For the majority of her adult life, 33-year-old Marie has never been a big fan of pools. “They take up too much space,” she tells me, which is why she’s never considered them when looking to buy a house for her family. Of course, things changed when her family “suddenly became super wealthy,” and Marie didn’t know what to do with all the money.
Well, not her actual family — her family in The Sims, who she has grown extra close to in quarantine.
Since the first version of The Sims came out in 2000, the game has always been a way for people to live vicariously through computer-generated humans with their own neighborhoods, homes and family histories. But that might never be more true than it is right now — at the height of summer and (hopefully) a global pandemic that’s definitely derailed all the typical fun in the sun. Fun like massive pool parties, or really, pool parties of any kind.
A self-described introvert, Marie says she wouldn’t “be caught dead at a pool party with lots of people,” coronavirus or not. However, in The Sims, she “can create extroverted sims, and see them enjoy gatherings with lots of people.” “You even have the option to relax on a towel and ‘listen to music,’ as a stereo will materialize next to you,” she explains. “You can use the diving board and actually gain skill from it, making more sophisticated dives. There are even a couple of games you can play inside the pool, like splashing one another or a ‘hold your breath’ contest.”
Things can get pretty wild, too. “Before the party started, I had to remove mom and dad’s double bed, because if I left it there, many sims would have wanted to use it to ‘woohoo,’ or have sex,” she laughs. “They do that every single party. You throw a birthday party for the little girl who’s growing up from toddler to child, and the grandparents will ditch the girl blowing out the candles to go woohoo in her bedroom.”
Meanwhile, Julia, a 23-year-old in Massachusetts, is more of a pool builder than pool partier. “I sometimes use Sims as a getaway from real life, where my virtual self can own a mansion and lounge by a beautiful public pool for free,” she explains. “If you use a little imagination and put in a lot of detail, Sims builds can feel really real, and the game sometimes even allows you to exceed the limitations of actual, physical architecture.”
For example, when building the pool above, Julia says she was “hit with such a moment of realism that I just had to share it on Reddit. I don’t know if I’ll ever tile a pool in real life, but sitting there, individually placing and adjusting each tile, gave me a similar sense of the satisfaction of creation and work.”
Lisa, a 28-year-old in Canada, normally spends her entire summer around water. But without any kind of aquatic pursuits this year, she’s left only with the pool life of her sims. Which, it should be noted, she doesn’t exactly mind — during particularly cold Canadian winters, playing the Island Living version of The Sims helps her remember growing up in South America. “I love all kinds of [Sims] pools, even the indoor gym ones in Del Sol Valley or the public type,” she explains. “I’ll have my sims go as a group and grill some burgers, lounge on chairs or swim around. Or if a sim has a low fun need, I’ll have them lounge in a pool, since it raises their needs and relaxes me.”
“Lately, when I’m feeling too down on how things are out in the world, I’ve gone back to my shack of three friends in an eclectic, slapdash deco with hammocks and palm trees,” she continues. “I’m in love with the idea of living there. I’m glad to have a place where there is sun and a proper summer.”
Lisa has always heavily invested herself in fictional worlds — and emotionally attached to the characters therein — so she’d rather use something like The Sims to tune out the outside world than her imagination. “It’s a wish-fulfillment thing,” she explains. “Because I put so much effort into creating the sims and piecing together their world, it’s more satisfying seeing the game play out on the PC than just imagining myself by a pool or in a nice beach house.”
To that end, Marie concludes, “Everything in this game is escapism. You can play a lot of chess and become a neurosurgeon; you can buy a house and have no debt. Being able to hang out by the pool is just one more thing that we do to live vicariously through our sims.”