Why The Sims is culturally significant
Updated: Jan 29, 2019
Power fantasies are a common part of video games. While gaming in the 2000s fulfilled these fantasies by hacking, slashing and zombie-bashing, Will Wright had started a franchise that would provide a fresh and cathartic experience and one that would change the landscape of gaming.
Holly Green from Paste magazine describes The Sims as “a great place to explore high risk scenarios in a risk free environment” and Maxis’ own board of directors described it as an "Interactive Doll House" when it was pitched (although this was given as a thinly-veiled insult at the time). In the 2000 release, simply titled The Sims, players are given a virtual neighbourhood in which they can build and design their own houses, create avatars to control in those houses and play God to a small world all of their own. (Green, 2017. Seabrook, 2006)
During production, Wright has stated that he came up with the idea after losing his house in a fire and trying to categorise all of the new items he had to purchase by what needs they fulfilled, aiming to end with as few needs as possible. He settled on eight needs: hunger, hygiene, bladder, comfort, energy, social, fun, and room. These needs became integral to the games mechanics, since they are affected by the player’s actions. Compressing household items into these basic needs gave players a watered-down model of their own lives and a huge sense of catharsis along with it. Despite the doubts of those at the top, the game was a huge hit.The Sims went on to sell 11 million copies, becoming the greatest selling PC game of all time, holding this accolade for four years. (Seabrook, 2006. Taylor, 2011)
It has been theorised that virtual environments like the ones found in The Sims appeal to what is known as The Proteus Effect. The Proteus Effect states that the risk-free factor of a virtual environment allows players to fulfil any fantasy that the game allows. In the case of The Sims, that could include renovating a replica of a player’s own house to determine how certain features or colours will look or making avatars of your enemies and causing them insufferable agony, all without consequence, moral, financial or otherwise. (Bailenson & Yee, 2007. Green, 2018)
The true significance of the franchise can be found within its player base. A survey of over 270,000 gamers determined that 69% of those who play family and farming simulators (such as The Sims) are female. The introduction of this game caused a huge surge in the number of females taking up video games as a pastime. This has been credited to the fact that 40% of Wright’s development team on the original Sims title and he consistently sought his daughter’s opinion on the game. (Seabrook, 2006. Yee, 2017)
To conclude, The Sims deserves to be recognised as a culturally significant way because it represented a power fantasy within a realistic space, it increased the number of female gamers by a huge margin and it hit record sales numbers while simultaneously spawning an entirely new genre.
Bailenson, A & Yee, N. (2007). The Proteus Effect: The Effect of Transformed Self-Representation on Behavior. Human Communication Research. 33 (1), 271-290.
Green, H. (2018). What The Sims Teaches Us about Avatars and Identity. Available: https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2018/01/what-the-sims-teaches-us-about-avatars-and-identit.html. Last accessed 28th Jan 2019.
Seabrook, J. (2006). Will Wright changed the concept of video games with the Sims. Can he do it again with Spore?. Available: https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2006/11/06/game-master. Last accessed 27th Jan 2019.
Taylor, T. (2011). Will Wright: Inspired to make The Sims after losing a home. Available: https://www.berkeleyside.com/2011/10/17/will-wright-inspired-to-make-the-sims-after-iosing-a-home. Last accessed 27th Jan 2019.
Yee, N. (2017). Beyond 50/50: Breaking Down The Percentage of Female Gamers by Genre. Available: https://quanticfoundry.com/2017/01/19/female-gamers-by-genre/. Last accessed 27th Jan 2019.