My wedding was a disaster, beginning when one of the guests died during the party. We weren't close, but witnessing his ghost prompted a recurring wish to see more. Soon I was wandering the catacombs beneath the graveyard, getting emotionally scarred by zombie bears and emerging, smeared with dirt, in only my underpants.
To make matters worse, I misunderstood the purpose of a 'Wedding Party'. It's not meant to celebrate the engagement, but to be the wedding itself. My guests left unhappy when no marriage took place, and both my fiancée and I felt guilty for missing our big day. Make no mistake. That 'I' is me - a smaller, virtual but no less hairy me. The Sims 3, like the previous games, is all about controlling people.
You begin by moulding their appearance (bearded, thinnish, roguishly handsome), selecting their five personality traits (Childish, Good, Friendly, Artistic, Computer Whizz) and dropping them into their own home in suburbia (two-bedroom, single floor, modest).
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In the original game, what followed inevitably trapped you into being a kind of incorporeal maid, buying the furniture and making sure your little masters didn't wet themselves. Those days are gone. Set their free will to full and your Sims are now capable of maintaining their own needs: Hunger, Social, Bladder, Hygiene, Energy, Fun. Stick the game on fast forward, wander off, and when you return your characters will have showered, used the toilet and gone off to work all by themselves. You can, if you want, completely ignore their needs and focus on the far more enjoyable job of fulfilling their wishes. That desire to see ghosts? That wasn't mine, that was Little Graham's.
Replacing the system of wants and fears from The Sims 2, wishes take two forms. Lifetime Wishes are chosen when you first create a Sim and limited by your selected personality traits - Graham's life goal is to become Master of the Arts by learning to paint and play guitar. Along the way, smaller wishes inspired by the events in a Sim's life present themselves. When your Sim wishes something, you can dismiss it or promise to make it happen. There's no punishment for failure, but accomplishing wishes gathers Lifetime Happiness points that can be spent on special rewards. Like, for example, a fertility treatment that increases the chance of twins and triplets. A ghost seen, a wife married, a newly learned recipe and some guitar practice later, little Ada and Boudica are born.
Wishes not only give your play direction, but meaning. Events inspire wishes. The fulfilment of wishes in turn inspires more events. Life moves forward in a compulsive loop of improving skills, gaining promotions and buying new stuff, all of it purposeful because your Sim wanted it, and had a reason for wanting it.
Broadly defined, there are three roles a Sims player can assume: The Narcissist, who creates their own lives in lovingly accurate or idealised detail; The Soap Writer, who crafts tales of illicit affairs and melodrama; and The Sociopath, who locks Sims in a room, removes the door and watches unfeelingly as they weep, collapse and eventually starve to death. I find I move from one role to the next as my interest and attachment fluctuates.
Modelling Sims on yourself and your loved ones changes the way you play. The callous whims that might otherwise dictate your decisions are now too uncomfortable to pursue. I only want a quiet, comfortable life for Little Graham. The great flaw of The Sims, unchanged in The Sims 3, is that accomplishing this goal renders the game boring. Each day becomes rote: go to work, come home, help the kids, kiss my wife, go to bed and start over. I become trapped in a life of Ballardian comfort, and it's here that I hit my mid-life crisis as a player.