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Game Review

I'll admit it: I'm one of those grumpy gamers who never really liked The Sims franchise.

Tell your sim to get out of bed. Tell your sim to exercise. Tell your sim to go to work.

Blah, blah, blah.

I mean, com'on, I have a hard enough time telling myself to do those things, much less spending hours upon hours plopped in front of my computer monitor ordering my virtual avatar to perform the same mundane tasks. This does not sound like my idea of a good time.

But something new is afoot with EA Games' latest iteration of the franchise. And it's making quite a difference, especially for grumpy ol' gamers like me.

Fans of the franchise will find The Sims 3 familiar in many ways. The slick 3-D graphics, cutaway house walls and click-to-move gameplay mechanics remain pretty much the same, for instance.

But the improved character traits and the ramped-up depth of play give the latest Sims entry a world of fresh potential. Sure, you can still concentrate on micromanaging your digital self's neighborly visits and potty schedule. But now you've got bigger life goals and careers to undertake, too.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning.

The Game of Life
The first thing you do after popping Sims 3 into your computer is create a character (or family of characters) to play. This process can take minutes or hours depending on just how über-detailed you want to be. My teen daughter and I, for example, worked together to create a sim family that looked almost exactly like our household. Even the dad's hairline reflected reality—poor guy.

Once you've got your character's look just right, it's time to mix in some personality. Sims 3 enables you to choose from more than 60 mental, physical, social and lifestyle traits to nuance your avatar into the person you really want him or her to be. Should you so choose, your sim could be a workaholic perfectionist who longs for scientific accolades. Or maybe an athletic, flirty party animal who secretly yearns to be an international super spy.

Given such diverse possibilities, the potential personality and vocational combinations are practically unlimited. And they ultimately shape how your character will interact with his or her world and grow over the course of a lifetime.

After setting up your sim and getting a handle on the responsibilities in front of you, the world is your oyster. You can buy a house, look for a job, meet other sim residents, visit movie theaters and art galleries, work for a promotion, pump up at the gym or even rummage through your neighbor's garbage. Just click the city map option and select your destination, and your sim will travel there ASAP, plunging obediently into whatever social activity you command.

As in previous incarnations of the franchise, sim characters age as gameplay progresses. So if you want to achieve your goals, you need to manage the clock closely. Because before you know it, the sands of time will be piling up against you. And you can forget becoming a sports hero once you're "old," stooped and gray.

To put it simply, it's life boiled down into a concentrated, virtual form. The game is so wide open with possibilities and creative directions that it becomes—even to this non-enthusiast—even sim-ier.

The Problem(s) With Realism
The fact that The Sims 3 is as flexible, realistic and lifelike as it is, however, also opens the door to some potential problems. For instance, characters can be dishonest, nasty, materialistic and lusty in the ways they relate to others. And the latter trait in particular can be channeled in just about any sexual direction a player might desire.

Sims can lock lips with each other in public and private. They can even bed-hop, indulging in premarital trysts, same-sex intercourse or adulterous romances with as many partners as they can woo. Some formfitting outfits can be a little revealing. (Nudity is pixelated.) Meanwhile, sex is a giggling activity hidden under the bedcovers. Still, the slightly censored nature of a character's would-be erotic exploits doesn't diminish the fact that the person playing the game is still making those lascivious (if virtual) choices.

Other unwholesome activities can be pursued as well. I created a sim with a kleptomaniac streak and proceeded to send her around town swiping cars and other belongings from families rich and poor. The result? She decorated her home with the latest and greatest, ended up fairly well-off and eventually made it to the lofty perch of "Master Thief"—hardly a vocational achievement most of us would aspire to or want to glorify. Negative consequences were nowhere in sight, unlike the probable outcome if someone tried to pull the same tricks in the real world.

Now, that's not to say that The Sims 3 will motivate impressionable gamers to digitally stomp all over every moral code they can think of. Unfortunately, however, the ability to make choices like these is a reminder that even in a creative, engaging virtual world such as this one, immoral practices and social decay can still rear their problematic heads.

And that's not just me being grumpy, either.

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Bob Hoose

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