The Sims: A Life Simulator as a Means of Building Identity
By: Mariana Moreno
In this essay I'll address how a life simulator like The Sims (Wright, 2000), has become one of the life simulation videogames with more presence when controlling the destiny of a virtual alter ego through missions, allowing the player a great amount of possibilities in the personalization of an avatar, by constructing a fictitious and idealized image of the player. Usually we use humanoid avatars, and when we are faced with avatars of people we do not know, we imagine what they might look like outside of the screen based on these avatars. But the truth is that the appearance that one has in real life may have little, if anything, to do with the avatar that is used virtually.
You can know some of the tastes of the person through their avatar; for example, if someone uses the photograph of a certain actor or actress that they likes, or a character in a movie or television series. Also if they choose a funny, original, basic or striking image, one can know something more about the user's personality, if they have a sense of humor, if they are creative, romantic or if they like to attract attention. Likewise, there are people who, either because they do not want to reveal information about themselves or because of simple laziness, opt for less personalized and more neutral avatars.
Despite not giving us information about their appearance, when we do know the person who uses a certain avatar, we can draw other conclusions based on the choice that this person makes. In short, we can see if that person tries to give the cybernauts a vision of themselves that's approximated to their real image, if they prefer to present themselves in an idealized way, or if they decides to adopt their physical treats as they are, or if we are simply dealing with someone who gives more importance to the originality of the avatar and who does not care about linking the aforementioned with their own appearance.
In websites such as forums and blogs in which role-playing games are developed, referring to a non-linear narrative as it is developed through the network, the user plays and speaks through the identity of their character. It is here when The Sims form a connection that helps the user to construct a fictitious image of themselves, transporting the role play of a narrative technique to a virtual recreation in an interactive environment.
Thanks to the above, this type of role-playing games taken to a life simulator like the videogame in question, have become popular on YouTube (Karim, 2005) where users generate a series of videos that present a recreation of a story occupying as a main resource the personalization of the avatar that The Sims provides.
Another example with a great importance in networks and platforms like Tumblr (Karp, 2007) is the creation of blogs dedicated to a fictional character built by a user and by which he/she is identified and recognized. This activity focuses on the continuous publication of images that illustrate the life of the character, taken from the videogame through camera mode or screen capture, knowing that it is a fictional character. Within the context of roleplay video games this would be considered as an individual that is personalized in such a way that it can be differentiated from a pre-established avatar and that develops within an interactive platform such as the videogame itself.
As an example of the above, outside the field of videogames, we can see Amalia Ulman, an Argentine artist who created an online character and used it on Instagram to ask questions about gender. She used popular hashtags of micro-celebrities in the social network to create a work entitled "Excellencies and perfections" that consists of three parts, exploring how women present themselves virtually. Organizing the characters in "an order that could make sense as a narrative", Amalia moved to the big city, broke up with her long-time boyfriend , consumed drugs, underwent plastic surgery, self-destructed, apologized, recovered , and found a new boyfriend. By the end of the project on September 19, 2014, Amalia had accumulated 88,906 followers. It was then that she revealed that everything had been a performance, a work of art, and not a record of her life.
In social networks, not everything is stereotypes, facades and manipulations. If you pay real attention to detail, you can find users who create authentic aesthetics and have genuine psychological explorations. Something that happens, for example, with the Tumblr user known as Setoshi Zombie (Setoshi, 2013) and Froknereez (Froknereez, 2016), these are two of the many users of this social network who have created specific blogs for publishing images about their videogame avatars, by which they are identified and where each image represents a narrative established by the user, where it is perhaps one of the alternatives that allow the user to express a message or criticism, such as Amalia Ulman, taking it to websites where the users does not expose their identity and express themselves avatars.
Personally, I think that this activity helps develop communication and the creation of role-playing games, moving away from written techniques and combining them with the interactivity offered by videogames. Allowing to expand the territory of this type of activities through networks and then on platforms where the users share stories through their avatars and maintain their virtual identity on different platforms.
Setoshi Zombie (en línea) en setoshi-zombie-sims.tumblr.com (2013)
Froknereez (en línea) en froknereez.tumblr.com (2016)
Ulman, Amalia (en línea) en amaliaulman.eu (2018)