Let Me Suck Your Blood (and then we'll hang out and listen to music or something)

on saying farewell to The Sims

Let Me Suck Your Blood (and then we'll hang out and listen to music or something)

I don’t even know where to begin explaining what The Sims has meant to me over the years. I mean, I could point to the fact that, without The Sims, I might not even be writing about video games at all. A few years ago, I wrote a blog post, Tony Tonyson and the Teenagers, in which I fired up the game for the first time in years to create a Friends-style housemate situation, only to accidentally make one of my Sims an adult and the rest of them teenagers. (The follow-up post, I Paid Twenty-Seven F***ing Pounds For You, Jonty, follows the development of my expansion pack habit.) And I had a lightbulb moment: oh wow, I love writing about games.

And now, here we are.

My Simming roots go back way further than that, but this series might be responsible for my current job, which is a bit mad when you think about it. And it makes it even sadder that I’m on the cusp of letting it go.

I decided to make a vampire Sim. I haven’t properly explored vampires in the game properly, and it’s October, so it feels appropriate. I named him Antonio. I always have a very strong vision for my Sims. He comes from an old vampire family. He has noble blood. But he’s a prodigal: Antonio does not want to be a vampire, actually. He wants to move to the city and make friends and be, you know, normal.

In my mind, it’s funnier if Antonio’s family still loves him in an exasperated sort of way. They’re distant, but they do care: they think if they let him spread his wings, he’ll eventually come around. And so they send him off with a frown, a fancy apartment, and several hundred thousand Simoleons. Leaving him comfortable, at least financially, while he works through his existential crisis.

I am enjoying playing as Antonio. I occasionally make him do things that are absolutely bonkers, and I enjoy watching the temporary social fallout that creates. And as Antonio’s need for blood starts to grow, I make him research vampires online. I imagine the two sides of him battling for dominance: the part of him that wants to be a city kid and the deeper, more primal part, calling him home.

Listen: I think EA have sucked the life out of The Sims 4 with their expansion pack strategy. There, I said it. And I am a guilty participant of this ridiculous charade. I do regret it a bit now, purely from a moral standpoint, because I’ve voted with my pounds, so to speak. It’s a bit late now to be complaining.

If Buffy has taught me anything, it’s that Antonio should burst into flames any moment now.

I could list all the mistakes I think EA has made over the years in terms of ripping off fans, and it would take another several thousand words. But to give you a rundown, they:

  • Released a bare-bones base game missing several key features that were present in previous games (due to a last-minute Sim-City-related panic, but that’s a whole other story)
  • Spread stuff packs and expansion packs out in such a way that you end up paying twice for items that should have been bundled together
  • Locked gameplay mechanics that I think should have been in the base game behind an expansion pack (looking at you, Parenthood)
  • Celebrated 20 years of The Sims by releasing a free hot tub and doing, erm, little else
  • Releasing the comically poorly received Star Wars: Journey to Batuu pack which was, essentially, a pretty screen with a series of rabbit holes for Sims to disappear into (if you didn’t catch the like/dislike ratio on the trailer for this pack, you should, because blimey)
  • Created so many Expansion/Stuff/Game packs and Kits that it would cost you several hundred pounds to get hold of everything
  • Ball pit gate

Anyway. It’s a lot. I’ve been watching this all unfold with an increasingly sour taste in my mouth. And now, The Sims 5 is on the horizon. EA announced that the game would be ‘Free to Enter,’ a phrase that (to use a technical term) gives me the heebie-jeebies. What springs to my mind is a game saturated with microtransactions. Oh, you want to play with this Sim you’ve designed? If you want that shirt and those shoes and that hair, you’ll have to pay. That sort of thing. And maybe I’m being excessively pessimistic here, but their track record has really forced me to get to this point.

And do you know what the worst part is? I don’t think the gameplay of The Sims 4 is even that fun in the first place.

For a while, I enjoy messing around with Antonio. Desperate for blood and friendship, he hits the bars to chat up the locals. He flirts with everyone, and he does quite well until I interfere by making him do things like starting preposterous rumours, or telling terrible jokes. I don’t want Antonio to be smooth, I want him to be a little bit awkward. I want him to take a while to find his place in the city, if he finds it at all.

And it’s funny. I think The Sims 4 is, at times, very funny. I’ve given Antonio an extremely obvious vampire walk, which is a bit of physical comedy that I really appreciate. At one point, he starts to hit on someone called Quinn Ogden, who literally runs away from him. Watching Antonio stalk after him makes me laugh quite a lot.

Because I’ve made him, I do care about him. I want him to succeed. He flirts with a man called Victor Feng, and later, unknowingly flirts with Victor’s wife. They have a conversation in which Antonio asks Lily what her husband does: it turns out he’s a career criminal. She’s super open about this. Defeated and maidenless, Antonio hits up the bubble machine and gets high.

Eventually, Antonio gets desperate, and the desire for fresh blood overcomes him. He finds himself alone with a new friend. He compels the other Sim, brainwashing him into offering his neck like a tasty snack. And Antonio drinks deep.

And do you know what happens?

Bugger all, that’s what happens.

Antonio and the new Sim (whose name I can’t remember) just kind of … hang out. The new Sim looks a bit sad for a second, and then he just gets over it. And that’s it.

Just look at that pout.

A common criticism of The Sims 4 is that the gameplay is wide, but not deep. (I think I first heard Carl’s Sims Guide say this, and I completely agree.) There are so many possibilities: mermaids and vampires and werewolves and dysfunctional families and space travel and, just, everything. But ultimately, the gameplay feels light and inconsequential. Nothing really matters. A vampire can drain the blood of another Sim, and then they can just hang out like it’s no big deal.

I read a tweet the other day that suggested The Sims 4 is only boring if you make boring decisions, and that if you use your imagination, it’s great. I think this is bullshit politely disagree. I use my imagination at every stage of the process. I’ve been playing The Sims since the year 2000; I understand what the game requires of me. They offer possibilities, I bring my own ideas. Previous games in the series didn’t leave me feeling as empty and, well, ‘blah’ as The Sims 4. There’s something wrong with it, and I can’t put my finger on it. And it makes me sad because I want to love it so much.

I first started playing The Sims as a kid. When I moved away from my hometown, my friends would come to stay with me, and we’d spend hours designing our dream lives. We made an improbably huge apartment. We made ourselves. I can't remember what jobs our Sims had or what happened to them. The gameplay was never the point. The creation itself gave us permission to dream of a future we longed for. A future in which we lived in this grand apartment together, with glamorous jobs and clothes everywhere, and sometimes we'd bring boys back home (although the details of what we would actually do with them were hazy), but mostly, we'd just be together, living our adult lives, a new kind of family.

I think we knew it wouldn't happen. College was looming. We lived on opposite sides of the country. I'd have to move away from my parents, and I knew I didn't have it in me to do that. Our lives would become increasingly separate. Rather than becoming fashion designers and writers right out of the gate, we got jobs as shop workers and chambermaids. The drifting apart would come. The Sims just allowed us to dream for a while.

I’m sad to have reached this point. I’ve spent an absurd amount of hours building imaginary people in The Sims 4, and every time, I get bored of the gameplay. That, combined with the unease I have around The Sims 5, makes me think that this could be the end of the road for me after years of love for the series.

Anyway. I won’t return to Antonio because what’s the point? In my mind, he eventually goes home, older and wiser and ready to embrace his vampiric legacy. I am, however, keeping a pretty close eye on the upcoming game Life By You, not necessarily to replace The Sims, but to provide something new instead.