'The Sims' turns 15: An open letter to the families of those who perished during my reign
“You had to kill a bunch if you wanted to unlock a graveyard. Did you know they starve to death?”
“Honestly, I never got too creative with it. I’d put them in the kitchen and let something catch on fire, then pull out the doors so they were trapped. Also, getting them in a pool and taking out the ladder.”
“Sometimes I’d build a windowless, doorless room around them. And just wait.”
Millennials can connect over any number of shared experiences, from finding jobs to watching their parents join Instagram to the still-bitter disappointment of Girl Meets World. But there is something else—something dark—that ties together twentysomethings of a certain ilk. It’s an unspoken yet undeniable link: a deeply-rooted, thoroughly repressed, gnawing subconscious guilt about the lives we claimed while playing the seminal PC life simulator The Sims.
We share a body count.
Like the kids on How to Get Away with Murder or the “kids” in I Know What You Did Last Summer, all those who dabbled in the must-have computer game of the 2000s—which turned 15 years old yesterday—share culpability for thousands of unconnected Sims murders. We perpetuated the same sadistic skills that often suggest serial killer tendencies in early childhoods. What’s worse, we did it casually.
You may have learned cheat codes to snag extra money (#rosebud) via playground gossip, but nobody needed external instruction when it came to Sim murder. Everybody did it: A Sims user who claims to have never taken life is as untrustworthy as a burrito bowl with a razor blade in the guac.
Sure, it wasn’t always on purpose. Sometimes a fire would randomly spring up as you were making Quick Breakfast; those losses were truly devastating to any teen or tween who hadn’t yet learned how to cope with pixelated trauma. And when life stages were introduced in The Sims 2, old age could get the best of Sims—but as you laid your Sim to rest, you could take solace in having provided him with a life well-led, full of vibrant life experiences like Going to Work and Telling Funny Story. Still, such instances were few and far between. Mostly, deaths were the result of our whims. We didn’t think of the consequences—moral, emotional, and other; we simply got off on the giddy pleasure of incomprehensible, unceasing murder. As my coworker Hillary Busis notes, “It’s nice to know that I’m not the only sociopath.”
Killing your Sim was an inevitability, an unavoidable byproduct of ’90s children having the digital world at our fingertips. Simply put: We did it because we could. And even 15 years after the first game’s release, I regret the lives I took with my right hand while my left was idly buried wrist-deep in a box of Cheese Nips.
To the Sims I Avada Kedavra-ed: I am sorry. I don’t condone my behavior, however widespread it was, but I repent for it.
With just a click, I electrocuted Bob—a chess enthusiast who loved taking showers and sitting on couches—when I commanded him to repair an appliance even though I knew he had zero Mechanical skill points. I starved Mortimer Goth, a creepy if well-meaning family man, when I sold the refrigerator (to buy a fancy wall painting) and let him slowly eat his own insides. I led Betty Newbie to a blazing end when I lined her house with rugs and made her light the fireplace—the smoke alarm had been mysteriously removed so I could use the pawned 50 Simoleans for a pinball machine. And oh, the countless, nameless others I put in a pool and forced to swim until they could neither butterfly nor breathe!
The methods were numerous, and future expansions of the series offered even more terrifying ways to kill—ensuring that the youth of today will keep this sick tradition going. In current iterations of the franchise, Sims death methods include but are not limited to meteor shower, mummy’s curse, backfired enchantment, spontaneous combustion, thirst (the liquid kind, not the sexually frustrated kind), beds that CAN CLOSE ON PEOPLE, guinea pig disease, mutant plants, jumping off diving boards onto the ground, faulty skydiving simulators, satellites falling, and running with scissors.
My God. What have we done?
What’s worse is this barely scratches the surface of the crimes I committed during my computer gaming days. Let’s not forget to bow our heads for the handymen whose lives were lost in freakishly deep water tiles on Roller Coaster Tycoon, or the settlers who died of dysentery and snake bites on the way to the Oregon Trail, or all the Lemmings I led off cliffs and all the Zoombinis I crushed to make paint and all the times I told Carmen Sandiego I didn’t really swing that way but I loved her hat and boots.
So forgive me, ghosts of murdered pixels past. On this, the 15th anniversary of The Sims, I remember all of you. I’m deeply remorseful about that weird phase where I would kill dozens of people, then kiss my own mother like nothing had happened. I was a lady in the streets, but a freak in the computer seat.
A reformed Simmer