's door.
DEAL WITH NEGATIVE EMOTIONS
As in real life, the strongest negative feeling a Sim can experience is childbirth. Whether all-consuming pain is worth the mild satisfaction you get as a reward is up to you.
For other negative emotions, The Sims 4 has quick fixes. Angry? Try some chamomile tea. Embarrassed? Go and hide from the world under the covers. Tense? Find a mirror and talk to yourself until you calm down.
The catchall method for dealing with negative emotions is one I use myself: go to sleep. You can't feel sad if you're unconscious.
COMPENSATE FOR YOUR PERSONALITY
Another clever feature in The Sims 4 is the way the Emotions system is affected by Sims' personalities. Take, for example, another uncomfortable mirror to real life: Sims with the Gloomy personality trait suffer worse at the end of a relationship, getting the "Devastating Breakup" Moodlet worth 3 points of sadness rather than the regular 2-point "Break Up Blues", and thus have to work harder to get out of that slump. I saw my reflection in Outgoing Sims who get Very Lonely (+2 sadness) rather than regular Lonely (+1) when their social need is low.
Personality traits can affect more than just sadness. Sims with the Ambitious trait don't do well in self-employment because of a lack of obvious career progression. Loners get tense around strangers and are thus better off shutting themselves off from the outside world. Geeks can get focused by playing video games (you can take that one to your teacher/boss).
If you're neat, consider marrying a slob. Their disregard for cleanliness will leave you with lots of fun chores to do.
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MASTER YOUR LIFE
I'm not the only one who's noticed how good Sims are at overcoming the challenges humans face. Two-and-a-half years ago, before the release of The Sims 4, a man called Oliver Emberton wrote an article on Quora called "How to Master Your Life" that optimistically stated:
"The secrets to love, life and happiness can be unlocked with three simple words: Play. The. Sims."
I had a quick look at Emberton's Twitter and it is absolutely chock-full of inspirational quotes. He also describes himself as a "challenge addict" and has more followers than me, so he must know what he's talking about.
Emberton only has four lessons he's taken from The Sims, but they're still useful: "good decisions require little thought" (basically: just do something), "nurture your state" (eat when hungry, sleep when tired, pee when necessary), and "build selected skills" (focus on a few skills and don't try to be good at everything).
The final one is my favourite. "The game is indifferent," Emberton writes. "There's no winning The Sims. Everyone dies. There's no high score. You live your life how you want, and you alone judge what to make of it as it rolls by."
Your life is what you make of it. Your time is your own. Thanks for wasting some of it on reading this.
The Sims 4 is out now on Windows and OS X
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