Life Simulator

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Overview

Many video games can categorized as one kind of Simulation or another; a First Person Shooter game like Goldeneye could be seen as a simulation of a spy experience or a Driving Game like Grand Theft Auto could be a simulation of experiencing an urban environment from a car. Life Simulators (or Artificial Life Games), on the other hand, are a sub-genre of the more general title of Simulation Games and are games in which the player focuses on sustaining and maintaining life.[1] While many games require not dying in order to win, Life Simulators differentiate themselves as the goal is generally not only to survive the game, but rather to thrive within it. To this point, Ernest Adams mentions in his book, Fundamentals of Game Design, that Will Wright, the creator of The Sims, has referred to his work as a “[s]oftware toy … entertainment software that you just play around with, without trying to defeat an opponent or achieve victory.”[2] While a player can certainly experience a “victory” in an Artificial Life Game (in The Sims, gaining skill points or money or even working all the way up a career path), these goals are usually determined by the player rather than the game. [3]

Adams also clarifies the definition of Life Simulators further, writing that “[ty]pically, [Artificial Life] games focus on maintaining and growing a manageable population of organisms, each of which is unique.”[4] Within the vast genre of Simulation Games, Adams’ definition of Artificial Life Games helps set some boundaries: the player not only endeavors to keep some sort of organism alive, but these beings must be at least somewhat individualized. Thus, games like SimCity, SimTown, or SimEarth, though important in the history of Simulation Games, lack this element of individualization and are therefore better, and more specifically, classified as a Construction and Management Sim.[5]

History

The history of the Life Simulator game may seem a bit disjointed due to the fact that these games are bonded by a common theme and loose objective, rather than common tropes, characters, platforms, or design as other game genres are. Though some disagree with the designation of John Conway’s game, Life (1970) as the first Life Simulator Game, the genre has gained great popularity and recognition in the wake of Will Wright’s creation, The Sims, in 2000.[6]

Life

Life was quite a simple game in which a player sought to support cells in a two-dimensional world, following very basic rules in order to keep the cells alive, sustaining cell life by avoiding over or under crowding the cells.[7] Conway himself took his inspiration from as early as the 1940s when mathematician John van Neumann expressed the desire to create a device that could show respawning in this way.[8] In different levels, the player creates increasingly difficult patterns with the cells, still within the rules of when the cells can respawn or die.[9] Though Greg Costikyan, in his article “I Have No Words & I Must Design,” disagrees with defining Life as a game, saying that, “despite the evocative name, it's merely an exploration of a mathematical space,” in Life, the player manages the maintenance of a life form, albeit a slightly less individualized one than Adams’ definition requires.[10] In spite of this, Life inspired other Life Simulator games and therefore is a key part of the genre’s history.

Little Computer People

Little Computer People
[11]

In 1985, David Crane came out with Little Computer People (essentially a Dollhouse Game), which allowed players to suggest motions to a little man living his life in his house.[12] The little man could interact with the player, informing him or her that his needs were not being fully met, and play games with the user.[13]This game was a success, despite the fact that some players felt that it lacked objective.[14] As in the later, similar game, The Sims, the avatar is capable of performing tasks without prompting from the player, though successful maintenance of his life requires player intervention.[15] Will Wright, the creator of The Sims, has cited Little Computer People as an important influence on his own work. [16]

Dating Sim

Around this time, the first Dating Sims, such as Tenshitachi no gogo, gained popularity as well. [17] In this game, the player engages through the avatar of a teenage boy who must manage the affections of several women at once, including one he seems to have willed into being and two of his stepsisters. This Simulation later developed into its own complex and robust sub-genre of Simulation Games.[18]

Artificial Pets

In the mid to late- 1990s, the popularity of artificial pet games rose and games like Tamagatchi and Petz, in which the player raises and cares for a virtual pet, became a new representation of Artificial Life Games.[19] Additionally, online games that were a bit larger in scale than a Tamagatchi, such as Neopets, enjoyed great popularity as users could navigate the sizable virtual Neopets world, play games, and care for their pet at the same time.[20]

The Sims

House Designed by Sims User
[21]

