Sims Playing Sims 2

Penny Arcade, panel from 2004-09-27: Ad Infinitum. Charles: Its time to go.  What are you guys doing? Gabe: I'm watching him watching his Sim watching TV.

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Part 2

What is the distinction between the a game-within-a-game and a mere representation?

While Sims 2 characters appear to be playing Sims 1, they are not - the tiny sim-screen on the sim-desk doesn’t display the results of a fully modeled Sims 1 world, let alone the Sims 2 world that would make it truly “recursion-licious.”

But aren’t all potential Sims actions (dancing, eating, sleeping) mere representations? I’d argue no: as simulations, Sims may engage in sub-simulations, making them capable of “really” performing all our actions that are also simulations. A Sim could never “really” eat an apple. However a Sim could “really” win a game of chess. This is because the simulation of eating an apple and the tangible reality are vastly different, whereas the simulation of a winning game of chess and the reality of a game are not. Your laptop can only pretend to eat your lunch - but it can actually beat you at chess. This is the uncanny recognition that made chess computers like Deep Blue international celebrities.

Yet because the gamers in Sims 2 are not actually playing a fully simulated sub-game, and the player cannot intervene in the gameplay activities, what we have is not a game-within-a-game, but rather a game-representation-within-a-game - part of a different, and more literary lineage of similar representations. The representation is read rather than participated in, and in being read creates a different kind of uncanny recognition for the true player as she sits at her own desk, outside Sim-space - rather than similar reality and agency, she recognizes similar unreality and lack of agency. She cannot affect the game because the Sim sitting and playing is not in fact actually doing anything at all… does this sound like a familiar accusation?

Perhaps the joke of uncanny self-containment works better when read than when played - with reading allowing for a kind of dual-consciousness, whereas moving into the sub-Sims game would defeat the delicious irony with immersion. Perhaps not - the Penny Arcade sampled above references not the active-participation immersion of avatar gaming, but television, that medium of passive immersion par excellance that was called the “boob tube” long before accusations of brain-drain were leveled at early video games.

Watching those who watch is thus the mode of representations within simulation - and it increases our ironic distance from our simulations and from ourselves. Next time I’d like to talk about the alternative - true Sim games-within-games, such as SliceCity, and finally get to what all this might mean for IF.

Transcript of Penny Arcade 2004-09-07: Ad Infinitum

Panel 1: Dark room lit by a glowing flatscreen monitor. Gabe stands behind Tycho, seated at his desk.

Gabe: Charles is over. You ready to go?

Tycho (hypnotized): I’m watching my Sim watch tv.

Panel 2: Charles enters.

Charles: It’s time to go. What are you guys doing?

Gabe (hypnotized): I’m watching him watching his Sim watch TV.

Panel 3: At the brightly lit Apple Store, with mugs of coffee, Charles talks to the beatnik Apple elitist.

Charles: It was like some fucked up Escher painting, “The Perfect Eternal Jackass.” It’s like a jackass drawing another jackass in front of a mirror, forever.

There were layers of meaning there I couldn’t begin to interpret.

2 Responses to “Sims Playing Sims 2”

  1. 1 Mark Marino

    For as much as I like there squeaky Esperanto-style mish-mash, these Sims are not very WRT-friendly, as they are bots without words, or for whom verbal exchange is reduced to word balloons along the lines of a binary old maid game: old maid, not-old maid. Airplane, not-airplane. (Though this may match certain exchanges that never took place.)

    This isn’t me saying they aren’t worth our time, but me wondering at the ways in which aspects of the Sims, that are so important to chatbot research, are reduced to automated tabulations. Like battle sequences in Risk, they come down to executions of algorithms upon pre-set variables (their preferences, desires, etc.) and completely reduce and obscure the complexity of verbal and non-verbal interaction.


  2. 2 Jeremy Douglass

    Recently, another game-within-a-game to make a splash has been Kermitt Quirk’s Tringo, a multiplayer game that became a phenomenon within Second Life culture. Of course, one could argue that Second Life isn’t a game… and that, for that matter, Sims wasn’t really a game either. The question is what the relationship of the sub-simulation is to the super-simulation….

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