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A View from Henry Jenkins

Sims Psychology

It’s a cliche to say that game playing can be therapy but Psychology Today tells us that a growing number of people are using The Sims to make sense of themselves and the other folks in their lives, including bringing…

  • January 6, 2004

It’s a cliche to say that game playing can be therapy but Psychology Today tells us that a growing number of people are using The Sims to make sense of themselves and the other folks in their lives, including bringing their simulations to their shrink and discussing them on the couch. Here’s what Clive Thompson reports:

“When The Sims works well, it’s kind of like a projective test. You can really see a lot of their psyche spilling out into their games,” says John Suler, a psychology professor at Rider University in Lawrenceville, New Jersey who specializes in cyberculture. “I spoke to one teenager who created a version of herself and her boyfriend. Then she created another version of herself–an evil version–to try to steal her boyfriend. She wanted to see what it’s like to be evil.”

Thompson outlines the range of psychological and sociological theories which shaped the design of the game, suggesting that it is no accident that a growing number of people use it as a mirror into their own lives.

Everyone I know has at least one Sim revelation. Here’s one of mine: I was playing with my son, who has had trouble managing his bank account. I gave him an empty house and told him to plan for a family. His first choice was a really expensive big screen tv. After that, things got a lot lot tighter, until he ran out of money before installing plumbing or a refrigerator and had to buy a bed too small for the number of people in the house. From there, things went sour. His father character, designed to look like himself, lost his job because he hadn’t bathed. His wife, designed to look like a current crush, got really cranky because she couldn’t sleep. Everyone was starving because there was no food in the house and no money to buy any. Finally, I took mercy on him, told him to install a telephone, and call for the Pizza guy. The doorbell rings. The wife goes to get the food and the husband dies of starvation in the backyard that very moment. I wish I could say that it solved all of his money management problems, but it certainly got his attention!

Anyone who would like to read my further thoughts on the Sims should check out this online publication.

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