In 2000, Will Wright’s company Maxis moved past the Construction and Management Sims like SimCity, SimEarth, SimAnt, and SimTown (among others), that they had been creating from 1989 and throughout the 1990s.[22] The 1990s were a popular time for the Construction and Management Sim and Maxis contributed greatly to this landscape, eventually creating games (SimCity 3000 (1999) and SimCity 4 (2003)) so advanced that players felt alienated.[23] When they moved on to create The Sims, they already had a dedicated base of players who ingested their games as quickly as they could produce them; they now had time and resources to spend which they had been previously focusing on improving and deepening the Construction and Management Sim.[24] The Sims was released in 2000 and sold over 16,000,000 copies around the world, far more than any game that had come before it.[25] Since its initial release, Maxis (and later after they purchased Maxis, Electronic Arts Games) has produced numerous expansion packs for the original game, allowing Sims to go on vacation or have pets, as well as the further iterations of The Sims 2 (2004), and its expansion packs, and The Sims 3 (2009), and its expansion packs, as well as The Sims Social (2011), a MMORPG based in the world of The Sims. Each iteration of The Sims expands on graphics and capabilities in design and gameplay for the users. The Sims 4 is forthcoming.[26]

The Sims is often referred to as a Sandbox, or Open World game, due to the opportunities for design and customization.

Further History

As a result of the great success of The Sims, the Life Simulator Genre has taken off, and now overlaps with many others, including with MMORPGS like Second Life (2003) and Tie-In Games like Desperate Housewives: The Game (2006), based on the popular television series (2004-2012).

Games like Will Wright's Spore (2008), in which the player progresses from a single-celled organism through many levels that eventually lead to the conquering of different galaxies, show the possible combination of Life Simulator Games and Maxis' former domain in Construction and Management Sims, with a splash of several other genres as well. Will Wright, still on the forefront, shows players that he is not done innovating the Life Simulator Game and that there is still more to come.

Examples

The Life Simulator Genre incorporates many different types of games; these are but a few, diverse examples.

Tamagotchi

A Tamagotchi
[27]

A Tamagotchi is a Japanese toy created by the Bandai Company which first gained popularity in the mid 1990s.[28] The player uses the small, plastic, egg shaped device to hatch and raise a virtual pet (of unknown genetic origins) that is present on the small screen of the device. The player must feed the pet, clean up after it, and let it sleep in order to keep it healthy. If these tasks are not completed regularly, the pet will eventually sicken and die. While a Tamagotchi is a ripe topic for the game versus toy debate, for the purposes of this Wiki, it fits Adams' definition of an Artificial Life Game and the objective of sustaining that life.[29]

Tamagotchi can now be played on iOS7 and can be downloaded from the Applications Store.

The Sims

The Sims is one of the most popular games in the world and is one of the most easily identified Life Simulator Games.[30]

A player begins the game by creating a character, controlling the avatar's gender, skin color, weight, clothes, hair color, eye color, and, in later iterations of the game, piercings, jewelry, birth marks, among other physical attributes. Additionally, the player can choose traits and life goals for their Sims; this feature becomes more developed in each version of The Sims, developing the complexity of the Sims' emotional desires. The player can create multiple avatars to live together as roommates or family, forging relationships between the Sims before the game even begins. When finished designing the avatars, the player can move them into an existing house or choose to build a house for the avatars. The design and decorating feature of The Sims is one of the reasons it has been referred to as a Dollhouse Game and is a popular feature of the game.[31]


The player can then enter "Live Mode" and suggest actions to the Sims, managing their basic human needs (food, sleep, bathroom, etc.) with their desires as individuals (career aspirations, a need for companionship, a desire to become skilled at something, etc.). By suggesting actions to the Sims, the player can make friends, lovers, and enemies and can learn life skills or become a destructive force in society.[32] While EA and Maxis have expanded on the abilities of the player and the Sims in each game, the Open World plan and the ability to make the game whatever the player desires remains a large pull for this version of the Life Simulator Game.

