I bought The Sims for my little sister for a Christmas present in 2000. It was a risky move, as her videogame experience never moved beyond the virtual pet craze of the late ‘90s. As it turned out, she spent hours with the thing, maximizing her characters’ attributes, climbing up the corporate ladder, and building an entire village of virtual dollhouses. She played the game for years, exploring every nuance and relishing every moment. For her, it was never about “beating the game”. The pleasure was in the process. It’s the only videogame she’s ever touched.
Will Wright, the mind behind The Sims, creates systems—systems by which players can create their own narratives. These systems have included cities, farms, and even anthills. Unlike his previous simulations, The Sims was about people. The game gave players a face with which they could relate. It is that face, much more than a blip on a city street, that provoked the player-avatar connection. It is also that face that sold 70 million games.
Managing your sims’ lives took strategic planning. One had to be careful or risk his beloved avatar suffering an embarrassing public urination, or worse, death. The breadth of decisions you could make for your sims kept the game interesting. Furthermore, The Sims offered a social dynamism that kept (and continues to keep) players interested. You laugh, love, and live along with your sims.
Fast forward seven years. The latest iteration of the immensely popular franchise, MySims, has hit store shelves. It’s geared towards kids, so the depth and breadth of the game have been reigned in. Unfortunately, so has all the fun. Gone are the careers, familial relationships, romances, and community that offered the depth which made the original special.
“Yup…still got it.”
In this spinoff, you create an avatar charged with bringing economic and social vitality back to your town through building houses and housewares. This makes your denizens happy, which in turn brings more people to your town. The game is a repetitive cycle of scouring your town to find someone who wants something, gathering essences with which to build a gift for that someone, building the gift, and giving the gift. Each of these steps is about as interesting and challenging as folding your laundry. Instead of manipulating your characters’ lives into an epic drama, you build stuff for people using a depressingly simple building-blocks simulator that’s just about as fun as actually playing with real live blocks.
(Now I sound like my Dad. “Why don’t you go outside and play REAL basketball instead of playing it on the dang TV?”)
On top of all that, the tedious gameplay is peppered with the most irritating load times I’ve ever experienced on a Nintendo console. None of them last longer than ten seconds, but they occur so often that they make up a significant portion of play time. It doesn’t make sense that such simplistic visuals would necessitate the slowdown. If these load times make me want to chuck my controller, I can’t imagine how the game’s target audience will handle it.
...and this is how you dig a hole.
A common criticism of the genre is that they get to a point where they feel more like chores than games. I’ve never related more to this criticism than in Day 3 of MySims play. Its lack of depth and task-rewards scheme make for dull gameplay. It’s a “god game” that leaves you feeling more mortal than ever.
Perhaps the most disappointing thing about MySims is the lack of online functionality. I can only imagine it was not included because of Nintendo’s historic sensitivity toward exposing kids to the potential dangers of online play. Its omission is a shame, because the ability to explore the towns of others and participate in their activities could have saved this game.
After spending a few hours with MySims, I was interested in getting a female perspective. It didn’t take long before the cute voices and whimsical score lured my wife into the living room. She never plays games, so I wasn’t about to let the opportunity pass me by. She played the game with glossy-eyed wonder, just like my sister did with The Sims all those years ago. She dressed her sim with outfits that matched her personality and a house with a stately fountain in the front yard. Unfortunately, this initial enthusiasm faded as quickly as it had began. She handed me the controller after just a few hours, calling it “boring”.
Playing MySims makes me wonder how far Wright is willing to stretch his brand. I simply cannot recommend this game. It’s meant for kids, but so was Super Mario Bros. There’s no reason that kiddie entertainment has to be so tedious. Our children deserve better.