Since its release in the year 2000, Will Wrigth’s The Sims has been a topic in a large number of discussions in the field of game research. The reasons for this interest can be summarized broadly in the fact that The Sims intended to be a social simulator. More than a game, maybe even beyond a “software toy”, as Wright has sometimes defined his other products (such as Sim City), The Sims wanted to be a toyful representation of life. A medium to express ourselves, to dream and build consequently the life conditions we desire. This game proposal attracted the attention of all kinds of cultural researchers for its possibilities and ambitions. The Sims it is a game, but a serious one, so to say. Therefore, new possibilities are open for topics of research inside computer game studies. It is not a risky to say that this game is probably the most famous ludical product in the academic world. Even though the games mechanics have been described thoroughly in the recent tradition of “sim papers”, and despite the fact that is the world’s best selling game according to Electronic Arts (EA), I will describe it briefly.
In The Sims there are several layers of gaming. The first one consists in the design of the avatar. As players we have a certain number of skins we can combine to create our avatar(s) in the game. Besides, we can download form the Internet a large amount of skins that make the number of combinations almost infinite. The next step is to insert that avatar in the neighbourhood, buyingsome land and building a house, or directly buying a house. Only then the second phase of the game starts. This virtual landscape called “neighbourhood” is the place where we will take the traditional game decisions: where to go, what to do, with whom we want to interact. We will meet our sim-neighbours and we will play with the environment and the items placed in that space. Finally, the third level of gaming is defined by the possibility of buying needs and constructing items. By clicking on some buttons of the display, we pause the time of the conventional game and we gain access to the purchase/construct section of the game. In it we can decide about the construction of our house, about its furnishing, and even about our avatars hobbies. These basic premises already show one of the interesting characteristics of The Sims: it is based in purchasing virtual items with virtual money.
If we add this fact to the game concept, that is, the simulation of social interaction, or even the simulation of life, the questions that originated this paper arise: what kind of society is The Sims depicting? How is it described? What is, finally, the ideology that lies beneath The Sims? The goal of this paper is to describe The Sims’ ideology as it is shown in the gameplay and in the game structure. The basic questions are: is The Sims an ideological game?, and if so, how is that ideology reflected in the game design? The framework of this investigation is the works on ideology and late capitalism written by Louis Althusser and Fredric Jameson. In order to describe more precisely this interpretation of the game’s ideology, Charles Taylor’s concepts on the “ethics of daily life” will be added to this framework.
The goal of this article was to suggest a reading of The Sims’ ideology within a post Marxist framework. As it has been argued, Will Wright’s game can be considered an ideological simulator of the late capitalism societies. Using a computer game structure, The Sims is a revolutionary attempt to represent society in a playing digital environment. Its success, both as a game and as a business, is undeniable. This research intended to cast some shadows on that success. The Sims can be understood as a subtle system for spreading the ideology of corporative late capitalism. Even though this is just a possible interpretation of the game, the questions that have emerged during this research suggest, at least, a more cautious approach to The Sims.
Maybe not everything is perfect in this sophisticated doll house. Or, what is even more dangerous, maybe actually the game has a deeper meaning than the merely ludical one. Besides suggesting this caution, this paper also intended to introduce a definition of ideological games. Going beyond the analysis of themes and topics, as researchers we must focus in the ludical structure of games (rules and gameplay) to reveal their complex representations of ideological messages. Games can be ideological as long as they are structurally ideological, as long as the player, as subject, is presented to a set of rules ideologically determined that represent a concrete ideological discourse. Games as form of entertainment and art are reaching maturity. As researchers, our goal is to be ready to understand that maturity as part of a complex discourse, like literature or cinema.
The Sims is a social simulator of a post-capitalist society: what The Sims proposes as an ideological game is a simulation of a specific set of values linked with a capitalist culture. Therefore, it can be considered not as a social simulator, but as a simulator of an ideology of modern capitalist societies. Finally, acknowledging that games can actually be ideological expressions broadens our field of research, but also gives us an exciting new horizon, and the duty of developing discourses that can see deep into the core structures of digital entertainment.