How ‘The Sims’ Turned Me into a Virtual Sociopath
BBC Radio 1's Phil Taggart recalls his murderous approach to playing the classic life-simulation game.
I first got into The Sims in 2000, after playing the SimCity games, by the same developer. It was a natural continuation from that. I was never really that astute at "joystick games," and I was rubbish at first-person shooters—my motor neuron skills proved incompatible with a control pad. Just clicking a mouse to make a decision was much easier. I had consoles when I was younger, but I was absolutely rubbish at most of the games—which was a positive thing for my social life, but something of a detriment when it comes to doing pieces like this. I've never, ever completed a full computer game, but I've played lots.
But The Sims isn't really a game you needed to complete. There's no real way you can fail at it—and the more you play it, the better you get. With The Sims, it's just like life: What are you judging it upon? On who's terms are you judging whether or not you're doing well on The Sims? It's like Championship Manager in that respect, another game that I was into at around the same time, when I was about 13. I remember my sister putting it the best way, with regard to Championship Manager: "I don't get it. You've just been sitting there, staring at those stupid spread sheets, for four hours." And she's not wrong.
Both The Sims and Championship Manager are games that I know some people have a hard time understanding. My mum would come over when I'd be playing The Sims, and ask what I was doing, and I'd try to explain that I'd created this whole other life. And she'd be like, "You're not going out with your friends tonight, or around to your auntie's, because you're creating this other life in a computer game?" She thought that was bonkers.
Playing The Sims for the first time was probably my original journey into shutting myself off to the rest of the world. The PC was in the corner of the living room, but I'd have my headphones on, listening to Pantera and Alice in Chains while I played, clicking my way through making up all these fabulous lives. And the game was completely what you made of it. It's not obviously as violent as some of those shooters, but I still used it as an outlet.
You could cause some real terror to the little Sims – I never really played the game to "succeed." I wasn't the player full of aspirations, who wanted to have the best business card, the best job, or the best girlfriend. I played it to wreak as much havoc as possible. And the violence you could find in it was much darker than the stuff you'd see in Manhunt, or Grand Theft Auto. With those games, it's just mindless rage. You don't stick a crowbar into someone's head in those games, and then phone up that guy's wife, invite her over and start kissing her straight afterwards. But that's what used to happen when I played The Sims.
My friends would come over, and we'd play the game together. We'd find really creative ways to kill people. I know this is making me sound like some kind of teenage sociopath, but I know a lot of my friends played The Sims in a very similar fashion. But we'd create all our friends, first, before we did anything else—our real friends, in the game. You had to do that. I'd make it so the game versions of my friends would kiss each other. I'd show them: "Look at what youse are doing." They did not like that.
I sort of had a girlfriend for a while, when I was 13, so I made her in the game, and I moved her in with me. I was an adult in The Sims, so there was nothing my mum could say. "Sorry mum, I'm a grown-up, and my girlfriend's moving in." Into my little house on the internet—well, not even the internet, just on this computer in the corner of the living room. We broke up after just a couple of weeks though, in real life, so my friend Mickey and I, we hatched a plan.
You could pause the game to erect walls, in build mode, and when you did so all the people just stopped. So you could build walls around people. We built one around her, and she proceeded to wet herself over two days in there, trapped. We installed a bookcase and a fire, and then she died. The Sims was a really creative game, for sadists. My friend then created my girlfriend, after I got dumped, in his game, and moved her in with him. That was not cool.
But Mickey did something worse than me killing my girlfriend. He managed to invite around the wife of a family that lived in his neighborhood, and was getting it on with her—this is in the game, I have to stress. He created a relationship for them, and they were living in sin for a couple of Sims months. Then he decided to kill her: "I'm bored of this." So he built a wall around her, and watched her slowly deteriorate. And then, when she was dead, he invited the husband around, and did the same to him. The sick fuck then invited around the son of this couple, and brought him around the back. The son saw his parents' tombstones, which would appear there when a character died, and just started crying. And then he did the same thing to the son.
The Sims taught me a lot. It taught me that if you get married to someone, you will definitely get them pregnant the first time you sleep with them. It taught me about rough neighborhoods, because the one it was set in must have been one of the worst in the world—your house would get burgled once a month, without fail. It taught me that the home life of a male divorcee is much like that of a 13-year-old boy. You made your character in your own image, so everything was in your room, and the only things outside of it was the fridge, and a mess. Now look at the habits of a single, divorced man: you see his house, it's the same as a 13-year-old's. Everything is in the same room, and the rest of the place is a barren wasteland.
It also gave you a really false sense of reality, because in the game people, neighbors, would just pop around to your house all the time. Like, every day, three neighbors would just come around. If three neighbors came round to my parents' house, today, my dad would be sitting out on the porch with a blunderbuss.
I never had the attention span to play The Sims for any real length of time, as immersive as it was—I was more into it to just cause havoc. I mean, the only real reasons for playing video games are to simulate the playing of football, or to cause mayhem. Finding cruel ways to mess people up was what it was all about. The Sims taught me that if you invite someone around to swim in your pool, and you take the ladder out, they will die. Weirdly, there was no kind of retribution for these actions. This is making me sound like some kind of psychopath, but when you're a 13-year-old, red-blooded male, all that's going on in your pre-pubescent head is girls and chaos.
I never really talked about The Sims at school much, though, or any other games. We were actually pretty laddish. That's one of the most interesting things about playing computer games when you're 13 or 14 at an all-boys school, the dichotomy: the person who goes home to play computer games, but the lad full of bravado in the classroom. You go home to play Pokémon, and that's okay. But under no circumstances do you tell anyone at school about it, apart from really close-knit friends. You'd look at first years, when you're in the second year, talking about Pokémon: "What the fuck are you playing that for, you little dickhead?" When actually you're desperately after Mew, too.
As told to Mike Diver, in a pub, over a pint of the black stuff. Phil Taggart's opinions and experiences expressed above obviously do not reflect any official BBC standpoint on how to play The Sims, or handle teenage breakups. Phil can be heard on Radio 1 every Thursday and Sunday night. He no longer plays The Sims, which is probably for the best.
Follow Phil Taggart on Twitter.
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- The Sims
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- The Game That Made Me
- Championship Manager