Second Life

Second Life Avatar
[33]

Second Life (2003) is a game that functions similarly to The Sims, albeit as an MMORPG in which players create avatars through which they can explore a shared virtual world. Second Life encourages innovation and creation within the game with built-in software which allows players to engage with design in a way that is possible, but not fully integrated, into The Sims. Additionally, Second Life allows for virtual social interaction with real people (in a way that only the failed experiment, The Sims Social allowed) and commercial success in the real world by making money within the game which can then be transferred into real dollars. In many ways, Second Life appears to be an improvement and extension of The Sims, although The Sims maintains a faithful group of players who do not want to venture into the MMORPG world.

Significance

Life Simulators, despite not having an “objective” determined by the game itself (therefore, to some, making it less of a game and more of a toy) have been some of the most popular games in this history of video games.[34] Games like The Sims and Second Life are forces to be reckoned with and, in some ways, they nullify the debate over whether or not they are a game: their popularity speaks for itself.[35] Life Simulators should be studied both for the educational opportunities they present as well as for their immense popularity.

Care for Other Beings (Or Not…)

At their cores, Life Simulator Games provide the opportunity for players to learn about sustaining life, whether it be that of a simulation of a contemporary human being in a game like The Sims (or, in later versions, a werewolf or a fairy or a medieval princess, or a robot, etc.) or the bouncy circle “pet” of a Tamagotchi. Sustaining the life of another creature, even a virtual one, can serve to teach responsibility to children and make clear acceptable and unacceptable ways of treating living beings. On a smaller scale, interactions between Sims or avatars in Second Life can serve to teach about human interactions and how to manage relationships (albeit in a rather simplistic way).

The ability to sustain life, of course, also means that the games provide the opportunity to end lives, although this rather conflicts with what is usually assumed to be the objective of a Life Simulator Game and, in most games, killing of an avatar will end the game (although characters can return as ghosts in The Sims). In certain games, killing off characters becomes a game in itself (killing Sims, for example, in creative ways is a popular pastime).[36] Although a bit morbid, this does encourage a kind of creativity and a way of using the game that was perhaps unintended by the game makers, allowing users to expand their mental horizons and mod the game for their own desires.

Educational

The above example of Second Life mentioned the ability of players to build and create within the world. In The Sims, visual modding the game is also possible, but it requires a bit more knowledge of how to make different softwares work together. In this way, Life Simulator Games can inspire creativity and encourage education as industrious players change the virtual world to represent themselves and their desires.[37]

In the book, Women and Gaming: The Sims and 21st Century Learning, authors James Gee and Elisabeth Hayes argue that through modding games like The Sims visually or emotionally, players are able to engage with software in a way that they would not have otherwise and, thus, learn how to use it more deeply in pursuit of self-expression. In this way, Life Simulator Games, especially those that incorporate an Open World format, allow opportunities for personal growth and education through engaging actively with the world of the game.

Additionally, Second Life has virtual classrooms and college campuses, providing educational resources around the globe to some who might not be able to access such assets physically.

The Future

As the gaming industry moves forward, games evolve and game makers innovate to keep up with demand. AAA Games exist to make money and Indie Games to serve self-expression and innovation, but Life Simulators have proven themselves to blend these two boundaries. While immensely commercially successful, Life Simulators (particularly games like Neopets, The Sims, Second Life, etc.) have proven themselves to satisfy users’ desire for innovation as well. Though the complaint may be that Life Simulators are not “games,” the freedom and opportunities with these games appeal to audiences, which may be the most important qualification of all.[38]

