The Thing About Genre
Video game genres say a lot about a game. It’s more than just what kind of story you’re in for, but also the expectations for how you’ll interact with the game and what the goals might be. But sometimes the qualifiers we use to put media into categories like genre can be more inclusive than we expect. I’ve never held an interest in RPGs nor really paid them any mind until we discussed them in class. As we listed off their qualifiers, such as customization, playing as a party, roles & classes, et cetera, I began to realize that in many ways playing The Sims games is pretty much like playing a RPG. Sure, The Sims franchise is a life simulation game, it’s written in the game’s name for pete’s sake. But lest we not forget, in the world of film, Star Wars can be considered both western and sci-fi, the genres married under the name “space western.”
But this is a pretty weak argument, so let me break down the qualifiers we discussed in class and compare them to aspects of The Sims gameplay.
A Little Background Information
I’ll be basing this discussion off of my own experience playing The Sims 3. Along with the base game, I have the following expansion packs: Ambitions, Generations, Late Night, Outdoor Living Stuff, Pets, Seasons, and University Life. These expansion packs, with the exception of maybe Outdoor Living Stuff, modify gameplay by adding new features, so some of the aspects of The Sims 3 that I contrast and compare to RPGs may differ from your own experience.
The Sims 3 and RPGs: Let’s Compare
Note: The qualifiers I’m using here are the ones we listed in class and appeared in the notes for RPGs.
This is the idea that you’re right in the moment in game play catching it minute by minute. I think this is true for The Sims as I’ve spent countless minutes watching my sims sleep. Of course, there’s the fast forward buttons as the game can be kind of slow if you don’t have them doing things like sleeping or cooking at triple the speed. Still, as a player, you witness every moment in your sims’ lives, whether at normal speed or sped up.
Second Person Address
It’s a mixed bag whether or second person address is used. Many times, it uses the character’s name–this is helpful when the game allows you to manage up to eight sims and two pets and confusion is easy–when relaying information about something that has happened or will happened. This seems to be how the unfolding “story” is narrated to the player through these notifications.
However, their are other instances when “you” appears in the yellow notification boxes. These moments seem to be more personal and reflective of the sims feelings about an experience or event.
Party (Playing as More Than One Character)
While many players may choose to start out their game by creating a single sim, much of the gameplay experience is based around the family narrative and thus the party, or household (this is The Sims’ terminology for the group of characters you play as), is expected to grow. A household can be made up of a family (as pictured above), a group of friends, a group of total strangers, or a romantic couple. Relationships and pregnancies are huge part of the gameplay, even more so with the addition of the Generations expansion pack. There’s even a player-created challenge known as the The Legacy Challenge, where you try to make it to the tenth generation of your sim’s family.
Roles & Classes
Careers, lifetime wishes, celebrity status, and social circles all contribute to a sim’s identity and their perceived role or class in the world they live in.
Careers are one way of categorizing a sim. They can be a teacher, a doctor, an author, et cetera and the level of prowess they maintain in their career field depends on what level they have reached. How important a sim’s career is to their identity depends on what their lifetime wish is. The career tab on the control panel shows what level of the career the sim has reached, how much money they earn, and they hours they work. On the right side, there is a progress bar that shows how far away the sim is from being promoted to the next level as well as the factors that contribute to receiving a promotion, such as mood and relationship with their boss.
Some lifetime wishes match up directly to a career, such as George’s Lifetime Wish pictured above. Others need a day job to fund their wishes, such as successfully raising five kids. The icon for the sim’s Lifetime Wish is placed just below the sim’s headshot, seemingly level with their heart as if to suggest that at their core, this is what defines them.
Of course, other expansion packs have brought in other identity modifiers, like celebrity status (Night Life expansion pack) and social circles (University Life expansion pack).
Being a celebrity comes with its perks: discounts, gifts, fame, et cetera. It also comes with it downsides: paparazzi outside your window, townsfolk snapping cell phone photos of you, requests for you to film commercials or attend a benefit, et cetera. Garnering even a single star can be tricky as its based earning celebrity points, which at the start is dependent on who you know. The game makes it so that you can’t start to become friends with a celebrity until you’ve “impressed them,” which usually means bragging about skills that you have or who you already know. Until you have a single star, you can’t call, text, or talk to a celebrity. Likewise, the more stars you have, the more the world bows before you. The discounts increase to the point where you can eat at a restaurant for free. Specific career paths such as musician or actor lend themselves to gaining those stars faster rather than teacher or doctor; offspring of celebrities gain stars faster as they form close bonds with their celebrity parents from a young age.
