Sims 2: Addiction at its finest

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I downloaded The Sims 2 last month. EA Games was giving it out for free for a while, something about its support ending, and I’m never one to pass up a free game. All I knew about The Sims was that you could drown them by taking away the pool ladder and you had to keep reminding them to go to the bathroom, but it couldn’t be too hard to figure out.

It took all night to download the game, but I finally got it set up and started playing. The next non-Simlish thing I remember is looking up from the computer and wondering why it had gotten so dark outside.

This went on for the next three days or so (I don’t have a regular job at the moment, so fortunately or not, I can do that kind of thing). I remembered to eat and sleep and go to the bathroom, and occasionally go outside and walk around. The rest of my world was the computer.

Eventually, I came out of it. One day I woke up and decided to walk to a friend’s house instead of firing up the PC. By the end of the week I was limiting my play time to a reasonable period, and not playing at all on some days. I had ended the video game honeymoon period.

I’m sure most gamers reading this are nodding their heads in recognition. For the first few days or weeks after getting a new game, it’s all you want to think about. This happens with new things in general, of course, but video games are different in that they can take a very long time to complete, so what I call the “honeymoon period” is much more noticeable.

I’ve been playing video games for a long time, and I’m fairly familiar with the patterns in my own playing. When a game comes out that I’ve been wanting for a long time, I need to take steps to prepare myself. For example, I had to train myself to stop playing and eat when I was hungry. Yes, it’s sometimes that bad.

Normally, though, I just warn my friends in advance, like this Facebook post I made last year:

They’re used to it by now.

The Sims 2 hit me hard, much harder than I was expecting. The point of the game is to create families, give them stuff, and make sure they grow up okay. Or not, depending on how sadistic you are. I spent a lot of time creating my Sims, so I made sure to not let any of them die, but that raised the problem of me getting too attached to them. Just five more minutes, I would think, pausing in the middle of getting up for dinner. I just need to make the kid do her homework.

Of course, after the homework was finished, she wanted to play piano, and I just couldn’t quit the game until she’d gotten a few skill points. And then the father lost his job, so I had to stay on and make him look through the papers for a new one. And on and on.

All this for a game that, when you get down to it, is about absolutely nothing. But that’s where the games get you — it’s the repetition of all the little things, over and over, that keep you hooked. This is absolutely done on purpose by the game developers, according to this article by a  researcher for the Halo series developer Bungie.

Most of you have phones that play games, right? Remember Angry Birds, or Candy Crush? It’s like that.

Skyrim map, for an idea of how big the game is. (From the Elder Scrolls Wiki)

A couple weeks ago I wrote about my experience with Skyrim, a game that had me in its grip more dramatically than any other game I can remember in recent years. I was pulling all-nighters with it, which I never do anymore. Honestly, I’m glad I quit when I did.

I told you I logged over 100 hours in Skyrim. In those 100 hours, less than half of them were spent on the game’s actual story, which I never finished. The rest was running around in caves, killing bandits, and just traveling from place to place. Repetition. It kept me busy without accomplishing anything.

When I quit Skyrim, I was so sick of it that I just stopped cold and haven’t picked it up since. This doesn’t usually happen with my games; most often, it’s like The Sims 2, where I gradually withdraw.

The video game honeymoon period might sometimes be inconvenient, but I’ve learned to live with it. Sometimes, though, I unexpectedly have a second period where I fall into the game, sometimes months or even years after my first playthrough. This happened to me very recently. See, earlier this month my computer broke and I had to get a new one, and then I had to re-download The Sims 2 and start making new families because I’d lost all my save data.

And then I made the most amazing discovery: mods.

All of my favorite video game characters. Living in the same house. And I had complete control of their destinies.

Mostly I just made this happen.

I’d provide an actual screencap of Link and Zelda’s modern domestic life, but I’m genuinely worried that if I start up The Sims 2 right now to get it I’ll forget to finish this post. So that’s what you get.