Many many years ago I remember being struck by the box art of the original Sims game. It was so different to all the other games on the shelf (yep… I’m old enough to remember when games were disks inside big cardboard boxes), the quirky Warhol-esque art style really stood out and there were… people on the cover. This was not a game about sword-fighting in dungeons, micro-managing a city or a zoo or a hospital… it was a game about LIFE.
I sat there for hours looking at that box art before I got to actually play the game. I liked creating characters, writing stories and my best friend and I had this whole imaginary world of characters who lived in a kind of TV soap mixture of the mundane and volatile drama. We knew where are characters lived, what they liked to eat, who they were friends with and who they hated. We knew what their childhood was like, who their parents were and what jobs they had. We knew what motivated them, what their hobbies were, what they were good at and what their character flaws were.
And this game… this box art… was saying ‘You can bring these characters to life!’
I still play with these same characters today. They’ve been a constant in my game, being remade over and over again with every series like some weird perpetual groundhog day. That Sim at the top there, the business woman in the green jacket? That’s Gabriella. But her friends call her Gabi. She’s normally quite serious, hard-working and ambitious. But if she has a couple of drinks on a night out and finally lets that cool exterior slip, you’ll find her dancing on the tables! She’s a bit hot-headed, you see, because she’s such a perfectionist she just can’t let herself be anything other than perfect and all that stress bottles up until she explodes like a Sulani volcano!
The Slob besides the ‘S’? That’s Todd. He’s a mechanic. He’s a bit rough around the edges but he has a heart of gold. His mum has mental health issues so he takes care of her a lot, which has made him really responsible and he has this kind of ‘knight in shining armour’ approach to love. He stinks… but he’ll make a great husband one day.
So we sat there, my friend and I, looking at these people on the cover and working out who was who. What jobs were available (doctor, burglar, etc) and who would do them. I like that the character aren’t perfect… they’re just normal ‘humans’ doing normal jobs and living normal lives. I like that there is an older woman and a kid. I like the 50’s suburbia style of it all. I remember how excited I was to play this game.
It’s my favourite box art.
I don’t remember looking at the box art for Sims 2 so intently. It must have been more of a see-it, want-it, take-it-home-and-play-it-immediately kind of situation. I was already hooked on The Sims franchise, I had every expansion pack ever made for The Sims 1 and I played it every chance I got. So OF COURSE I was going to buy Sims 2 and It. Was. REVOLUTIONARY!!!
We could have TODDLERS!!! And I loved the whole focus on making every life stage interesting and unique and playing from cradle to grave.
I went wild creating not only my main Sims but also their whole extended families! I played through their childhoods as toddlers and children and raised them all differently to explain why they were the way they were as adults. It was like a whole new world of developing the psychology of my characters.
I think the box art could have been better. I think it could have kept some of the suburban charm of the original game while combining it with the new focus of generational gameplay. Why are all the characters adults (with that one elder barely visible at the back)? Why are there no children or toddlers on the box art? Why no new parents cuddling their beloved toddler or no elder Sim telling stories to their grandchild? Because that was the whole appeal of the game to me.
If I wasn’t already such a huge fan of The Sims would the box art of TS2 have appealed to me? As someone interested in people… I guess so. But I don’t think it would have appealed to me in the same way emotionally as the original box art. I don’t find those TS2 box art characters very… likeable.
I was already in deep with the community when The Sims 3 was announced. I remember the whole ‘pudding face’ controversy and I didn’t like the art style of the game in general. I didn’t want to give up all my TS2 expansion pack content and while I figured I’d give the game a try I knew it would take me a long time to switch over fully.
Pudding faces aside… I do find the box art of The Sims 3 somewhat appealing. Better than TS2 anyway! I’ve already mentioned that I like people and the box art certainly has a LOT of people on it! They all look different and interesting, they have a lot of expression and seem to project their personalities. There’s a range of ages and professions on there too. I like creating unique and diverse characters so the sheer volume of faces on that cover intrigues me.
I have to admit… I had a love/hate relationship with The Sims 3 and it frustrated me and entertained me in equal measures. I was disappointed by how robotic the characters felt to me and I felt like the game was missing a lot of the sensibilities the previous versions had. We got off to a bad start.
