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What's in a game?

I do not have an addictive personality. Really. Look at me - I'm nearly twenty-eight, I don't smoke, I drink only on occasion, and I have chocolate consumption down to about once a week. On the other hand - I'm a quitter - I can give up just about anything, including university, hard work, and replying to my emails. Where am I going with this? Enough of the boring bits, onto this quasi-review of the Sims!

I'm a bit in love the the Nintendo DS. It happens with me and fairly average electronic games. Exhibit A: Commander Keen. One through nine, I was there, tapping away on the PC. Exhibit B: Final Fantasy. Yes, yes. Now you all know my shameful, guilty geek-ret. I went through a nerdish, avoiding study phase of clocking hundreds of hours on a PS. Sigh. Exhibit C: having completed a university degree, developed a life and some friends, occasionally I'd play a bit of minesweeper, spider solitaire, frozen bubble, crack attack or similar to pass the time. Exhibit D: Spongebob Squarepants and Voodoo Vince on the x-box. Oh Yeah. Fastforward, fastforward, fastforward through a couple of years of tame spider solitaire years, and then, a Nintendo DS comes into the family. It's not mine, that would be sad. However, I do like to try new things...

First thing I tried was the Spiderwick game. I played it for about three days before getting hopelessly stuck 44% of the way through the game, pretended I didn't care for a day, and then frantically searched the forums and walkthroughs of anything I could find and concluded that Spiderwick sucks. And to be honest, it was pretty repetitive and flawed. Particularly when an fairly experienced gamer like myself can become hopelessly stuck less than 50% of the way through.

The second game I tried, and the main reason I'm writing the entry actually, was The Sims 2 Pets.

And there went two days of my life.

The premise of The Sims 2 Pets is thus: you are a vet. You run a vetinary practice in your town. You have the option to fix pets up or refer them, and you also have to live your own life, Sims style.

Sounds lame? It is. Once you've mastered the art of cooking an egg to provide your Sim with sustainence, and working out how long to keep each animal before getting paid sinful quantities of cash by doting pet owners, it gets insanely repetitive.

Why did I spend two days on it? You ask. I'm a relatively intelligent individual. And I'm one of the least materialistic people I know. Unless I'm on an unreasonable splurge - and I can probably count on one hand the amount of time's THAT'S happened - I only really buy stuff I need So why do I sit down to be a Sim and get all "must succeed, must earn money, must buy new things"?

It kind of got me thinking - is the Sims an ironic social commentary about life and humanity, or is it just a repetitive, programming coup de gras that sent the makers in paroxyms of glorious money making?

So I played. At first, it was because I wanted to see what would happen in the game. What was the point? What could I acheive? And when would I get bored and opt out? So I played. I learned how to look after the pets, how to keep their owners happy, how to keep my Sim happy, and ran my vet clinic day to day, increasing my vet's status.

At this stage, my aim was to upgrade to the biggest house I could, get some nifty furniture, and upgrade my vet clinic. I also wanted to acheive as much as I could as a vet, because that seemed to be the point of the game. So I kept it going. And just like I imagine a life where your entire life is working, it got pretty boring. Occasionally, the idea of self sabotage popped into my head... what would happen if I lost my reputation as a good vet? What would happen if I killed my Sim? But I kept on.

It didn't take me all that long to buy a massive quantity of posessions, but I decided to try and expand the clinic in order to make more money (where WAS this materialism coming from?) so I just had the minimum amount of furniture in my clinic and started treating up to nine animals at once. Using this strategy, I reached the genius level of vet really quite fast... and couldn't go any further than that.

I continued to treat animals for about half an hour of real time... to be honest, I'd been thrown into an existential crisis. I'd acheived everything I possibly could, as a Sim. I was a genius vet. My community respected me. I owned everything I possibly could own. What more was there to life?


And the futility of it depressed the hell out of me, so I stopped playing.

So what could the Sims game have done to keep me hooked? (Not that they need to keep me hooked; once I've bought it I've bought it) Well, it needed something more. That's what's missing in the Sims; a Sim might need food, hygeine, the toilet, company, and rest; it might work and make money and buy nice things and live out a lifetime of very similar days, but a Sim really needs something else... something that keeps regular people plugging away in a life of futility.

Something recreational. Something to unwind. Something fun.

Maybe they should invent a NintendoDS for Sims... then you could play the Sims inside the Sims? That would keep you going for at least another couple of days...

Image courtesy of alt1040.

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