Around the age of 9 years old, I stumbled across what would arguably the strongest addiction I have ever had: The Sims.
Fifteen years later, I realized a pattern that each of my sim families always shared: Money, and loneliness.
Here’s the financial lessons I learned from my favorite video game of all time.
At age 9, my life changed forever.
There I stood with a video game that allowed me to build houses, furnish/decorate it, create a family (or whatever combination of adults I wanted), procreate, suffer death, lose my kids to child protective services, climb the career ladder… literally ANYTHING I wanted. It was all possible because I was God playing Life in my virtual dollhouse.
My adolescent mind was absolutely BLOWN away.
The Sims was unlike every other video game I ever touched because there was no beginning/end, and no story-line. The game was a sandbox where I could be whatever I wanted to be and live our my wildest adulthood fantasies.
The Sims taught me that LGBT relationships are fine, because literally nobody else in the sim neighborhood cared (this would serve me well later in life when I realized I was gay). I learned about depreciation and opportunity cost every time I sold an item in my house to pay bills…specifically when I only got 60% of its original value.
I taught myself how to balance a budget and save for the things I truly wanted. I remember learning that the repo man will take your stuff away if you are broke or choose not to pay your bills on time, and that the burglar would steal your belongings if you didn’t protect yourself.
Side note… the noise that played anytime something grave occurred (job loss, theft, etc) still gives me chills to this very day.
Once I got the hang of the game, my sim families started to thrive… and they all tended to follow the same formula.
A gorgeous and eligible adult Sim buys a starter home, furnishes it with the basic items, gets a career, and goes to work.
After cooking a couple of meals, they learn how to feed themselves…which is an important skill because around the third day, a neighbor comes over to introduce themselves and if they’re hot, the quest begins. My Sim will cook them a delicious pixelated dinner, they’ll interact all night, fall wildly in love, Woo Hoo, and get married.
Bam. Duel income achieved.
Just like that, my two newlyweds would begin their new life together and we’d spell out a list of ambitions for their future. Would my Sims become a major athlete? An astronaut? A criminal mastermind? Who knows! But one thing was guaranteed… they’d be rich.
Soon after setting off on adulthood, I’d pool their earnings together, upgrade them into a bigger home, and begin nesting…
Baby number 1 arrives, and I lock one of the parents (usually the lower income earner) in the house where their job became caring for the
little freeloader <–bundle of joy and increasing their domestic skillset until the electronic spawn is ready to start school.
Around the time my family’s maternity/paternity time-off runs low… the household pops out another child, and we do it all over again! After all, we do have a huge home to fill.
While the parenting sim is busy potty training, changing diapers, and dealing with crying children…the other sim is hustling their way in life via the corporate resume. They’re ranking up, getting promotions, and bringing in the big bucks. As long as this continues… all is well.
The children grow up, go to school, and thrive. The parenting sim returns to the workforce (armed with the numerous skills they’ve amassed while being at home) and quickly makes up lost ground. The promotions roll in, and so does the money. Side note, if ONLY that’s how parenting vs careers worked. The reality in our life is that women often get paid less than men once they become mothers. Oh well. I digress.
Down the road, we save up some coin and move the family into to an even larger home…perhaps one with a pool?
New home. New vibes. New furniture. Same ole plan.
I spend probably 6 hours decorating their star studded mansion and fill it with every detail. It’s an architectural masterpiece complete with a streetside fence to keep the peasants out. I mean, my sim already married 1 neighbor… they don’t need any new friends, right? #Drake
The children continue to grow, makes it on the honor roll, and becomes teenagers. My adult sims reach the top of their careers and get ready for retirement. They’ve got millions in the bank, the biggest house on the block, gorgeous all-star kids, and a picture perfect life.
….but they’re missing one key thing:
Did you notice that I spent so much time earning money, raising families, and chasing after the next home upgrade that I never mentioned actually letting my married sims speak to one another, enjoy each other’s company, or even interact with each other?
For many years of my actual life… I didn’t notice that omission, either.
The last time I played The Sims, I followed this strategy to success… but by the time the kids were moving out of the house, my two sims wouldn’t even sleep in the same bed anymore.
For what was (comparatively) 20 years of their life… they spent every minute of every day going through a series of tasks, working, raising a family, and only having conversations at dinner whenever they happened to be in the exact same spot at the same moment. Dinner conversation filled their social needs, and chatrooms on their computer kept them happy. They were so preoccupied with their devices that they didn’t even speak to the other functioning adult in their own household.
My sims never cuddled, kissed, or played games together.
They never interacted with each other unless it was via a situation they were already in–such as watching TV at the exact same time. My adult sims truly never rekindled the things that brought them together to begin with back when they were still living poor in the starter home.
Honestly, they had grown so distant from one another that by the time the kids were grown…they barely knew each other.
Then, my sims died. Alone, but rich.
It was all fun and games when I was 9 years old, but at age 28… I realized the hidden message in my life simulator game that threw me into an existential crisis.
I never wanted to be one of my Sim families.
Did I want the picture perfect life with the gorgeous and wildly successful children? How about the “motherload” cheat that gives you $50,000? The incredible career success while still maintaining a 10/10 physical physique? Oh man… absolutely.
But my life isn’t a video game, and the people I live in my house with don’t share this address to humor and amuse me anytime I demand it.
The one thing I want in this life is to leave the world as a slightly better place than how I found it. For me, that means treating others with humility and doing better by anyone who does right by me.
This lesson is incredibly poignant in my current line of work. I am not bound by a 9 to 5 schedule, which means that I can work any hour of the day and from anywhere that I choose. My office, my home, the pool, the beach, even 12 hours away in Asia. I’ve done all of these things, too. But ultimately, what’s more important? Making mountains of money? Or, making mountains of memories?
Looking back, my Sims were special and simple people. They didn’t require all of the fancy stuff, massive house, or money in the bank. Instead, I was the one who placed value in those things. Anytime I seemed to forget what matters most to my sims, I can leave them on “free will” and watch them just lay around the house all day.
They didn’t push themselves to bring home money. They didn’t ask to move from house to house. They didn’t sell their television to buy an even larger one. I did all of those things for them.
No matter how much money my sim family had in the bank… as long as their basic needs were attended to, they were just as happy.
…and I guess, ultimately, that’s all I actually want in my life, too.
The rest is just fluff.
Photo credit: Maxis, Electronic Arts, etc.