One of the best things about The Sims series of games has been how the program could surprise the folks who created the game with things they didn’t realize could happen. I can recall one article I read years ago for one of the games—The Sims 2 I think it was—in which the designers told a story about how a repairman Sim called to fix a broken TV managed to accidentally electrocute himself in the process and died in the house. From that point forward he’d show up as a ghost in the middle of the night and float around the house fixing anything that was broken. This was not a situation they had specifically programmed into the game and it came as a total surprise to the designers that it could happen.
With the release of each successive game the routines that run the individual Sims have become more sophisticated and the recently released The Sims 3 continues that trend. You can now define your Sim’s personality through several broad traits such as “neat” or ” hot headed” or “friendly” and they’ll act in appropriate ways based on those traits. This led one U.K. based game design student by the name of Robin Burkinshaw to try an experiment. What would happen if you created a homeless father and daughter with a series of traits that would make being successful in life difficult at best and left them to more or less run their own lives ? The answer may surprise you when you read the adventures of Alice and Kev:
Welcome to the tale of Alice and Kev.
This is an experiment in playing a homeless family in The Sims 3. I created two Sims, moved them in to a place made to look like an abandoned park, removed all of their remaining money, and then attempted to help them survive without taking any job promotions or easy cash routes. It’s based on the old ‘poverty challenge’ idea from The Sims 2, but it turned out to be a lot more interesting with The Sims 3’s living neighborhood features.
I have attempted to tell my experiences with the minimum of embellishment. Everything I describe in here is something that happened in the game. What’s more, a surprising amount of the interesting things in this story were generated by just letting go and watching the Sims’ free will and personality traits take over.
The blog only has 25 entries so far and they tend to be fairly short, but well illustrated with screen shots from the game. For as short as the entries are they are very compelling and there are several points where you really start to feel for the plight of the protagonists in general and Alice in particular. The poor kid has a rough life with a father who’s anything but the World’s Greatest Dad:
When you create a Sim in The Sims 3, you can give them personality traits that alter their behaviour. Kev is hot-headed, mean-spirited, and inappropriate. He also dislikes children, and he’s insane. He’s basically the worst Dad in the world. He is a horrible human being, but he’s also amusing to watch.
[…] His daughter Alice is a kind-hearted clumsy loser. With those traits, that Dad, and no money, she’s going to have a hard life.
[…] Alice’s teddy is more than her only possession in the world. It’s the only thing that’s ever hugged her.
As her father dislikes children, he hates sleeping next to her. In the morning, he’s always the first to wake, and he immediately throws a tantrum and wakes up Alice to tell her to leave the room. Alice understandably responds that they’re not in a room, and she doesn’t have anywhere to go. Then they argue, and Kev seems to blame Alice for every possible thing.
It just gets better, or worse depending on your point of view, from there. I won’t lie, there were moments in reading their story that I choked up with emotion and judging from the comments there were a lot of other people who did the same. The fact that I can feel empathy for a virtual character having a rough time of it says a lot about how far our little hobby has come. More importantly to the folks at Electronic Arts, reading that blog makes me want to rush out and buy a copy of The Sims 3. They couldn’t have paid for a better promotion of the game than what this simple experiment is providing them.
As for Alice and Kev, I’ve subscribed to their RSS feed and will be following their daily updates to see how their story progresses. I may even, once I finally break down and buy the game myself, download them from their website as the author has made them available to be a part of your virtual town.