Will Wright is not Immune to Propaganda: The Sims as Capitalist Utopia



the sins of a series of life simulator games in which you build and manage a household of people known as sims in a society that closely resembles contemporary capitalist America this video is not meant as a review of these games nor is it a criticism of Will Wright or any of the people who worked on those games because I'm a fan of these games what I want to ask in this video is what is the Sims saying as a piece of media politically specifically since the Sims is itself a representation of a capitalist society I want to talk about how capitalism works in the Sims and what the Sims is saying about capitalism number one capitalism works in the Sims the capitalist system that is portrayed is missing a lot of the problems that most people today would normally associate with capitalism there's no debt no evictions wages are more than enough to live on Promotions are easily accessible education is free and healthcare is affordable though rarely needed issues with generational wealth transfer and wealth inequality just aren't things every household starts out with a minimum of 20 grand a small loan of a million dollars and all of these things are issues that capitalism on its own has failed the fix but if you just straight-up ignore all of them then capitalism can seem universally functional number two capitalism is fun SiC of whose cleanup rule your sins stilling to go to work and that isn't fun they come back drained of their energy and other vital essences but as a reward they get to participate in the game of consumerism and The Sims wants you to know that consumerism is fun it allows for creativity in design and the evolution of a space from just four bare walls into a complex living structure this game loop of work and consumption is the same loop that most of us have to go through in our daily lives and most of us have realized that this loop doesn't bring much lasting joy well the Sims gets around this because number three capitalism is aspirational better items make you able to perform that tasks in your life better that's true in real life too to some extent but the Sims also wants you to know that better things make you happier and better things cost more in real life often better build quality and functionality comes with a higher price tag but just as often companies out on meaningless bells and whistles to try to get more money out of people who are willing to pay more a sales tactic called price differentiation the difference between the Sims and real life here though is that better items don't just work better they make sense happier sometimes this is indirect through better fulfilling of Sims needs but sometimes just being in the same room as an expensive item is enough to make your sim happier what all this does is directly tie the amount of money your sim has to how happy they can be money can literally buy happiness it's subtle right number four capitalism is fair capitalism in the sims the system that's easy to understand and easy to succeed in if you do the right actions you receive the right results you get promoted when you reach the right skill levels and go to work happy enough times if you go to work sad or fail to spend your ample free time improving yourself you're not going to be successful your ability to succeed or fail within since capitalism it's well within the players control due to this conceit the sims has left out issues like discrimination well it's very nice to imagine a world where discrimination isn't a thing they also chose to leave out aspects like physical disabilities and mental health issues and I'm not counting the erratic trait because for one it's a stupid caricature of mental health issues that's only a mild inconvenience but for two it was originally called the insane trait which altogether would have been seen as regressive even like 20 years ago there's lots of possible explanations for why they chose not to include disability but as far as I've been able to find they've never directly stated why and they even talked about including disability in the sims 4 but we haven't heard anything about that sense now in most other works it's pretty easy to say that something wasn't included because there wasn't enough time or because there wasn't space for it in the final product that argument doesn't work for the Sims at all because the Sims have had an average of eight expansion packs per game and that's not him including the various game packs and stuff packs and it's really hard for me to believe that they didn't have time to include wheelchairs when they had time for vampires werewolves Katy Perry and Millie Bobby Brown but whatever their intentional stated reasons there is another problem if the Sims did choose to include aspects like discrimination and disability it would allow the player to experience a story that would expose the uncomfortable truths of the capitalist system that we live in and at its core the Sims is about wish fulfillment and the comfort of control playing as a person experiencing discrimination or someone with a physical disability or a mental health issue that prevents them from working exposes a real issue with society that people in those situations through no fault of their own are effectively shut out from the aspirational middle-class lifestyle that the Sims is trying to portray and because of that the Sims is basically saying people like you aren't what people want to see in their escapist fantasies in an aspirational world you wouldn't exist it reinforces the invisibility and stigma towards these groups and that's a basic issue of representation but the thing is there's nothing in the game itself that is inherently incompatible with featuring any of this stuff it's just that capitalism is not built with these people in mind in pure free market capitalism there aren't any built-in safeguards for people who can't work if they don't have someone to help provide for them the system basically says they should starve or rely on charity in the real world we've developed welfare systems to help provide for people who aren't able to provide for themselves under the capitalist system the Sims has opted not to include welfare because it would devalue the aspirational conceit of the system if you could just opt out of the Skinner box however there is a mod to include welfare in The Sims 4 by user spin thir ism on mod the sims dot info here's the first paragraph from spin thir isms description of that mod during my playthrough of the sims 4 poverty challenge which brings about a type of strategy and planning you wouldn't typically find in the sim series I ended up breaking off a relationship and playing the rest of the game as a single mom with a bunch of kids since the pay from a job the challenge required sticking to low pay team jobs would be mostly eaten up by a sitter a stayed home made a few bucks writing and doing some odd jobs however this didn't really feel that realistic in my opinion since the sims simplified self-employment so much so I created this quick mod that pays your family three hundred and thirty-five dollars per week to sit back and do absolutely nothing it's an absurdly low amount of money but it's realistic welfare isn't designed to make you rich and here's the prompt that appears in game when you first get approved for welfare congratulations you're approved for public assistance well hopefully you're not too happy this isn't a good thing you must report to the welfare office every Wednesday to collect your check if you don't show up you will not get any assistance for that week you cannot have a job while in welfare and only one Semin each household may enroll the phrasing thereof hopefully you're not too happy if this isn't a good thing and it's a ridiculously low amount of money but it's realistic welfare isn't supposed to make you rich it's such distilled an ironic capitalist propaganda even in the situation that Spencer's and describes where a single mother is having a hard time getting by due to low wages they've decided to uncritically repeat the talking point that people on welfare should live on the edge of poverty and that their reliance on welfare is not a good thing even though this is basically exactly the kind of situation that welfare in the United States was created to try to help out with also as that prompt mentions because of the way that Sims 4 is coded modding welfare into the game required implanting some weird restrictions as workarounds in order for the welfare job to take up your job slot and prevent you from getting another job you have to physically go somewhere once a week to perform the job of picking up your welfare check once every Wednesday your sim must leave the house for one hour and collect their check it will be deposited into your family funds as usual if you miss your appointment every Wednesday at 2 p.m. you will not get a check for the week calling in sick pto vacation time and any other ways around this are disabled you must go there to get paid these are weird arbitrary restrictions that are a consequence of how the sims 4 is programmed which is some amazing unintentional political commentary welfare how stacked like work because if that's how the system is designed