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Homelessness in The Sims 3

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Friday, Jul 31, 2009
A look at an experiment that makes a family of Sims homeless in The Sims 3.

The Sims 3, like all the Sim games and really anything by Will Wright, is a playground in which we can make our own stories. Sometimes we try to keep thing realistic, but the potential for insanity is never far away. The Sims has always been a great source for over-the-top melodrama befitting the worst daytime soap, but it’s also a source of far more serious stories.


One that stands out is the blog “Alice and Kev.” Alice and Kev are homeless Sims. Kev is described as “…mean-spirited, quick to anger, and inappropriate. He also dislikes children, and he’s insane. He’s basically the worst Dad in the world.” His daughter Alice “…has a kind heart, but suffers from clumsiness and low self-esteem.” Each blog post is a snapshot of their daily lives, and while some are humorous, there’s an undercurrent of sadness running through the entire blog. Reading about the hardships Alice faces while trying to go to school and dealing with a father who hates her is frighteningly realistic, and seeing the joy she gets out of simple things like a good meal and a bed are both heartwarming and heartbreaking. Kev provides some comic relief with his haphazard attempts at love, but it’s also hard not to feel sorry for him when his attempts constantly fail, and the drama returns when he comes back “home” and takes his anger out on Alice. It’s a captivating story in its own right, but this premise has been done before with The Sims 2 and can be reproduced by anyone who has the game, what really makes “Alice and Kev” unique is its presentation.


Its blog reads like a documentary. Its creator, Robin Burkinshaw, takes himself out of the story as much as possible. He doesn’t mention himself in the writing unless he’s talking about a specific aspect of the game, such as personality traits or life goals. He doesn’t even exert much control over Alice and Kev, or at least that’s how it seems. Of course he must exert some control over them, and the fact that this story may be purposefully constructed is always in the back of the reader’s mind. At one point Kev starts walking and doesn’t stop, wandering the open land for a couple days before returning home. A commenter points out that Sims don’t normally do this, and it’s entirely possible that Robin made Kev go away so Alice could have a chance to bond with a neighbor. But exactly how much control Robin exerts over the Sims is irrelevant, it’s how much control he’s perceived to exert that matters. And since he doesn’t mention himself much in each post, his presence is easily forgotten.


By removing himself, the player, from the story, Robin has switched the focus to the characters. The blog becomes a story about the Sims, not of someone playing The Sims. This makes it more appealing because it seems as if this story doesn’t have an author. Even though it’s clearly a straight narrative, since the characters are the focus and the player is (almost) nowhere to be seen, events feel natural, spontaneous, and unpredictable. There’s an authenticity to their actions: Even though they may just be AI, the AI is making these decisions on its own. The possibilities of what these Sims might do, free from any player input, is just as fascinating as the actual story of their lives. 


The blog is on hiatus now, but there are more than enough posts already written to introduce new readers and make them care. No matter what comes next, “Alice and Kev” has proved itself to be a unique kind of story: Part game, part documentary, Robin has turned the open world of The Sims 3 into a directed social commentary. I don’t know when the posts will resume again, but I know I’ll be watching closely.

Tagged as: the sims 3
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