Sims Social: cultivating our virtual identities

The Sims Social, developed by EA and Playfish has rocked the social gaming world. Out for less than a month, it’s already the social network’s number two game behind CityVille. That’s fast, even by social games standard. What’s the secret to its success? Obviously its based on the same game mechanics as the successful Sims series which has been entertaining PC users for over a decade. But bringing the game to the social stream is giving it a whole new lease on life.

Sims Social, developed by EA and Playfish

I’m surprised that a few of my non-gaming friends are already on The Sims Social. More than that, I’m surprised that all of them have customised their avatars to look, well, exactly like they do in real life. Down to very fine details. In fact, I’m pretty sure one of them has the very same outfit in her wardrobe. But I was completely surprised when I – savvy game analysis person – got sucked into the social gaming vortex. I was visiting a friend’s house (as you do, to earn those lucrative social points) when I noticed how much new stuff they had bought since I last visited. And it looked nice. I wanted my house to look nice. Hadn’t I been working hard to earn those Simoleans? Shouldn’t my house reflect that? I went to the shop and picked up some new floor tiles. The kitchen cabinets looked good, better than my existing ones so I bought a set of those… and then I had to slap myself in the face. I hate going to DIY stores in RL and yet here I am in a virtual space looking at cabinets. Yet again, the social media space has proved the importance of real friends (or acquaintances) in motivating users to keep playing their games. This game had pushed all my psychological buttons and I have a degree in psychology.

Visiting a neighbour in Sims Social

But where is Sims Social headed? Will gamers tire of its constant push towards materialistic heaven or will the friendships that are nurtured keep people hooked? Will they cultivate virtual identities that are mirror images of their real selves or will they use it to play out fantasies of being someone completely different? When I visit a friend, all I see is their house and how happy they are. I can’t see their accomplishments, hopes, dreams, fears (not counting the random thought bubbles that appear above our heads). Are we just heading towards virtual Affluenza?

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