Why Playing Pretend Is The Best Part Of The Sims

In this episode I dive into why playing pretend is the best part about playing The Sims. It’s of course a ton of fun but it goes beyond that. Listen in to explore why you should embrace the freedom of imagination within the game and lean into the joy of playing pretend.

Listen to this episode if:

  • You’re bored of playing The Sims.
  • You’re curious why this game is so much fun.
  • You need help explaining to your friends and family why you’d rather stay home and play The Sims.

Resources mentioned in this episode:


[00:00:00] Gloria from Yellow Llama Co.: Welcome to Sentimental Simmer, a podcast made for emotionally attached simmers and storytellers with wild imaginations. I’m your host, Gloria, and I run Yellow Llama Co., a planner shop made to help simmers play with purpose. Every week, I talk all about things Sim life planning, storytelling, and memory keeping. I’ll also brainstorm new ways to obsess over our pixel people, whether they be in the Sims or another live sim game. And now let’s get into it. Welcome to season 3 of the Sentimental Simmer podcast. Today, I’m gonna be talking about why playing pretend is hands down the best part about playing the Sims and makes for better stories. Playing the Sims is like reading a good book, but you get to tell the story and it never has to end.

Gloria [00:00:50]:
The game is a limitless playground for our imagination, and this applies really to most life simulation Simmer, really. We can pretend we are architects and interior designers and house flipper, or we can pretend we’re a farmer in Stardew Valley. We can pretend we’re a city designer and mayor in Skylines. We can pretend we’re a king in Crusader Kings. And, of course, we can pretend all of that and more in The Sims, which is why it’s my favorite game of all time. Literally, anything is possible. It is a wonderful sandbox that lets me play any type of story I can imagine, whether it be something medieval or something which that was also a really cool iteration of the game itself, the medieval version, which wasn’t as open in sandbox y as the actual core game that we know, which was a bit disappointing, but I take a risk. In the main game, you can do literally anything you want.

Gloria [00:01:43]:
And I know some people are like, can you really I mean, you can really only do so much as the game comes with, right, the features it comes with. For example, we don’t have cars in the Sims 4. We have decoration cars. We don’t have real cars. There are a lot of mods that add additional gameplay such as, what do you what do you say? Child support, proper real estate management, and buying houses on the market or funerals, which are really fun, all sorts of gameplay that you really don’t have in the game out of the box. But there are so many more things you might wanna do in game that a mod can’t represent or that’s just not possible to do in the game yet. So I don’t think there will ever be enough mods to represent the infinite possibilities our imagination could come up with. And that’s why I think play and pretend is really the best part of playing the Sims.

Gloria [00:02:31]:
Last year, I went on a YouTube binge watching a bunch of documentaries about the Sims, about the history of the Sims, comparing the different games. And I learned something about the Sims that has changed the way I’ve seen it ever since. I felt like literally the wool was being pulled from my eyes in a good way though. I learned why it’s so easy to tell stories in the game. This profound realization came from a GDC talk by Matt Brown on Simmer storytelling techniques in The Sims. The entire talk felt like the curtain was being raised, and I finally understood what I love so much about this game. I mean, I guess there was always a underlying feeling about this, but it was being articulated right in front of me from the developer, the maker of the game, confirming why it’s so fun. And, yeah, I that was just fantastic.

Gloria [00:03:20]:
The game is literally engineered to encourage you to play pretend. You would think getting a peek under the hood that demystifies the mechanics would take away from the game’s magic, but it was the exact opposite. I actually appreciate the ways in which I can play pretend the game because I better understand how it works. And so I definitely recommend checking out the full talk on YouTube. I’ll leave a link in the show notes. There’s also from the same YouTube channel, another Sims 3 talk. So Matt Brown was talking about the Sims 4, and there’s a talk about the Sims 3 as well, which is also super interesting about the AI and how the game works with the traits and stuff. It’s it’s a must watch.

Gloria [00:03:59]:
But what I essentially learned from this GDC talk with Matt Brown was that the game acts as your improv partner. It basically suggests ideas you can build upon. So at its core, the game is playing the improv exercise, yes, and with you. So this yes, and is is a improv game or improv exercise that encourages players to accept what the other person has stated. So yes. And then expand on that idea with additional information or directions. That would be the end part of the yes end exercise between 2 or more players, I guess. This essentially fosters creativity and collaborative storytelling.

Gloria [00:04:38]:
And that’s what the game does with us as well. I think an article written by Noelle Warner describes the result of this so beautifully in her article about the art of make believe when playing emergent narratives video games. Quote, there’s something so special, so electric about creating your own stories from the pieces the developers gave you. When we give into the fantasy of the game we’re playing, whatever that might look like, it gives us the autonomy to make believe in ways that we haven’t done since we were kids. And at the end of the article, she writes, I think that’s what really gets me about this whole thing. Games can do their best to replicate film or TV or even carve their own path by taking well known story conventions and reimagining them for the interactive medium. But the kinds of stories that come from the act of play itself, only games can do that. And at the risk of sounding so cheesy, I think that’s beautiful.

