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Limiting Space

Growing up my sister and I would take turns, sitting for hours at a time, playing The Sims and later The Sims 2.  While I first considered discussing the possibility for art and the use of art in correlation to ‘Sim-happiness’ in the games, considering space in the Sims in relation to Bogost’s chapter “Transit” is intriguing.  I’m wholly unfamiliar with The Sims 3 so I cannot address space in that game.

In both Sims and Sims 2 space is incredibly limited.  To begin, you may choose from preset areas in which to build a house or lots already populated with a home.  Further, the landscape in which you choose (for example the desert or one with a lot of Tudor style homes) is not infinite.  Many houses are built into the game with pre-existing characters or certain areas are simply off-limits, maybe due to the landscape but also somewhat arbitrarily.  While this can be frustrating as you increasingly populate the city, village, or desert, what I was consistently frustrated with was the lack of movement in what seemed to be available space.  If I remember correctly, in The Sims it was impossible to walk anywhere besides on your grounds.  In The Sims 2 one could venture to shops but even then there was no boardwalk to stroll by which you could simply enter and exit a variety of stores.  Rather if you decided to visit somewhere the (to me) rather iconic blue load screen with silly phrases loading at the bottom would appear and after a seemingly endless delay, your Sim would appear in the new location.  I simply did not understand why, in a game programmed to cater to your individual decisions, a walking scene between places or through a large area was never generated.

What does this say about space?  Like the invent of the railroad, transportation in The Sims is not a journey.  The space traversed is merely space traversed, not environments or places to be experienced.  After the societal revolution the railroad caused, traveling involved only two places, ‘point A’ and ‘point B’.  Between these points is the ‘and’, the blank which conjoins the two.

Such rapid transport and blankness between spaces suggests not only the disillusioned and disinvolved movement humans undertake each day in travel but also the entire unawareness of space.  Humans traverse their environment continuously – to go to school, to work, to pick up children from summer sports, and to shops – but cannot, by the limitations of driving, instantaneously explore their surroundings.  Some people argue that cycling makes one more aware of the environment than driving.  However, in the nature of the ‘route’ there is not exploration.  While on bike one is closer to the ground traversed than surrounded by the metal enclosure of a car one is still just traversing particular ground.  Only in leisurely walking or cycling does the environment become something more than a distance to overcome.  The Sims are denied the ability to embrace, explore, and experience space as modern society removes itself further and further from the space surrounding it.



3 thoughts on “Limiting Space

  1. I only played Sims a few times but I understand the limitations that are presented to the player. I love how you related Bogosts theory about how technology has taken away from the experience of travel. Sims is definitely in a made up world that has a given space that must be traversed and it is traveled quickly and without seeing the real scenery that is passed on the way. The only problem I have with Bogost’s theory is that the trip is not the big concern all the time. “In the mid- eighteenth century, for example, it would have taken ten days to travel from Edinburgh by horse and carriage under the best conditions. By the 1830s the trip took less than two days by railroad”. (Bogost, 45) One medium of observation was changed by not allowing the people travelling to notice their surroundings on the trip; but the increased speed at which they travelled allowed them to enjoy their environments more at the places they were travelling to. I guess what I am trying to say is that the ability to stop and see what is around you wasn’t taken away it was changed. As in Sims the trip from an old place to a new one is still present it is just short and uninspiring but think of what you get to see and do when you arrive, and how much more time you have to enjoy it rather than spending the time in transit.

    Posted by wjcasey | May 31, 2013, 8:32 am
  2. I played Sims back in the day as well, but I don’t think I was as honest a player as you were. I must have had some sort of power hungry god complex while playing it because I had no sympathy for my Sims whatsoever. “Many houses are built into the game with pre-existing characters” If there was a lot I wanted, that family was evicted and my newly created avatar would have his way with their beloved home. Or I would type in ‘Rosebud!?!?!?’ till my fingers were sore and become an instant millionaire.

    I agree with what you said about the limited space though. In the first Sims, not only were you constrained to your piece of the neighborhood block in which fellow neighbors would suddenly stroll onto out of some sort of abyss, but you were also constrained to only a two story house. I remember how stoked I was when I found out you could stack up as many stories as you want in Sims 2. Needless to say, every Sim I made may have been spatially constrained horizontally, but vertically, the possibilities were endless.

    Posted by sccrdude540 | May 31, 2013, 2:38 pm
    • Hahah, no believe me, I Rosebudded everything possible so I could build a crazy house. I really didn’t go into moving other people off lots most of the time because it just took so long to load and re-load everything. I’m not sure if the places I wanted to walk-through in the Sims really would have been that interesting but I think that by not being able to at all, I could not not want to. If you’re denied something, chances are you want it more than before. So, nowadays to make up for our lack of topographical/geographical/familiar knowledge of surrounding areas, we travel very very far away. Again, we deny ourselves the opportunity to become acquainted with much of the world and the cycle continues.

      Posted by emmajani | May 31, 2013, 10:34 pm

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