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The Sims 3: Pets

(Electronic Arts; US: 18 Oct 2011)

I am a fan of The Sims.  I have enjoyed it through a number of iterations and on a number of platforms, both PC and console.  That being said, I’ve never really been much of a sandbox gamer.


I like goals.  I want a game to drive me in a direction, tell me a story, give me that sense of satisfaction in beating it.  As a result, I am one of those weird players who has generally enjoyed The Sims on consoles, more so than on its “home platform,” the PC.  Despite lower res graphics, longer load times, rather silly plot lines, and usually problematic control schemes, The Sims on a console keeps me playing, whereas while I enjoy building a sim household in the PC sandbox versions of the game, at some point I typically find my interests in free form sim play fizzle into boredom.  I just need to feel like I’ve gotten somewhere by playing for a game to fully matter for me.


In this regard, I rather liked the focus of The Sims 3 on lifetime goals, mini-goals, and the like.  It made my PC experience a bit more fulfilling than it usually is.


I know that for most folks the likely appeal of The Sims 3: Pets is that subtitle that follows the colon in its title.  And, yes, there are doggies and kitties in this version of The Sims (and I will discuss them in a bit).  However, what I was most impressed by is that this console version of the game is so very much more polished than previous versions of The Sims on consoles, while still retaining a more goal-driven version of The Sims than its PC counterpart (at least the “plain Jane” version of The Sims 3).


While Sims ports to the console have always struggled with making the transition from the elegance of the mouse-driven simulation to the clunkier controller (making issuing your sims orders and navigating the overhead world of The Sims awkward at best) this version of the game is tremendously successful at creating a sensible control scheme via the controller.  I was initially put off by this scheme, which essentially maps something like visual menus to buttons on the controller.  It isn’t intuitive.  However, after a half hour or so (when the alien nature of this configuration finally sunks in), it became for me the most efficient system that I have seen in interfacing with a Sims title on a console.


Additionally, instead of giving you rather simplistic narrative goals, like attempting to move out of your mom’s house and then for some reason shuttling you between different and progressively weirder types of homes (from the trailer park to a spooky gothic manor for contrived reasons) as you do in The Sims: Bustin’ Out, for example), the game merely adds a treasure hunting subplot that is related to learning the history of the coastal town that your sims occupy.


Between this little series of adventures and the aforementioned titular pets, I found that my console experience with The Sims 3: Pets was considerably more engrossing than my PC experience with The Sims 3 last year.


The pets, of course, add a layer of complexity to sim life with both dogs and cats (of a rather large variety of breeds that can also be cross bred) requiring normal mood maintenance.  Each type of animal can be controlled like a normal sim and has normal needs, like satisfying hunger, the desire for fun, and replenishing energy through sleep.  Hygiene is replaced as a need (though bathing pets is still necessary to keep your house clean), though, by a dog’s need for destruction and a cat’s need to scratch, leading to the need to train animals to channel these energies in the appropriate directions.


Better still, though (again, for me), is how the pets are integrated into the “storyline” of the game.  Dogs can dig and cats can stalk and hunt, skills that aid in treasure hunting quests.  One of my problems with my experience of The Sims 3 is that—despite the addition of easier ways to transition the world and more city life to experience through maps that don’t require constant reloading during travel—as an achiever-type of gamer, I still tended to hunker down in my house in the game and grind out skills to achieve my goals.  As a result, I really experienced very little of what the game offered in terms of exploration.  The treasure hunting quests (and the fact that I can bring my doggy and kitty pals along to help out on them) drove me to “get out more” in the game, which made me realize just how cool a trip to the beach with the Sims or a night out in town square could be.


Strangely, The Sims 3: Pets put me, as a gamer, on more of a leash, and I frankly like it all the more for doing so.

Rating:

G. Christopher Williams is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He posts his weekly contribution to the Moving Pixels blog at PopMatters every Wednesday. Besides also serving as Multimedia Editor at PopMatters and writing at his own blog, 8-bit confessional, he has also published essays in journals like Film Criticism, PostScript, and the Popular Culture Review. You won't find him on Twitter, but you can drop him a line with that old fashioned thing called e-mail at williams@popmatters.com.


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