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‘The Sims’ Isn’t Really About Living—It’s Actually About Not Dying

‘The Sims’ Isn’t Really About Living—It’s Actually About Not Dying:

Fancy graphics are fine, but all gamers know in their hearts that nothing will ever top the drama of Final Fantasy VII or the pure physicality of Super Mario Bros. 3. Playboy’s Retro Gaming articles look at why we love the classics and give you your nostalgia fix.


We’re born, we grow, we die. When simulating life, death must be simulated alongside. In The Sims, this is, of course, law. Those who live will eventually die.

Each edition of The Sims has featured death in some way, with each offering chances at redemption and resurrection, in some way or another. Whether you have to pay a fine to the Grim Reaper itself, beat it in a fiddle battle or eat mystical cow fruit, there’s often a way to cheat death in The Sims—up to a point.

Even if you never set your Sims on fire and kill them, lock them in a swimming pool without a ladder (as the joke goes) or subject them to a form of torture fitting for the Saw franchise, your Sims will eventually grow old and die. Unless you’re playing the original game, or one of the versions not on PC where Sims never age, your character will become an elder.

There’s no proselytizing about the past or beating the young’uns with a stick calling them whippersnappers though—againg in The Sims is more a reminder of mortality and oncoming death than anything else.

DEATH WILL FOLLOW

Originally introduced in The Sims 2, dying of old age is a constant possibility when a character is an elder. Each game has its own modifiers that influence how long a Sim will live, like being a vegetarian or living a fulfilled life. But ultimately you never know when a Sim will simply pass away. It could happen suddenly, or they could live to be well over 100 days old (Sim years are sort of like dog years).

Before they die, it’s possible to find ways to cheat death. Once they’ve kicked the Sim bucket, though, you’re limited in what to do. Certain expansions did offer new options, such as using the Resurrect-O-Nomitron—a tongue-in-cheek H.P. Lovecraft/Evil Dead reference—or having a pet irritate the Grim Reaper to the point where they will bring your Sim back to life. But these methods depend on being set up prior to shuffling off. Many of them are also limited by how well you did in life. They require certain skills or immense amounts of money—or simply happiness.

Many of these methods aren’t clear to the new player, and I personally take death to be an inevitability in The Sims. One day, my Sims will die. They are mortal, and everything must pass. So there’s a pressure: make your Sims happy and find ways to cheat death, or watch them die.

It’s somewhat morbid. Your failures could spell the early demise of these characters you’ve raised and guided. Failures in the game always feel like a few days shaved off my Sims’ lives. Wasting money makes me feel like I’m wasting their lives.

Whenever I play The Sims I’m racing against a countdown to death. Despite the jolly atmosphere, and the way it often makes light of death, these characters will, eventually, be pushing up daisies. I’ve put time in them, chances are I’ll be attached to this character. Days of my life, raising this character to be the best bloody man or woman they can be, culminating in the swish of the Grim Reaper’s skeletal sickle, a gravestone, and a translucent silhouette of my beloved character.

THE PURSUIT OF IMMORTALITY

While The Sims allows you to take control of one character and play as them, there’s no protagonist, no face for you. Instead you’re an omnipresent force. While you can create stories, and they can create themselves, you are faceless. You can move across the city, controlling the actions of the many people that live there. You can pause time, speed it up, watch as the people dart around the city and live their simulated lives. Raise houses with a click of your finger, or simply close the game and cause the world to disappear until you start it again. From the start, it’s set. You are just about a god.

Just about, though. Not quite omnipotent. The one limitation isn’t fully revealed until someone is pining for the fjords. The one thing you cannot control is death. You can postpone it, helping everyone lead happy lives, but there’s no button to reverse the cycle of life and death. There are ways, but unfortunately, you can’t do it yourself. Your Sims are the ones who need to do it.

It’s not easy to cheat death. You’re not just going to find the Holy Grail in your attic. That well in your back garden isn’t going to turn out to be the fountain of youth. The ways for you to reverse the aging process or simply come back from the dead are far more complex than that.

We then come back to the same issue that limits a Sim’s initial lifespan: their skills, happiness, and success. While we are a god, a Sim is but an avatar, and succumbs to the weaknesses that follow as one. Without going along the right path, you may never find the keys to unlock life and death. Not being efficient, not making them level up the right skills or move along the right career path will mean they won’t be immortal.

But eventually, you might just find it. Like a mad scientist sacrificing everything that the Sim has, perhaps allowing many Sims to die in the process, you might find the Ambrosia. The Cowplant’s milk. The Book of Life.

For me, The Sims isn’t about creating life. It isn’t about making people happy. It isn’t about locking that one character you hate in a small, square room until they starve to death. It’s about discovering the final power that grants true omnipotence: power over death. Once you’ve found those secrets, then you’re truly the god The Sims wants you to be.


Hannah Dwan is a freelance games journalist who spends too much time rambling about her favorite titles. You can see those opinions at @hoeyboey.


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