Would that box art have appealed to me if I’d never played The Sims before and I just stumbled across it in a store? Yeah, I think it would have. I’d have wanted to take a closer look at all those faces.
Ah… the Sims 4… how cynical I was in the beginning!
I remembered how long it had taken me to transition from The Sims 2 to The Sims 3 so I was pragmatic in thinking it would be the same again. How wrong I was! As soon as I played this controversial base game with no pools, no toddlers and no hot tubs… I… I loved it! Don’t get me wrong… I had issues with a lot of things! I still do.
However, as soon as I started to play with these creatures I was in love! Their expressions, the way a parent would turn their head to smile at their teen when they walked in the room… These Sims were not the robotic pudding faces of The Sims 3, they were engaging characters that I felt an immediate emotional connection to. My characters were alive! Even without all my expansion packs and the ‘missing’ base game features… I was hooked!
The box art… I don’t hate it. I think those premades have a decent amount of character and I have some of them as townies in my game. They went for the ‘fun’ angle that so many of us have been critical about (that The Sims 4 is too ‘happy’ all the time and we’d like a bit more serious content). The early game definitely went for comedy over quality.
It’s probably just personal preference but I think the Sims 4 lost a lot of what appealed to me about that original art work. I wasn’t looking for the ‘Perfect Life’ or some bright and shiny Disneyfication of the world. I wanted realism. I wanted relatability. I wanted that business-woman who had to drink coffee because she was up all night working on her charisma skill or that big-hearted mechanic who is a total slob and lives in a trailer park. I wanted the generational family gameplay of The Sims 2. I wanted complex, flawed characters some who were rich, some who never would be. Some who were good, some who were hopelessly corrupt!
The Parenthood render is great! The characters are normal and relatable, with a Dad whose beard is greying and a moody teen (who is obviously a teen) who looks like she would rather be anywhere else!
So here we are today and The Sims 4 team have just announced they have redesigned the box art for the game. I can understand why they did this. I guess after 5 years those base game Sims are a little outdated with the ‘Lego hair’ that we all complained about and the clothing that is maybe not that trendy anymore. I’m honestly excited to be getting some new premade Sims and can’t wait to hear more about them. Although… I do wonder if they have families? I’m a bit tired of the way the Sims marketing team always seems to focus on Young Adult Sims and how they don’t seem to realise how many of us care about generational and family gameplay. Sure, I do play with YAs and adults most of the time but that doesn’t mean the other life stages aren’t equally important to me.
On the surface, I like the box art. But it could be better. Where are the other life stages? Where are the toddlers? The elders? Adding toddlers to the game in a patch was a huuuuge deal! Why wouldn’t you want to promote that update on the new cover? Haven’t they learned anything at all?
And personality? Umm… the personality of every single one of those Sims appear to be ‘Happy’. They’re not showing off emotions. They’re not showing me that Sims can be quirky and unique and relatable. Who the plum is happy all the time??? Not simmers in my experience!
I don’t want my Sims to be perpetual young adults who walk around smiling all the time like they’ve taken too much Joy (see ‘We Happy few’ if you didn’t get that reference). I want my drama. I want my soap opera back. (On my own terms of course, did I mention I’m a control freak? It’s meant to be OUR stories.)
In terms of gameplay, I think the developers do realise that some of us don’t want that Perfect Life and we actually do want to tell more difficult human stories through our gameplay. But I don’t think the box art conveys that.
So if I was to stumble across that box art on a shelf today, would I still be interested? Sure. But it doesn’t pull at my heart-strings in the way that The Sims 1 did and I think the franchise has lost a lot of that relatable suburban charm.
If/when they produce The Sims 5 I hope that they would go back to their roots a little. I hope they’d give us a base game where the characters are relatable and which captures that suburban charm of The Sims 1. And I hope that they’d go back to the focus on generational and family gameplay that charmed people in The Sims 2.
Sometimes I feel embarrassed to tell people about my love of The Sims because I think it has developed this reputation of being a murderous woohoo-fest. I think I’d be a lot more comfortable if they went back to promoting the family aspect of the game.