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Maxis

(Electronic Arts; US: 6 Mar 2012)

While certainly an interactive experience, in some ways The Sims has always been as much about spectacle as it is about decision making and strategy.


The Sims is a kind of time management game, a game that obviously emphasizes planning the most effective use of your time as its central strategic concern.  Sure, you need to make friends with your boss and co-workers to get a promotion or you want to improve your cooking skills, but when will you have the time to actually eat a meal or get some decent sleep or, heck, use the bathroom?


However, managing the lives of your sims is in some way all in service to seeing what they will do, how they will react, or—better still—what sorts of little domestic comedies and tragedies will play out before your eyes as you efficiently manage the more mundane details of their lives.


The mundane and the breaks in it (your daughter just started dating a guy 10 years her senior, the ghost of your ex keeps haunting your upstairs bedroom, your current wife is sleeping with the pool boy… again) is the show.


The one area of mundane existence that The Sims has generally not provided much opportunity to play voyeur to is in its work environments.  Sure, Sims go to work and you have the chance to select from a few options to consider how to spend your work day.  However, they just disappear into a building for a few hours, which leaves you either fast forwarding time until they get home (and get down to the good stuff) or managing the lives of other family members.


Showtime offers some new professions that make “watching work” a bit more engaging.  With the expansion, your sim can become a performer, say, an aspiring singer, stage magician, or acrobat.  Maxis, of course, adds a bit of whimsy to each role, as sim performers act out in highly exaggerated ways (and unsurprisingly watching and listening to a sim belt out a song in the sims’ unique nonsense language, simlish, is especially rewardingly goofy).


Becoming the next Katy Perry (more on the branded collector’s edition in a moment) or David Copperfield, though, also creates some additional wrinkles in standard Sims gameplay.  Money is a bit tighter when starting a sim “artist” out (well, maybe unless you marry them off to someone with a “real” job), since they get paid a slightly smaller than normal weekly stipend rather than a more regular check.  One can subsidize this subsidy (I guess that I am assuming some sort of sim government grant is the funding for your initial income) by performing on the street for tips or by hitting the pavement and booking some gigs.  It Is a nice touch that starving artists in the world of The Sims may have to, well, starve a little as they attempt to make something of themselves.


Booking gigs is also a bit of an uphill battle, as most venues aren’t going to book an unknown with just an audition.  Initially your sim might find that they can only get a job playing a coffee shop or at a public park, but that sim is going to need to put in a little hustle before they get the attention of the owners of small night clubs, let alone an arena-style venue.


Perseverance in The Sims is, as always, partly its own reward and partly the road to success and eventual (financial) happiness.  Those bigger and more grandiose shows will happen for you if you put in the time beating the street—beginnings are humble, but the outcome is the chance to witness a bigger and grander spectacle than those before it.


I received the Collector’s Edition for review, which features a real life and a sim version of Katy Perry emblazoned on its front cover.  This edition includes some additional outfits for your Sims of the “Katy Perry variety,” I guess.  Mostly, they are some short dresses and some additional hair styles.  Also, there are additional stage props bundled with this edition with which to customize your stage set up before a gig that are supposed to be, again, “Katy Perry-like” or something?  I don’t really know, as I am not a fan of the singer and probably fall way out of the demographic that is supposed to be excited about this celebrity branding.  Katy Perry’s “presence” is the game didn’t seem to have much meaningful impact on the expansion to me, and given its vague nod to the singer, I’m not sure if it would make much difference to actual fans either.


The Sims really isn’t about big stars and larger than life people, though.  It is about spectacle, but a spectacle of a more average and (as noted earlier) usually more mundane sort.  Played with that in mind, the expansion adds just enough nice touches to an already good game to make it a reasonable add on for fans of the series.

Rating:

G. Christopher Williams is a 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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