References

  1. Adams, Ernest. "Artificial Life and Puzzle Games." Fundamentals of Game Design. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2010. N. pag. Print.
  2. Adams, Ernest. "Artificial Life and Puzzle Games." Fundamentals of Game Design. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2010. N. pag. Print.
  3. Costikyan, Greg. "The Oracle: Essays." The Oracle: Essays. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2014. <http://www.rpg.net/oracle/essays/nowords.html>.
  4. Adams, Ernest. "Artificial Life and Puzzle Games." Fundamentals of Game Design. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2010. N. pag. Print.
  5. Adams, Ernest. "Artificial Life and Puzzle Games." Fundamentals of Game Design. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2010. N. pag. Print.
  6. Costikyan, Greg. "The Oracle: Essays." The Oracle: Essays. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2014. <http://www.rpg.net/oracle/essays/nowords.html>.
  7. Adams, Ernest. "Artificial Life and Puzzle Games." Fundamentals of Game Design. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2010. N. pag. Print.
  8. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conway's_Game_of_Life
  9. Gardner, Martin. "Mathematical Games: The Fantastic Combinations of John Conway's New Solitaire Game Life." Scientific American, Oct. 1970. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <http%3A%2F%2Fweb.archive.org%2Fweb%2F20090603015231%2Fhttp%3A%2F%2Fddi.cs.uni-potsdam.de%2FHyFISCH%2FProduzieren%2Flis_projekt%2Fproj_gamelife%2FConwayScientificAmerican.htm>.
  10. Costikyan, Greg. "The Oracle: Essays." The Oracle: Essays. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2014. <http://www.rpg.net/oracle/essays/nowords.html>.
  11. http://www.atarimania.com/game-atari-st-little-computer-people_21248.html
  12. "Life Simulation Game." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_simulation_game>.
  13. Moss, Richard. "From SimCity to Real Girlfriend: 20 Years of Sim Games." Ars Technica. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2011/06/history-of-sim-games-part-1/5/>.
  14. "Life Simulation Game." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_simulation_game>.
  15. Moss, Richard. "From SimCity to Real Girlfriend: 20 Years of Sim Games." Ars Technica. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2011/06/history-of-sim-games-part-1/5/>.
  16. Moss, Richard. "From SimCity to Real Girlfriend: 20 Years of Sim Games." Ars Technica. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2011/06/history-of-sim-games-part-1/5/>.
  17. "Life Simulation Game." Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Life_simulation_game>.
  18. "The Visual Novel Database." Tenshitachi No Gogo ~Tenkousei~. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <http://vndb.org/v160>.
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  20. Moss, Richard. "From SimCity to Real Girlfriend: 20 Years of Sim Games." Ars Technica. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2011/06/history-of-sim-games-part-1/5/>.
  21. http://rawritskieran.wordpress.com/category/uncategorized/page/2/
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  23. Moss, Richard. "From SimCity to Real Girlfriend: 20 Years of Sim Games." Ars Technica. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2011/06/history-of-sim-games-part-1/5/>.
  24. Moss, Richard. "From SimCity to Real Girlfriend: 20 Years of Sim Games." Ars Technica. N.p., n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2014. <http://arstechnica.com/gaming/2011/06/history-of-sim-games-part-1/5/>.
  25. http://mediawiki.middlebury.edu/mediawiki/index.php/FMMC0282/?title=Construction_and_Management_Sim&action=edit&redlink=1%7CConstruction and Management Sims
  26. The Sims Official Site. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. <http://www.thesims.com/>.
  27. http://pop2k.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/tamagotchi-90s-toy-gadget-pocket-kids/
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  29. Costikyan, Greg. "The Oracle: Essays." The Oracle: Essays. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2014. <http://www.rpg.net/oracle/essays/nowords.html>.
  30. Adams, Ernest. "Artificial Life and Puzzle Games." Fundamentals of Game Design. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2010. N. pag. Print.
  31. Adams, Ernest. "Artificial Life and Puzzle Games." Fundamentals of Game Design. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2010. N. pag. Print.
  32. The Sims Official Site. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Mar. 2014. <http://www.thesims.com/>.
  33. http://secondlifefantasyfeed.blogspot.com/
  34. Costikyan, Greg. "The Oracle: Essays." The Oracle: Essays. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2014. <http://www.rpg.net/oracle/essays/nowords.html>.
  35. Adams, Ernest. "Artificial Life and Puzzle Games." Fundamentals of Game Design. Berkeley, CA: New Riders, 2010. N. pag. Print.
  36. "Craziest Ways to Kill Your Sims." Video Games, Cheats, Guides, Codes, Reviews. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Mar. 2014. <http://www.gamesradar.com/craziest-ways-kill-your-sims/>.
  37. Gee, James Paul., and Elisabeth Hayes. Women and Gaming: The Sims and 21st Century Learning. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010. Print.
  38. Costikyan, Greg. "The Oracle: Essays." The Oracle: Essays. N.p., n.d. Web. 01 Apr. 2014. <http://www.rpg.net/oracle/essays/nowords.html>.