The Sims – A Neat Little Tool For Writers
Who here hasn’t either played The Sims, or known someone who plays or played The Sims? Whether it be the old classic, the sequel, or the newest game in the franchise, almost anyone anywhere has seen the PC game in action; not including the seemingly innumerable amount of expansion and item packs. Let’s face it, it’s the most selling PC game franchise EVER. It’s also an amazing way to waste hours, days, or possibly years of your life. Managing the lives of your little people is ever so much more enjoyable than managing your own life.
But let me highlight a different aspect to the game we all know and love. Sure, it’s a time waster; a big one; but at the same time, it can actually be quite useful to who?
How exactly? Well that’s what I want to talk about in this post. As a writer, what’s your primary focus in any story you create? The protagonist, and secondarily the rest of your characters. A story is nothing without characters. The voice behind the theme. You can create an amazing, wondrous world of lush forests and castles in the sky, dragons soaring through the updrafts under shimmering twin suns… It’s going to be quite useless though unless you’ve got warriors in those castles and elves in those woods, following the tale of a poor blacksmith’s son who has just come of age, boldly venturing out of his small village and into the kingdom as he dreams of becoming a powerful knight.
What’s the key there? The people, and more importantly, the protagonist. When you read a book, whether you realize it or not, you’re developing a connection to the characters (mostly the protagonist). If that connection doesn’t form well, or doesn’t form at all, the emotions the character is feeling are not going to come across to the reader, and the events of the story are not going to have much impact. The emotional aspect is what separates good stories from bad stories. Sure, there are genres that don’t put a great deal of focus on that, but those are also not near as successful as the alternative. Why is Star Wars likely the most popular story of all time? Because there’s emotion behind it. My mother cried as she watched Obi Wan and Anakin battle over the boiling magma of Mustafar. She might be a pushover when it comes to that kind of thing, but that shows how much emotions factor into a story. And as we all know, there is no emotion if there is no character connection.
So as a writer, what is one of your most important skills? Making your character real; forging a connection on paper (or monitor) from the person in the story to the person reading their tale. How do we do that? Well, that topic could on forever, and there are a great many ways you can build a deep, powerful character, but I’m going to focus on one simple point that I think is the most important point of all.
Connecting to your own character.
If a character isn’t real to you, he or she isn’t going to be real to your readers. Every writer has their own personal ways they forge that initial connection with their protagonist. It’s oftentimes that an author will have created a character and a story around them through inspiration from something they saw, heard, or read. Something that touched them on an emotional level, and gave them that creative spark they needed to infuse those emotions and depth into their own character. I once created a very odd character after being inspired by a Disturbed song called Inside The Fire. It had very stirring lyrics, based on a very stirring subject, shown in a very stirring music video. The key behind any artistic medium is that it needs to… what? You guessed it: stir the reader. Take their heart and emotions and swish them all around, whether they be love, hate, sorrow, or anything in between. As you progress as a writer, you develop your personal methods of connecting to characters you write. Let’s talk about one that I’ve personally discovered.
What was I talking about at the start of this post? Right, a PC game, The Sims. If you’re not familiar with it, I’ll explain it. It’s fairly simple. You create people, you put them in houses, you get them jobs, forge them relationships, and so on and so forth. The Sims series started off pretty old school and basic, but when The Sims 2 came out, that all changed. You could see your little created people close up, with pretty damn good graphics. Facial expressions, their interactions, etc. If The Sims 1 was a novel in which the characters were nice, but hard to relate with, The Sims 2 was a story in which you could really get connected to the characters. Through this enhanced level of connection and interaction, I found a neat writing tool.
Some people are very visual, writers included. While some writers might be just fine with the written word, others like being able to see their character. If you’re one of these people, you might even sketch up drawings of your characters. I’ve done that before, and even though I think I’m terrible with a pen or pencil, it does help to visualize the characters you place in your stories. How does The Sims fit into all this? Well, starting from the The Sims 2, and continuing into the newest title (The Sims 3, obviously), you were able to literally sculpt the faces of the people you made in the game. There’s a high level of customization, going as far as clothes, hair, and even jewelry. So how can you use this in writing?
Well like I said, whether you’re a visual person or not, seeing your characters with your own eyes is a useful ability. It helps you connect with them, and more so see them within the various sequences of action within your writing. There’s a reason movies are much more popular than books. It’s more common to connect to an image than it is to connect to written words. Using the vast amount of customization in The Sims 2 or 3, you’re able to create anyone you want to. Many have created celebrities in the game, and by that line of reasoning you can just as easily imagine; for example; your protagonist in your head before creating a Sim just like them. There are limits to this creative process, of course, but the tool doesn’t stop there.
The Sims, since the very beginning, has always encouraged storytelling. Whether the stories be silly, serious, or anything else, the game has always given the player easy access to a sort of visual storytelling system. You can pause your Sim’s life at any time, take a picture, and then go into the story editor and write whatever you want below that picture. Using this method, you create a bit of a photo storybook, with the photo on top, and the written words below it. Through this practice, you have even more at your fingertips for visual aids while you’re writing your actual novel, short story, or whatever it is you’re working on.
Again, there are always limits to this. It’s still a game, and you’re never going to be able to create the character in the game exactly as you imagine them within your head. Your own Sim creation skills are going to be a big factor on that, but it remains to be a very neat little tool when you’re trying to forge a strong connection to a character you’re writing on, as well as having a little fun along the way.
There are also a multitude of artists who create custom content for The Sims games, from new hairstyles, to skin tones, to clothes, to accessories, to even cars! If you don’t have the right resources to create that character in your head, odds are you can find what you need online. It might be a bit of a hunt, and a time waster, but it’s good fun and it can be useful to the creative process in the end. The best artists bar none when it comes to Sims stuff can be found on this site: http://gardenofshadows.digitalperversion.net/
The site is a bit more focused on the alternative, dark side of things, but the assortment of downloadables are astounding, and the quality is unbeatable. If you’ve got The Sims (or want to buy it) and you’re interested in checking out this little exercise, I’d strongly recommend checking them out.
I’ve blabbered on for long enough. I invite you to try out this exercise if you can and get back to me with your experience!
Posted on December 20, 2011, in Games & Media, Tips & Tricks and tagged Arts, books, emotion, fantasy, Fiction, Game, guide, literature, Mustafar, novel, Online Writing, opinion, pc game, Personal computer game, review, sci-fi, science fiction, Sim, Sims 2, Sims 3, Simulation, sorrow, student, Video Games, Writer, Writers Resources, writing, writing tips. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.