I didn't play that much of The Sims; I hit the point that a lot of people hit - why am I spending so much time trying to get my Sims' lives in order when I could be doing it with my own life? Later - after hearing some friends stories about its emergent behaviors - I regretted spending so little time with it, and thought I should explore it more deeply, but never got around to it. The Sims 2 gives me that opportunity.
The Sims 2 creates that same sort of addiction that certain RPG's do - it's only a little ways ahead to the next food pellet, I'm going to keep playing until I get there. Whether it's having sex with the maid or having a baby or seeing the baby grow up, it's kind of hard to stop playing.
The Sims 2, even more so than the Sims, comes the closest I've seen to being a Holy Grail of games - the neverending story, where the player is part author, part participant. Although The Sims could have moments of player-driven drama - see the comment in yesterday's blog about the guy who would marry women for their money and then drown them in his pool - The Sims 2 encourages it, by giving each Sim short-term goals. If the Sims in a household have different long-term strategies, their short-term goals may cause conflict. For example: I had one of my Sims sleep with the maid - just to see if the game supported that - but then that Sim's sister had, as a goal, to have sex. The maid was the most convenient person around, so...it wasn't long before the sister married the maid, but the maid was pregnant with the brother's child. The brother and sister hate each other but still live together. The sister gets old and becomes a sugar mommy figure. It's as if the game is exploring themes of class, gender, the secret perverse lives people lead...
And then there's the addition of aging. Kids grow up and adults grow old and die. If you play long enough, the game starts to feel like One Hundred Years of Solitude or some other epic novel spanning multiple generations.
Chris Crawford would say, "That's not story! A story has a dramatic trajectory. A clear beginning, middle, and end to the conflict!" I have to agree with that. But I'm not sure it matters. There are some novels that explicitly get away from that - Cannery Row, for example. Also, Earnest Hemingway, with some of his books, got away from standard plot structures and tried his best to let the characters interact as realistically and naturally as possible, no matter where that would take the drama. Hemingway was a simulationist.
Chris Crawford would also say, "In a real story, people aren't going to the bathroom all the time!" Well, yeah, okay, but in a real story domestic details do help to paint a more vivid picture. In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, what's-her-name was mortified by her upset bowels when she first met Tomas. Not too far from having a Fear in The Sims 2 about losing control of your bladder at a party...
You see? The Sims 2 accidentally aspires to be art!
Or maybe it's just a Rorschach blot that I'm projecting this onto.
More on trajectory, the beginning/middle/end of a story. Suppose you had a book that never ended. Would you say, "Great! I never have to buy another book again." I'm guessing not. I'm guessing you'd get bored of that book. Whatever it is that makes that book what it is - the characters, themes, whatever - you'd get sick of eventually. And you'd stop reading. And you'd be a bit dissatisfied that the book never resolved. And your last impression of the book would be that it was boring. And that's a problem with The Sims: at some point, you just lose interest. And when someone asks you about the game, you say, "I enjoyed it for a while and then it got boring." So maybe my Holy Grail isn't much of a Holy Grail after all - maybe the neverending story is something we just don't want or need.