Gloria [00:05:28]:
And that sentiment is one of the hardest things to get non gamers to understand, and yet it’s one of the most important things to telegraph if you want them to see why we love not only the art of games themselves, but the art that comes from playing them. Try as I might, there will always be important people in my life who will never be able to understand the gratification and artistic autonomy that comes along with the act of play, And, honestly, that makes me really sad for them, end quote. I must say, I agree with that entirely a 1000%. I would even argue that they’re within our own community, I think there’s a hesitation to play pretend and to get lost in your imagination and some make believe and to enjoy that aspect of the game and to embrace that aspect as well. Of course, like any other Simmer, I would love the game to have built in funerals and other gameplay that I can only get with mods or my imagination. But at the same time, the infinite possibility I have in my game because I can use my imagination and because I’m open to leaning into that plain pretend part of the play, just I feel it makes the game so much better for it. And so I I think it’s there’s an argument for play and pretend, and I think as Noelle Co eloquently puts it, it might be cheesy. But I think it is, hands down, one of the best parts of the game, of any sandbox game, where I feel like in the Sims, it gives you really everything you need out the gate to truly create your own story.

Gloria [00:07:07]:
You might be able to support that with external cc and mods, but I think if you bring your imagination, that’s already enough to embellish upon those upon what the game gives you. I definitely recommend reading Noelle’s article in entirety. I will definitely link it in the show notes. And like I said, I know some swimmers are hesitant about playing pretend. They don’t really maybe they I know a lot of outsiders feel like we Simmer are are childish, we’re mature, and I stand by I am childish in many ways. I embrace that. That’s just part of my personality. But I don’t think playing the Sims is inherently childish.

Gloria [00:07:43]:
I think it’s creative. I think it is explorative. I think it’s fun. I think it’s something that one shouldn’t stop just because one becomes an adult, because becoming an adult doesn’t mean we have to stop having fun and enjoying the things that we’ve enjoyed out in childhood. Sure, we might grow out of certain topics and themes and games and toys because they don’t suit us anymore where we are in life. But for me personally, the Sims will always have a place and will always be fun. And regarding that open ended play, I can guarantee you, even if you’re the kind of sim who’s like, I don’t want to play pretend, I can guarantee you’ve been prompted to play pretend in the game already. Just think about when Simmer speak.

Gloria [00:08:24]:
We don’t know what they’re saying. I mean, apart when they say and but for the most part, based on little emojis that pop up on top of their heads and their expressions and the context, we’ve imagined what they might be saying to each other. I think in that moment, we are playing pretend. The game isn’t spoon feeding us everything about what is happening with our sims. The game isn’t pushing us into a certain direction. It’s always suggesting. So it’s our improv partner, but we get to continue that story. We get to make the decisions and imagine what comes next.

Gloria [00:09:00]:
So I find it makes for richer gameplay if you lean into play and pretend, but play and pretend in its own right is a great thing. It’s essentially imaginative play, and it’s the best part of simulation games in general, in my opinion, based on theories from researcher, Brene Brown, and the play theorist, Brian Sutton Smith. Matt Benton sums up why imaginative play is so impactful in his article about relearning child’s play through improv. Quote, the act of engaging in imaginative play increases empathy, improves creativity, and gives us a mental break from stressful thoughts, end quote. Let’s dive deeper into that. Creativity. So like I said, pretend play is basically imaginative play, and imagination, at its core, is using your mind to create something new. Then we have creativity.

Gloria [00:09:46]:
So while the game prompts are not unique, the random situations in which they arrive are in your game. Your choices and the way you play make the experience unique to you. When you go off script and play pretend, it’s an opportunity to be creative. With the help of your imagination, you can build upon the prompts the game gives you. Your creativity can take the story in a new direction that might not be possible out the box. For example, there’s so many different legacy challenges that simmers have come up with that are a great example of how much fun we can have when we play pretend and create new ways to play independent of what is built in the game. There’s no official hunter baby aspiration, at least not that I know of. It wasn’t in the base game, when it first came out, but we love to come up with different storylines on why our sims are suddenly having baby fever.

Gloria [00:10:34]:
We’re taking an element of the game, pregnancy, and pushing it further with this wild challenge. Different sims, different lives, and so forth means that even though we all or a lot of us like to play this challenge, no one’s experience will ever be the same. Even though we’re playing the same game and the prompts in themselves are the same, we can experience something new each time. Even within your own gameplay, even if you play this challenge twice, it will not necessarily be the same every time. I think the play and pretend aspect of this makes for infinite replayability because every time you jump into the game, you’re using your creativity to think of new ways to play and new ways to steer a story or to continue a challenge. In regards to empathy, which is basically the capacity to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and to imagine what it’s like to be them and experience something that is reminiscent of their existence. When we play with a sim, in a way we can pretend like we’re living their lives, going through their struggles, it can be a form of role play like with any other video game. The more we play with the sim, the more emotionally invested we become in their journey and the more we can empathize with their struggles.

