Immerse in the Sims!

Let’s Play The Sims – Part 1 (Welcome To The Neighborhood!)

Immersion is defined by Murray as “a stirring narrative in any medium…experienced as a virtual reality because our brains are programmed to tune into stories with an intensity that can obliterate the world around us.”

To demonstrate this participatory experience of being transported, I have chosen the classical game series of the Sims. Quoted from Wikipedia, “The Sims is a strategic, life simulation video game series” with one or more virtual persons (“Sims”) in a suburban household near SimCity. Divided into Live mode, Build mode or Buy mode, to pause time or to speed up time, and as a free-roaming game there is no defined goals in the gameplay. The game is known as the best-selling PC franchise in PC history.

Being a computer game, The Sims of course uses the computer as a liminal object that restrict the merging between reality and imaginative world. The device separated the two worlds and actively participated in constructing the immersion experience. Once you open the programme of The Sims, you are into the illusion of the world of SimCity. You could set your identity in this fictional world with your avatar(s), giving them specific names and personality.

The Sims structure participation in a way that is highly comparable to the description in Murray’s article “Hamlet on the Holodeck” with the five elements: Immersive Visit, Creation of Belief, Mask, Roles and Regulations are clearly present in this game.

To help the player structure the illuted world, the Sims game plans the immersive visit quite similar to a real-world visit to a new neighbourhood, but with multisensory immersion. The introduction video pretty much sum up what you could do in this game world, inviting friends for party, developing relationships, finding a job etc. This is a fast forward visit without limit on both time and space, and hence establish the border between the virtual world and ordinary life.

After the video, you are flying into the Sims world like on a helicopter, listening to cheerful music, looking for your ideal house to ‘drop’ your Sims family (‘move in’ is the term used in the game). After selecting your house, the music change and you could grag and move around your house, or your lawn to build your house.

To create belief, the game is designed for players to reinforce the reality of experience in the game.
With rotation, zooming, different modes, wall height, you could move around the environment pretty easily. There is a boundary of your housing environment where you cannot move further  and this boundary set the live-action stage for the players to interact with your digital character(s). By controlling the move of your Sims figure, the actual movement through real space brings movement in fantasy world. And this is basically the core gameplay of this “joystick-controlled game” (Murray 1997). The translation of movement is so fluid that you are drawn to the game and feel your existence in the game. To reduce the feeling of being dramatically static, thieves would come in random times. If your sims are in an intimate relationship you would have a baby born (all of a sudden). You might receive a random phone call saying you won a lottery or the tax has increased and you need to pay extra. In such, the player is the one making the story, creating the belief, instead of the computer programme telling you what to do. This involvement heightens the immersion.

As a form of role-playing game, the created Sims character acts as the Mask. As studies shown, usually the created Sims would have a certain degree of similarity to the characters in real world, either with your own character projected, or your imagined character of others projected. The very example would be Helio’s friend who makes Brad Pitt as her husband in the Sims world, and she is so drawn into the game that she cried when someone took away her ‘husband’. In this case, the Sims avatar act as the threshold to immerse in the game.

Your avatar’s role set in the beginning of the game (in Sims 1 – your peronality. in later Sims, even your life goal are set in the very beginning). The more defined the roles are, the more immerse a player could be. Sims character has a certain degree of ‘free will’ to act according to your pre-set roles – some Sims prefer painting then physically training. Some Sims could earn intelligent points easily by playing chess and some refuses to play chess. This constant negotiation between story and role is also part of the underlying gameplay.

There are regulations in the game that make the arousal not too extreme. Basically all objects in the Sims world are based on real-life objects e.g. jobs, furniture, actions. Paintings must be hang on walls. Windows are only built on walls. There is the uncomfortable feeling to see a house build not according to physical constraint in real-life situation. But, depending on the degree of mistakes/ bugs, sometimes it is quite funny to be woke up from the gaming experience and seeing Sims being ridiculous  One thing I would really like to complain about Sims is that there are more than romantic relationships if you get to the friendship of +100. I feel so drawn out from the game when it happens that me and my good Sims friends are dating though I thought we are just super good friends.

Here are some interesting bugs to share about Sims that makes people either be more immerse to the game or arouse right away.

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Work cited:
Murray, J.H. (1997). Hamlet on the Holodeck. New York: Free Press, pp. 97-153. (Chapter 4)
The Sims. Wikipedia. Retrieved at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sims.

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