The Guardian • Issue #2047

The Sims franchise, labour alienation for the masses!

Photo: Aaron Parecki – (CC BY 2.0)

The Sims franchise is a long-running popular life simulation game series that allows players to create and control virtual characters in a simulated world. While it may seem like a harmless and entertaining pastime for people, a Marxist take on The Sims franchise reveals deeper societal implications and critiques, with some even more scary potential fascist undertones to take note of.

The Sims franchise can be seen as promoting a capitalist ideology. The game is centred on the concept of consumerism, where players must buy virtual items and build homes for their Sims. Each Sim household lives isolated from each other, showcasing their entire life as a slaves to a system which they can never escape. The virtual world of The Sims reinforces the idea that material possessions and social status are essential for a fulfilling life. This creates a false sense of ownership and reinforces the capitalist notion that life is all about accumulating and hoarding wealth.

The game also portrays the idea that hard work and individual effort are all that’s needed for upward social mobility, perpetuating the myth of the American Dream. The Sims franchise was seemingly designed as a capitalist propaganda tool, promoting a false sense of agency and individualism. While players may feel like they have control over their Sims’ lives, the underlying game mechanics and code ultimately dictate the limitations and possibilities within the game, just as the capitalist superstructure dictates ours. The game reinforces the idea that individual actions are the only means of achieving success and ignores the importance of collective action and solidarity.

The player’s mouse cursor controls all aspects of the Sims’ lives. The Sims themselves are oblivious to this control, just as through capitalist brainwashing, we are taught to trust the invisible hand of the free market to magically provide for our needs, and ignore a myriad of rules, nudges, and government interventions.

Furthermore, The Sims franchise reinforces the gendered division of labour, as female Sims are often relegated to domestic tasks such as cooking, cleaning, and taking care of children. This reinforces the patriarchal norms that exist in capitalist societies, where women are often relegated to lower-paying jobs and domestic roles.

Of course these capitalist tropes exist not just in The Sims but in nearly any form of mainstream consumer media in the Western World, but the Sims has its own specific tropes.

While the Sims does not overtly promote nationalism or ethnic superiority, it does reinforce societal norms and values that are often associated with certain cultures or national identities. For example, Sims may wear specific cultural outfits or eat foods that reflect their cultural background, which can be seen as promoting nationalistic or ethnic identity (or stereotypes). This allows players to create Sims with different cultural aspects which they prefer, allowing certain Sims with cultural norms to be seen as superior while underplaying others. The tendency to make Anglophone traditions celebrations the dominant default option reinforces a view of them as superior, or at least more natural.

The Sims reinforces our society’s instrumental view of human beings, whereby workers and other people are just means to an end for employers. In the game Sims are nothing but pawns which the player uses to achieve their own satisfaction, mere movable objects, like putty in the player’s mouse cursor/hand.

A disturbing trend amongst Sims players is torture, allowing The Sims to die of exhaustion in their virtual prisons. A common execution method which malevolent player-gods are known to perform is to build pools, manipulate their Sims into entering the pool (“voluntarily” walking the plank) and then removing all exits. This forces the unfortunate Sim to agonisingly tread water for days on end, as they are unable to leave pools unless they have a specific pool ladder to escape from. Eventually the Sim drowns, with its energy depleted from the constant swimming. Meanwhile, the player laughs at the suffering unleashed by their cruel and unusual punishment of wayward (or simply in the wrong place at the wrong time) Sims from behind their computer monitor.

The game can reinforce the myth of the “angel investor”: The infamous “motherlode” hack means that players who cannot be bothered earning money through forcing their Sims into laborious work can game the system and get rich quick. Even this simple cheat code embodies the fantasy of building the American Dream which is only tangibly available through conjuring up cash from thin air.

This is not to demonise this popular game, which can be played on any laptop, but rather to highlight how it is produced from our culture and reinforces the myths of that culture. As communists know, we can’t help being subjected to the myths of the free-market individualists, but we work to free our world from them.

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