Social Groups are a part of the University Life expansion pack. Much like celebrity status, they rely on a point system, where certain actions determine which social group the sim falls into: jock, geek, or rebel. Within each social group there are levels to further characterize to what extent the sim embodies those traits. While they don’t do much to affect gameplay, they are one way of characterizing a sim, although many sims do not fall into any social group.
A World, Usually Fantasy
While RPGs are all about high-fantasy characters and worlds, The Sims merely provides towns that for the most part parody real life. You can’t pinpoint it to a specific city like Las Vegas, but for the most part, it seems like a suburban or urban area you can find in any country. However, every town has a history and a specific set of sims that live there. Information about each town is given at the start of a new game when you choose the town to play in.
Of course, certain expansions offer more themed or fantastical locations. There’s even an expansion pack that offers up fictional humanoid species for the player to make their sim. While I don’t have this expansion pack, my gameplay experience already includes ghosts, vampires, and aliens.
If nothing else, The Sims franchise knows customization. From the sims themselves to houses to the town, the amount of customization is bountiful.
Creating a sim offers a variety of options beyond just giving them a name. You can choose their gender, age, skin tone, and body shape. Other tabs allow for modifications to be made to their hair, facial features, clothes, and personality.
The Ambitions expansion pack allows sims to have tattoos, which can either be chosen in the initial Create-a-Sim or at the tattoo parlor in the town.
The player can choose up to 5 traits for the sim, as well as their Lifetime Wish, their favorites (food, color, music genre), the sound of their voice, and their astrological sign.
Build Mode allows the player to customize the architectural aspects of the house such as walls, doors, swimming pools, and landscaping.
Buy Mode offers a variety of furniture and fixtures for the player to decorate the sim’s house with, which in turn can boost the sim’s mood and improve their quality of life through things such as nice beds and better kitchen appliances.
Traits, skills, career level, and college degrees are the equivalents to stats in an RPG.
Traits are the building block for everything else, determining how the sim interacts with the rest of the world as well as what skills come naturally to them like gardening, cooking, or music.
Sims are predisposed to be better at acquiring certain skills based on the traits they have. Skills play a huge role in a sim’s ability to receive promotions in their career. Some skills are even helpful around the house such as handiness, gardening, and cooking. The higher the skill level, the more repairs, the better the produce, and the more extensive the menu.
Careers, as mentioned previously, are another aspect of stats as their career level reflects how much they earn and the amount of skills they should have pertinent to that career. The Ambitions expansion pack offers more career options for the sims, which speaks to the importance careers play in the game as well as in sim’s life.
Another expansion pack, University Life, allows sims to attend university and earn a degree, which will allow them to enter their career at a higher level.
Quest of Some Kind
While The Sims franchise has no narrative built into it and it is in the player’s hands to create what that narrative is, their are what could be considered “quests” within the gameplay, which come in the form of Lifetime Wishes, wishes, and opportunities.
Lifetime Wishes, discussed previously, are the main goal of a sim, what they hope to accomplish before they die. Wishes are more present goals, such as having a baby, buying a cane, or making a meal. If it’s a big wish, a large amount of Lifetime Happiness points are rewarded. Lifetime happiness points are associated with both wishes and Lifetime Wishes and the points can be exchanged for things such as a fertility treatment or making the house fireproof.
Opportunities are similar to wishes in that they are a small goal that the sim has to accomplish, using an event they have to attend. These wishes are usually career related and give the sim a huge boost in their progress meter.
One difference from RPGs is that there is no real end in The Sims, that is assuming your sim has procreated and you have another generation to mess around with. Otherwise, the game will end at the sim’s death. Thus, these “quests” are merely a way to focus your sim’s energy while they’re alive rather than make up their whole life or your whole gameplay experience.
Is It Really an RPG then?
After discussing and comparing these qualifiers, there’s a lot of similarities. But the importance of the quest in an RPG seems much stronger and more centric to the game experience from what I understand than in a life simulation game. A life simulation game mirrors, and often strives to improve and broaden, the experience of being alive–it’s not so much about the big adventures in life like RPGs as it is the small details like wallpaper, furniture arrangements, and finally buying a stove worth more than 400 simoleons.