The Sims 4 takes life-fantasy uncomfortably close to the bone

By Patrick Garratt, Friday, 5 September 2014 09:46 GMT

I have no idea what I’m doing. Plus ça change.

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Within a few days my sim, a solitary writer with aspirations to be a novelist, was practicing fiction, fizzing with directionless inspiration, chatting up middle-aged men, running himself into oblivion and being embarrassed at work. Improvements to his home went unfinished. He spent all his money. His chocolate cake spoiled.

I interviewed Will Wright in London in 2000, just before the release of the first Sims. Fittingly considering the game we have today, it was an awkward encounter.

Will took me through set-up, which included detailing parents, as we sat side-by-side, cross-legged on a white rug. He asked me which traits I wanted to pick for my sim’s father and mother. I told him my dad had been angry and my mum was fastidious, and we created personalities around some lengthy silences. It was embarrassing. I told him about the complexities of my home life as a child without hesitation because The Sims is, in essence, a person mirror. The game is a reflection of your choices, and your choices are a reflection of your personality, a distillation of your hopes and fears.

I haven’t played The Sims since (can’t think why), but EA sent over review code of The Sims 4 yesterday and I thought I’d take a look. Not much has changed.

Within a few days my sim, a solitary writer with aspirations to be a novelist, was practicing fiction, fizzing with directionless inspiration, chatting up middle-aged men, running himself into oblivion and being embarrassed at work. Improvements to his home went unfinished. He spent all his money. His chocolate cake spoiled.

Every time I boot it I cringe, but I can tell you one thing: it’s a fascinating experiment. For a start, I’m able to act on my faults. I can do a good day’s work and clear up the mess in my kitchen with a few clicks (although the grey-haired gentleman I tried to sleep with did me the unsolicited service of removing the rubbish from my bin after spurning me), and this makes me happy, on- and off-screen. I can write novels without effort, and no doubt I’ll be able to achieve Jeffrey Dapple’s lifelong goal of attaining creative stardom, should I really wish. My house will be large because I’ll go to work and make money and finish it. Jeffrey will probably do the decent thing and take the slow-motion walk down the aisle.

But it’s agonising. My weaknesses played out in game form are still my weaknesses. Doesn’t the ease at which I can find resolution in the latest Maxis fantasy merely amplify my failures in reality? (Apart from the gay tristes. I’m happily married and have three children. I told you this was awkward.)

They do, but The Sims 4 provides a level of catharsis to me as a man in early middle-age I never expected to find. While it may be bizarre and funny, and as slick and confusing as most staple EA franchises tend to be, it holds a mirror up to my current life and allows me to see it for what it is: a mess of drive and doubt, of endurance, of progression and regression, of being skint. My parents aren’t there. The indelible young man sitting on the carpet next to Will Wright in London has long stepped through the looking glass. I empathise with Jeffrey Dapple, and therefore with myself. The Sims 4 is time on the couch.

Should you buy The Sims 4? Sure. Give yourself a break, you know.

The Sims 4 releases today for PC.

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