in real life welfare is designed to operate in the similar way in America people on welfare are forced to complete all kinds of arbitrary tasks in order to receive their assistance drug testing meetings monitoring job search quotas these are all ways to make sure that people who are on welfare are still operating within the rules of the system in real life the only way to cheat the system is crime which is pretty much analogous to using codes or console commands in the sims so if you take live options off the table it highlights something about the way that both the Sims and real-life capitalism are programmed mods have to be coded on top of and around the unchangeable rules of the game the policy of an unemployed sim getting regular unconditional income just isn't compatible this is true in real world capitalism as well because allowing people to survive without working for the system devalues the aspiration will concede of the system itself therefore it's against the rules trying to model capitalism results in weak compromises like a flat thousand dollars a month for everybody to build a fair world you'd have to seize the source code and recompile a new build of the game one that doesn't include these humanizing rules as part of its foundation number five capitalism is the present the Sims has a weird relationship with our real world's history some parts are apparently shared and imply that the Sims takes place in a fictional country somewhere on earth since multiple countries from the real world are mentioned in item descriptions and as vacation destinations based on item descriptions apparently the Black Plague the Crusades and the colonisation of Africa are all in the sims cannon and since most of these events are in the somewhat distant past they don't affect the world of the Sims as we see it but even in the cases where item descriptions seem to indicate situations that should be visible in the gameplay of the Sims they're just absent none of that stuff actually exists in game Redwood hottub back in the early 70s sim nation was full of crazy ideas free software good public schools affordable housing and many other fads while tax rebellions in fear destroyed most of them the hot tub fad has become an entire industry and no wonder with the epidemic triad of overworked troubled children housing shortages sins everywhere need a way to relax 100 percent reclaimed redwood this item description is obviously satire but it's completely out of place here it's like a message from a gritty alternate sims universe that actually works like the real world in other games the constructed history creates context it can inform player decisions or tell a story history in the Sims is just an Ikea product description meant to enhance an object's aesthetic flavor but completely detached from any greater relevance that should have as a historical objects and that's not interesting just because it's dissonant this interpretation of history supports the kapos worldview of how capitalism is fair history adds context and historical context is an enemy of the myth of fair capitalism capitalism has a long history of supporting discriminatory behavior towards minority groups and if you go far enough down the production chain on basically any product you're gonna find exploitation especially in the so-called developing world and that exploitation didn't arise by chance in the greater historical context this exploitation is based on foundation of immoral acts of self-interest by people in the past ignoring historical context or only acknowledging it superficially is basically required if you want to pretend that capitalism is fair and not based on exploitation so in order to get around that problem the sims uses the same method has a lot of people living under capitalism today by ignoring any actionable message from history history is forced to operate and be retold within the confines of capitalism which means it's sanitized and defamed into just flavor text in fact I would even go so far as to say that someone on the writing south of at least the first Sims game was aware that this was the case in the late 19th and early 20th centuries change was in the air religion was in decline capitalism seemed infallible even the laws of the universe seemed uncertain posters reflected this heady mix of ideas with foreign compositions lurid colors and scenes of luxury and indulgence however today these progressive posters are merely antique accents used mainly as temporary art for model homes back to our condos and festive corporate lobbies conclusions assuming that everything the Simmons says is true that capitalism is fun that it's fair that it's aspirational and that it works we arrive at the worldview of the capitalist propagandist in this worldview capitalism is the foundation for a utopian dream world that anyone can access if they work hard enough and from what we've seen this utopia relies on willful ignorance of the actual issues that capitalism has as a system there's a reason why when you're arguing with someone who's in favor of capitalism they have to try to minimize any issues with capitalism or pretend like their inherent conditions of the world widespread discrimination can't be a big problem because if it was such a big problem I would have seen it for myself if the third world is being exploited by multinational corporations to make a buck that's just how it has to be and no other method of economic organization could possibly alleviate that situation I thank you for your question but I have to say we're capitalists so what it is now there's just one last thing I want to talk about the foundation of society as is being explored in SCC's project Leviathan as explained by the director of the project the Leviathan project is an investigation into large military industrial and governmental organizations we induced a large scientific computer to operate in ways analogous to the functioning of large social organizations and learn about such organizations by observing what the computer does project Leviathan was run by the system Development Corporation in the 1960s to try to simulate parts of society specifically the military industrial complex in a computer system to try to find better management and organizational methods from their findings discriminating researchers are aware however of the many fundamental problems that limit the valid applications of simulation studies laboratory simulation inevitably creates a problem of interpretation ie of inferring correspondence between the simulation model studied in the laboratory and the real world this is particularly true when the world created simulated in the laboratory attempts to simulate complex aspects of social reality for instance if political military gaming is ever to be of more than heuristic value so as to afford a basis for decision making the methodology of simulation must itself be subject to direct scrutiny the problem with simulations is that they're designed by people and people have biases and assumptions that come from the society that they were raised in it's understandable that a bunch of white American dudes working for a defense contractor in the height of the Cold War would have some unrealistic ideas about the virtues of American capitalist society assuming they actually had the technical knowledge to put together this kind of simulation effectively in an old IBM mainframe they still lacked the necessary objectivity to make a truly honest simulation that acknowledged the hard truths that they weren't willing to deal with even today when AI technology is advancing at a rapid pace we're still seeing the same problem the sense of the game that's supposed to be a stimulation of life but above all it's supposed to be a fun game when we'll write in this team sat down to start mapping the rules of the real world into their simulation they were faced with two overlapping problems what do we do in situations that we don't think would be fun to play through and what do we do in situations where real world capitalism is obviously cruel and unfair in each case they chose perhaps completely unintentionally to omit the things that were not compatible with the capitalist propaganda that they had been immersed in for their entire lives they defaulted to what they knew and the result of that was the regurgitation of that propaganda they portrayed America as it is supposed to work which also happens to be the way that uncritical media delusionally pretends that it actually does once the Sims is wish-fulfillment of a very specific vision of a capitalist lifestyle one that really isn't that relatable to most people living under capitalism today and yet it's very easy for us to look at the sins and see it as just a fun little life sim without any people masochist if it isn't already obvious this is because capitalist propaganda works it's usually accepted without question that of course the sins just cut out the parts of the real world that wouldn't be fun the result of doing this closely aligns with capitalist Dogma I can believe that this wasn't intentional but I can't believe it's just a coincidence because even well right is not immune to propaganda a student is led from step to step at a rate dependent upon his own learning speed