Gloria [00:11:45]:
Just like when kids play with dolls, when we play the Sims, we can create dynamic relationships and enact how they might unfold. The Sims don’t have a backstory feature, but there’s nothing stopping us from creating our own backstories for our sims, which is a heck of a lot of fun. I dived into that, I think, season 1, so definitely check out those episodes. Backstories, values, and past experience we can imagine that we play pretend exist have an influence on how Harrison would react to things or make decisions. We make choices in the game based on how this pretend character would act, precisely because we imagined deeper characters than the game allows, we are able to empathize with them on a deeper level. And in terms of mental health, well, when we play the game, it’s definitely Sentimental escape. I think it’s a form of escapism or can be just like when we dive in a good book and immerse ourselves in a character story or when we watch a movie. I feel the same way.

Gloria [00:12:39]:
Lives in games can be a form of escapism and help you disconnect from the world and just enjoy yourself. There’s, of course, the added benefit here that we get to engage with our mind and be creative while doing so. I found an article on Psychology Today about escapism, the benefits, and the differences. So I’ll link to that in the show notes. But basically, there is such such thing as self expansion escapism where exploration and flow state experience are the purpose of you doing that hobby or doing that task or getting into the game, so it’s basically good for your well-being. Whereas we have self suppression escapism where the sole purpose of playing the game in this case would be to avoid something. It’s basically an avoidance coping mechanism. For example, procrastination.

Gloria [00:13:27]:
It’s, in effect, not good for your well-being. So I think we undoubtedly experience flow state when we’re playing the Sims, or at least when we bridge the 1st 5 minute or, I don’t know, maybe 30 minute mark where it I know it can be overwhelming for some simmers to get into the game and get back into that flow. But once we’re in there, we’re in there, and that can go for hours, especially if you’re really doing something creative, like building something, if you’re creating a sim, if your game has gameplay has gotten some momentum and you’re deep in your story and you’re you have an an event you can look forward to, you you have some immediate goalposts, then that’s when imagination is running free, and that’s when you’re really in the trenches. And this ultimately is great for our mental health. It gives our mind some well needed rest, it’s relaxation, Our fun meter goes up. We’re able to be creative and use our imagination, and it’s just a lot of fun. And I think in all points, creativity, empathy, and for our mental health to for some really good escapism and for a strong flow state, I think plain pretend has a significant role here on how deep we can get. And in general, another reason why playing pretend is so fun in the game, when we play pretend about what our students are saying or their motivations, their back stories, when we make a decision based on a whole world we’ve imagined up until this point, we are tuning into something that’s already inherent to our being.

Gloria [00:14:55]:
So we are inherently storytellers. There’s a a quote from Miguel Ruiz from the book, The Four Agreements, quote, humans are storytellers. It’s our nature to make up stories to interpret everything we perceive, end quote. And I think that’s so true. Storytelling is probably a pastime as time when we embellish, when we add context, when we play pretend in the game, we create stories, and these stories entertain us, And when we build upon them with each Sims session after each game prompt, we get to be creative and connect more with our sims. I think without playing pretend and adding to what the game gives us with the full breadth of our imagination, we would be losing out on to create super rich stories that make the game even more fun than it already is out the box. And with every new session, we can continue to build upon and play with that story. If you ask me, the stories I get to experience and directly influence are the best part of the game.

Gloria [00:15:55]:
Since playing pretend and using my imagination leads to the greatest stories, playing pretend is hands down the best part of playing the scenes. And that’s what the season is going to be all about. I hope this little exploration about playing pretend, why it’s the best part of playing the game has inspired you to continue to do so or maybe has encouraged you to lean into that freedom and actively play pretend. Of course, still banging on EA’s door and asking for more features because we still want that. Okay? Don’t worry. But we can still work with what we got. I think all of the iterations of the games are superb in their own right. I get that some people might be more or less comfortable with the freedom that, for example, the Sims 4 gives you.

Gloria [00:16:36]:
I think if you try to lean into it, I think you can find you can have a lot of fun. We’re all creative. We all have an imagination. I think there’s a lot of fun to be had. If you wanna connect and share your stories, you’re very welcome to join us on the Llama Club hosted on Heartbeat. You can find it under yellowllamaco.com/community to register and log in. Stay tuned for next week’s episode, which will be all about gameplay driven versus scripted storytelling in the game. Until then, Happy Simming!

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