November 20, 2012 by Xiaoxin
The Sims: No Parody of Consumerism
The Sims may be one of very few games that terrible gamers such as myself who do not even know how to walk in complicated action games can play without being embarrassed. As Gonzalo Frasca describes in his essay “The Sims: Grandmothers are cooler than trolls,” the Sims is “more about life administration” than about surviving gunfire or zombie attacks. In the Sims, whether they are daily routines such as teeth brushing, or significant life milestones such as marriage, all could be achieved by following a rather systematic approach and making logical decisions in the game; just as you do in real life. Even cheating, or setting the house on fire as we did for our radical lab, was systematic. We gathered flammable materials, set the fire, and blocked all possibilities of getting help. In-game consequences are so malleable and predictable that they fit perfectly with players’ expectation, which comes from his or her real life experience. Upon my observation, I agree with Frasca that the Sims was not designed with the intention to create a parody of consumerism, because it achieves consistency in prompting the players to consume, recognizing the players’ pleasure in purchases, and rewarding players accordingly.
It is true that consumerism is prevalent in the Sims. However, even though the sims speak gibberish and have comical appearance, it is necessary to recognize that the point of the game is essentially buying various goods, decorating the house, and live the virtual life to the fullest. In games such as Grand Theft Auto, apart from committing stereotypical racist conducts, players also experience the intensity and excitement that comes from car racing and gun firing. As for the Sims, in contrast, player’s pleasure comes only from acquiring fancier goods and accomplishing a better quality of life. If the game was designed to be a parody, it should have been designed in a way so that only an overwhelming, or even annoying level of nonsense consumption could have helped the players to further advance in the game. This is not the case for the Sims at all. When a player enters the game, he or she is not only agreeing to the premise that one will be pleasing one’s virtual character with shopping and spending, but also recognizing the fact that oneself will be deriving sincere pleasure from purchases and decorations. Further, the Sims recognizes players’ intention of playing the game, and establishes a mechanism to reward the players. Frasca also mentions this reward system in his essay, saying the more goods the character has, the more virtual friends he or she will have. Throughout the gameplay in lab, we spent much more time interacting with the character’s virtual friends than buying and maintaining goods. It is the consistency in the game’s attitude towards consumerism that makes it more of a simulation than a parody.
With that being said, the freedom and choices the Sims provides with its players are often times amusing. Keeping a pet horse and wearing a motorcycle helmet twenty-four seven is not an authentic simulation of any ordinary person’s real life. I consider such freedom an embedment of the designer’s flexibility and playfulness rather than an intended satire. It is not fair to, as far as I consider, conclude that the game is a parody of consumerism because of some players’ abusive freedom in the game. Our gameplay experience in lab is an example in case. We manipulated the character to act and react in such abnormal way in order to experience something that the game designer did not intend for its players to do: to kill the sims. Our intention of testing the limit of and creating chaos in the game distinguishes us from typical players of the Sims, those who truly enjoy creating a better life for their virtual characters in the game. With that being said, even in this extreme case, the purchases that we made in the game served a certain purpose. The carpet and the stove were used for setting up fire and the walls for blocking firemen. Whether prompted by good or bad intention, the purchases of players in the game are oriented and meaningful, and thus can eventually lead to significant consequences in the game diegesis. This further proves that the Sims is not designed to be a parody of consumerism.
Not being a parody of consumerism does not mean that the Sims makes absolutely no comments on it. Through continuously exposing its players to material good and consumption, the Sims creates a platform for the players to reflect on their own ambition in real life. However, it is equally important to recognize that the game has more to offer than to making a critique on this long prevailing American ideology.
Gonzalo Frasca, “The Sims: Grandmothers Are Cooler Than Trolls,” Game Studies 1,
no. 1 (2001).