The Sims Phenomenon

In the world of video games, there are game categories such as shooters, adventure, action and role playing. Then there is the Sims. This game was introduced by Electronic Arts in February of 2000 and became a cultural phenomenon. It sold twenty million copies and generated the development of hundreds of fan sites devoted to their own personal Sims environment.

Sims was the first game that introduced a significant degree of online socialization through the use of a game platform. A Sims player creates his own family, buys or builds his own home, and has numerous encounters with other characters generated by the game’s AI (artificial intelligence). Your Sim character, or “avatar”, goes through life experiencing career changes, family development – many of the real-life experiences that lurk outside our real-time doors. Its unique character, in-game quirks (such as the gibberish in which Sims communicate) and capacity for infinite change made addicts out of millions.

The game makes the player the “deus ex machina:” the off-screen God controlling individuals lives. As a player, you can help your Sim build not only home and family, but an entire neighborhood. Sufficient quirks and human neuroses are built into the game’s characters as they are introduced that the game remains an addictive fascination for its players. As one reviewer put it; “Want to play it straight and watch the lives of a typical nuclear family? You can do that. But what if you’d prefer to dress your Sim like a Viking and have him play his guitar for spare change in the subway while living with two women – she’s a slacker and she’s a paranormal – who are a couple? Go for it.”

The company followed its initial success with seven expansion packs and in 2004 launched a completely new version, Sims 2. The new version has better graphics and many more choices for your Sims and their families, who happily are still speaking Simlish. The video engine is more 3D than the original 2D; characters in your game have more choices to make and more characteristics that make them interesting, down to genetic similarities when new family members are born. You can customize the family dog – long hair or short? Blue eyes or crossed? Intelligent companion or clumsy doofus? It’s up to you.

By 2005, the audience for The Sims and its various expansions had swollen to over 52 million worldwide. The game has been translated into 17 languages, and the franchise has seen life on platforms ranging from the Xbox to mobile phones.

One of the principal characteristics of the Sims phenomenon – and one that probably made it a uniquely popular game – is that it has drawn large numbers of female players. The Sims has pulled the neat trick of building a player base evenly split along gender lines, drawing in women without alienating male gamers. Game publisher Electronic Arts estimates women could account for up to 60% of Sims players.

According to Psychology Today, “most long-term players say designing Sim households is the chief delight of the game” and in fact, The Sims’ construction and interior design aspects are as impressively realized as its “human” element. Players can easily mirror their real-world homes; one game analysis called Sims “the Ikea game.” Most video games have a product popularity curve, like every other consumer item. The Sims seems to be either defying or redefining this characteristic for the video game market.