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Why people play life simulation games

Why people play life simulation games

Why people play life simulation games
March 17
13:30 2020

March 2020 is an exciting one for gamers this year, with the “Pokemon Mystery Dungeon” remake, “Doom Eternal” and “Persona 5 Royal” all releasing in the same month. However, the game I’m most excited about is “Animal Crossing: New Horizons” for Nintendo Switch dropping on March 20. This new addition will make changes like placing furniture outside of your house, having full control over where your neighbors can and will live and terraforming your entire island. This is looking to be the best installment of my favorite life simulation video game. But that got me thinking… why do I enjoy “Animal Crossing” so much? Why am I so excited to go into virtual debt to a Tanooki?

Life simulation games are pretty self-explanatory, its simply a simulation of life. You typically control one or more characters and oversee them as they exist and go about shenanigans in their virtual world. Probably the main attractor to life simulations is the amount of control you have over that virtual life. It can supply players a type of freedom they might be lacking in their real lives. Different gameplay types often lead to two types of control: either living within the virtual world or acting as a god of that virtual world.

The most popular life simulation besides “Animal Crossing” is most likely “The Sims” video game series and it definitely leans toward the latter gameplay style. You create one or more characters and influence their actions, build them a home, lead them to socialize and try to give them a fulfilling life. Despite being a virtual world, a psychoanalyst has reported that “The Sims” can positively impact your reality, according to Darin Graham from Indy100. Graham concluded that “The Sims” can offer a type of escapism, called self-expansion, that’s essential to exploring one’s personality, avoiding burnout and expanding creativity.

Each life sim game offers a different type of control and escapism. With “The Sims,” you essentially get to play god with a much more wackier version of our world. You can try to prioritize your sims’ happiness or you could run experiments on them and treat them horribly until they pass away. “The Sims” also hosts many supernatural elements like alien worlds, monsters as well as ghost sims that can haunt your living ones. 

“The Sims” also allows for various cheat codes, such as the famous “Rosebud” cheat that gives your sims tons of money. You can skip all the hard work necessary for a lavish lifestyle, and just make your sims millionaires. Even the design of the sims language, Simlish, sounding like utter gibberish lends to the idea that “The Sims’” wacky world and its inhabits exist purely for your amusement.

“Animal Crossing,” on the other hand, has gameplay that puts you as a member of the world. “Animal Crossing’s” world plays out in real-time, even when the game’s turned off. There are daily activities that reset, the seasons change in real-time, along with holidays that pass and there are time-sensitive events like bug-catching or fishing contests. The appeal to this world is that your village is small starting and actual real-world time you develop your town even bigger and better, giving you a unique sense of fulfillment. The game still offers the player a unique sense of power over their lives through its persisting world with its rotating content, the variety of actions the player can do and the engaging AI of your companion villagers, pointed out by Juli Clover from the Huffington Post. Its also empowering in how it creates a cute and pleasant world that you can make your own, giving you power in subtle ways like paying off Tom Nook’s debt, as suggested by Keza MacDonald from IGN

The “Animal Crossing” world is a gentle one. Unlike “The Sims,” it doesn’t really have cheat codes except for an exploit dubbed “Time Travel” by the fans. If you manipulate the in-game clock you can jump forward or backward in time, however, this is a completely different gameplay style from traditional animal crossing, as it completely removes the feeling of real-time progression. I personally vouch that you play “Animal Crossing” in real-time if you can, making a part of your daily routine a charming, therapeutic ritual for you to engage with. 

This soft pleasant world of “Animal Crossing” is even reflected in its own language, Animalese, which is actually a synthesized, pitched, computer voice that speeds up the written words of the text onscreen. Even this simple way your villagers communicate with you adds to the relaxing nature of “Animal Crossing’s” gameplay. “Animal Crossing” is an addictive and soothing type of gameplay that can help me find balance in my daily life.

Featured Illustration: Ryan Gossett

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Matthew Payne

Matthew Payne

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