People insist on telling me that The Sims was the most unpredictable videogame phenomenon ever to occur. Fact is, they're all talking rubbish. The Sims is quite possibly one of the most predictable successes of our time. By its very premise it was bound to attract an audience much larger and more varied than anything that had gone before it. The Sims gave PC gaming a friendly leg-up over the walls of its traditional market boundaries, allowing it to gawp open-mouthed at the massive audience that could be open to it. Beyond the walls of gaming's stereotypical audience lies a massive multitude of people just waiting to be turned on to it, most of them women, and The Sims really did something towards capitalising upon this inexplicably ignored wealth of opportunity. The Sims, as the best-selling PC game of all time, truly was a game for everyone.
EA, of course, being the adorably grasping corporation that it is, took advantage of this unforeseen situation by releasing more add-ons and expansion packs than Jeremy Beadle has had bullets aimed at him. It's hard to see what anyone could possibly add to a sequel that hasn't been already thought of (you can even subject your original Sims to guinea pig plague, for crying out loud). This fact, coupled with the unnecessary Â£40 price tag (come on, EA, we all know it's going to be a success either way - why the cruel extortion of your customers?), could easily make one wonder if The Sims 2 is a game already severely past its time; after all, no success as great as its predecessor's can easily be repeated.
'The Sims' appeal is essentially an obsessive but finite thing'
I, like half the British populous, went through a significant period of time a few years ago when my Sims were pretty much all I could think about. When Livin' It Up came out, I was overjoyed. Then came House Party, after which I'd pretty much had enough. Then came Hot Date, On Vacation, Superstar, Unleashed, Makin' Magic and any others I may have missed out, none of which, I must admit, I have any experience of whatsoever. Why? Because whatever you add onto it, The Sims' appeal is essentially an obsessive but finite thing. All that a new add-on can do is reawaken one's original love of the game, but that original addiction never changes in itself.
All I can say is that The Sims 2 has been one hell of a reawakening. I didn't sleep for about three days succeeding my procurement of the game. Again that unrelenting obsession with the relationships, health, welfare, abilities and sleep patterns of my virtual people kept me glued to the screen of a computer that, as a predominantly console-based gamer, has been gathering dust in the corner for approximately six months since I got the last Sims Deluxe pack for it. I think the reason that so many were baffled by The Sims' original success is that they simply couldn't understand exactly what it was about the game that kept people sitting rigid in their chairs for such prolonged amounts of time, and thankfully that ingredient X is what certainly has not changed in The Sims 2. What has changed is that there are now several additions to the formula which make the playing experience just that bit more fluid and, theoretically, that bit more engaging than it was before.
It's very clear from the game that Maxis has listened to its fans. They wanted more romance, more believability, better and more complicated interaction between the Sims themselves, rather than more and more things for them to play with. Happily, there is no way that anybody could be disappointed with the comprehensive array of options that the Sims 2 presents us with. Sims now have significantly more complex relationships, emotions and needs, and what's more, they look much more loveable too. The fact that the Sims really look like proper little people this time around serves only to add to the absorption factor; their varied facial expressions and reactions invite us to really care about them in a way which some would no doubt say was severely unhealthy. Despite this, there still appear to be a large number of hateful beasts who would rather kill their Sims in amusing ways than guide them through happy and fulfilled lives - but hey, we all know that videogames turn us into desensitised monsters.