Playing God, designing people


Playing “The Sims 2” the way I played it is like touring the major countries of Europe and only visiting the bowling alleys.

“Sims 2,’ a life simulation for PCs from Electronic Arts, is not a game. It does not have a start, a finish or a definable goal. It is a comic simulation in which you guide virtual people called “sims” through rather inane lives.

It is also the sequel to the most popular computer “game” of all time. Electronic Arts has sold 13 million copies of the original “The Sims,” 23 million copies of the various “Sims” expansion packs, and another 6 million copies of “The Sims” for every game console from N-Gage to Game Boy Advance to the Xbox to the PlayStation 2.

Just for comparison’s sake, Nintendo sold a staggering 17 million copies of “Super Mario Bros. 3” for Famicom, making it the most popular non-packed-in game of all-time. (There were over 50 million copies of “Super Mario Bros. and “Tetris” sold, but they came packed in with game hardware.) Rockstar Games (and in Japan, Capcom) have sold approximately 11 million copies of “Grand Theft Auto: Vice City” worldwide, making it the most popular console game of its generation.

“Sims 2” sold more than a million copies within the first 10 days of its release.

Meet the Sims

Allow me to describe “Sims 2,” then we can discuss how you should or should not play it.

The first task in “Sims 2” is to define your sim or sims. You can create a single sim or start with a multiple-sim dwelling. You can have a sim family or cohabitating sims who simply share a pad.

Creating custom sims is fun. Using tools that are loosely based on the composite description tools used by police departments, you can create sims who look like anyone you want — including yourself. You can make them short, fat, mildly overweight, whatever. Skin color, hair color, eyes, it’s all up for grabs.

You also determine your sim’s strengths, weaknesses and interests. Once you have created your sims, you place them in a neighborhood, help them decorate their house, find a job and look for companionship.

Sims have a very advanced form of artificial intelligence that verges on artificial psychology. They are not like pets. They are more like servants. You tell them where to go and what to do. And you they do a decent job taking care of their basic needs. But to get ahead in life, they will need your help with many of the big decisions.

This all may sound rather soap operatic. Maybe it is, but “Sims 2” keeps coming up with ludicrous objectives and situations for your sims.

Also, it is fun to watch the way these little dudes operate. They talk like the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons. They flap their hands and gyrate when they are excited or angry.

Siring a dynasty

The game allows players to create a dynasty. You can start a family. Your sim will grow old, but your sim children will have children — assuming you raise them to be functional adults. In “Sims 2,” as in life, actions have consequences, and sims can grow up to be dysfunctional. They can even slip into psychosis.

This is where the way I played “Sims 2” is not the way to play “Sims 2.”

It’s more than a game, it’s a commitment. To see enough of the game to write a review, I made a cookie-cutter sim, placed him in a premade house, in a premade neighborhood, and ran quickly through all of the safe decisions.

I had fun. I got to see a sim grow old. I missed the good stuff — everything but the bowling alleys.

You can build a custom house and take a three-dimensional tour of it. You can shoot home movies of your sims’ lives. You can create their neighborhood from scratch. There must have been 1,000 different options I overlooked.

If you try “Sims 2,” take it slow . . . and smell the sim-flowers.