There’s nothing quite like the dread of knowing your paycheck, and to some extension livelihood, belongs almost entirely to an ever-increasing debt that you may never settle over the course of your lifetime. Now imagine having to worry about that in a video game.
The Sims 4 recently saw the release of Discover University, a lively expansion where players can experience the fantasy of college life. There are things you would expect: schoolwork, partying, and dorms. But because The Sims attempts to simulate real life, the developers knew that they had to incorporate student loans, which unfortunately are often a pillar of the university experience.
“Money management is a skill most new university students learn while going to school, so it’s a story and experience we wanted to give our players as a part of this pack,” said The Sims 4 producer Stephanie Tran over email. “We also wanted players who want to live at home or who were just starting out to be able to go to University, and loans make that possible.”
The question then became: How much pressure should student loans actually place on the player? In an early crack, student loans weren’t particularly burdensome, but the team realized that designing them that way wouldn’t make things challenging enough. So, Maxis decided to add a little spice by including Repo-man, a character who will appear if players take too long to pay back their student loans.
“To add an element of fun to a situation that’d be quite stressful in real life, we let players try their luck by bribing the Repo-Person with a chance of success or failure,” Tran said. “Upon success, your loan payment requirements will be delayed for a while and nothing will get repossessed.”
Things have to get pretty dire before the Repo-man gets involved, though. Attending university requires paying tuition, which players can settle out of pocket if they have the funds. But if they don’t have the means, players can take out a loan with a very reasonable 5% interest — and it doesn’t have to be repaid while the sim is enrolled in school. Once out, regular payments have to occur, and if they don’t, collections start to happen. At that point, the player risks stressing out their sim. Before long, Repo-man appears and starts taking away household objects as a punishment.
If a sim happens to die, money is collected immediately ... unless the sim is too poor. Here, the game will do the player a solid by simply forgiving the remaining debt. But in turn, sims who survive will get a “poverty” moodlet marker, which will negatively affect the character’s disposition depending on their relationship to the dead sim.
Players can experience extreme debt if they want to role-play that crushing experience, but they have to actively push for it.
“The intention with debt wasn’t to make student loans feel punishing and inescapable,” Tran said. For the most part, student loans are way more manageable in The Sims 4 than they might be in real life.
“It never felt necessary to make loans ‘fun’ on their own but we wanted to include them in the challenge of the player balancing school, career, needs and skill management,” Tran continued. “It can sound very day-to-day but our hope is that the challenge this introduces into the game is fun and exciting for players.”