Comments
  1. Such a good video concept holy shit….i love the execution as well…the moody guitar music…the cool delivery of blazing analysis…when the background music started to peak and the racist AI articles were flashing on screen, there was something so cinematic about it, like the final twist in interstellar or spec ops: the line or something….ugh I love it

  2. Great video! I love the sims, but one thing that I've noticed as well is that I find that the gameplay gets pretty boring once you reach the top level on your career; and then you need to have kids or some other challenge just to make it more interesting. Which just feels like some nuclear family bullshit to me.
    Side note: from what I've heard the devs are working on implementing disabled sims into the game, but they're not quite sure how to do it.
    Side note 2.0: What the world of the sims looks like to me is more of a social democratic utopia instead of a pure (Randian) capitalist utopia. I'm not sure how much the difference is relevant because capitalism is still capitalism either way.

  3. This was a superb video. I love playing The Sims and you made some great points delivered in a very clear manner, the music was great too! Consider me subscribed. 💜

  4. Great, well thought out video. I think you made some really good points, and I've been waiting for an analysis of the sims series which discusses this type of points. I've subscribed, and I'm looking forward to see what you will be discussing next 🙂

    I would however propose that the original Sims game from 2000 is more critical of the capitalist system than the later games. The first one is really hard, and however hard you work you will never have enough time in one day to get a good nights sleep, socialise, keep entertained, clean your home etc. As item's mood effects are dependent on their price this will only be a problem for a poor sim. A rich sim will be able to get much more done in a day due to their exclusive furniture. A bed that makes them more energized, a fridge that makes them fuller, a stove that cooks faster or a TV which makes them more entertained. Of course this is not the reason rich people have it easier in real life but I do think there is some social commentary to be found in that game.

  5. Hey, general criticism: consider either purchasing a noise filter and/or reducing the gin on frequency related to "S" and "Z" sounds. They are way too loud and obscure others, making it difficult to understand words when you speak at fast pace.

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