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My summer of The Sims

The Sims isn’t necessarily a summer game, but it feels like one to me

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A Sim leaning into a red candle Image: Maxis/Electronic Arts
Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

I’ve always considered The Sims and its sequels to be summer games. This isn’t because they’re particularly seasonal — though, of course, summer does exist in the game. The Sims is a summer game for me because it’s one I have played, primarily, in the summer. Growing up, my family had one computer in my dad’s office. We were all allowed to use it, but only when my aunt, who worked for my dad’s business, didn’t need it. As it turns out, she needed it often. That, paired with the fact that I have two other sisters who were vying for computer time, meant that I didn’t play games on the computer too often.

This changed in the summer. When school was out, my mom would drop us off at my grandparents’ house while she went to work. With the summer air too hot and sticky to play outside for long periods of time, I’d head upstairs to her computer — old, but workable — and play The Sims. It was a treat: My sisters, cousins, and I, all of us would jockey for the mouse, with our grandparents babysitting us throughout. When a primary player was declared, the rest of us would pull Nana’s kitchen table chairs up the stairs to crowd the computer. We took turns creating ourselves and characters we loved. We built houses more fantastical than our own, creating this living, communal world we’d find ourselves immersed in.

It was a ritual that was guaranteed yearly, and the worlds we created and built upon every summer were snapshots of our lives — both a virtual and an actual reality. We kept going to my grandmother’s house for summers even into high school, upgrading to The Sims 2 and starting over when it was released in 2004. All of us are adults now. The Sims 4 is now six years old, and people are already looking forward to The Sims 5. My grandma’s house was sold and then renovated. The computer we sat at is now long gone.

I’ve kept playing The Sims in some form throughout the years, whether it was The Sims Online, The Sims 4, or a mobile version on my phone. Sometimes I’ve played regularly, but more often than not, that hasn’t been the case. I tend to play in short spurts: intensely for a month or two before moving on to something else. It’s not always in the summer that this happens, but it always feels like it — a burst of creativity and memories that documents a period of my life.

It feels apt, then, that I’m sitting at my computer at the muggy start of summer, hundreds of miles away from where my Nana’s computer was once plugged in. She gave me the kitchen table and chairs from her original house when she moved, and that’s where I sit at my computer to work and to play games. It’s time, once again, for my summer of The Sims, though this time I don’t have to share the computer. It felt like the right time for a fresh start, so I started a new game as I first booted up The Sims 4’s new Eco Lifestyle expansion.

The only custom Sims in the game are the ones I created earlier this week: me, my husband, our cat, and our dog. I moved us into a new home in Eco Lifestyle’s new world, Evergreen Harbor, into one of the prebuilt houses. I decided to let the Sims inspect the house before I started customizing it, but I couldn’t get very far at all. The first thing — literally, the first thing — my husband Sim did was burn down the kitchen. I attempted to close the game without saving to try to scum my way out of the situation, but when I opened the house back up, everything was still (literally) in flames. It’s a moment that, if nothing else, solidified the idea that my Sims save file absolutely reflects my life. 2020 has been garbage.

So, like I said, I haven’t gotten very far into my summer of The Sims 4 yet. I decided to just close the game after the fire — take a break and clean up tomorrow. But I’m excited to dive in to Eco Lifestyle like I might have in the summers of my youth, and hopefully find a bright spot in a world that’s, honestly, trash right now.

The Sims 4 cover art
| Image: EA Games

The Sims 4

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A PC digital download of beloved life simulation game The Sims 4 is on sale for $4.99 at Amazon right now, which is 90% off MSRP. It’s fulfilled by Amazon Digital Services, which means you’ll get a download code delivered via email as soon as your order goes through.

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