It was about one week into lockdown boredom that I found myself scouring the internet for ‘things to do inside’. I unearthed a minefield of listicles suggesting that I do something productive such as clear out my wardrobe Marie Kondo-style, or get rid of the vanilla essence that’s been hiding at the back of my kitchen cupboards since 2009. Instead of these frankly far too grown-up activities, I settled on a far less productive pursuit: playing The Sims 4.
I used to spend hours playing The Sims on PC when I was younger. As the oldest of six children, it was a game I could play uninterrupted for hours without one of my four younger brothers hovering over my shoulder, telling me what I should do next.
However, somewhere between moving to university and selling my soul to Apple, my computer’s ability to run any programme other than Spotify went out of the window. I haven’t played any video games other than the occasional attempt at FIFA since I was a teenager (I do look super cool whipping out my Macbook on public transport, mind).
EA isn’t daft, the company definitely plastered my Facebook feed in ads until I gave in and bought the game, but I did take some solace in the fact that I managed to nab the title on the PlayStation 4 store for about a quarter of the normal retail price (£44.99). Relishing the bargain, I signed in to see what was new since I’d last played as a teenager.
I might have once been interested in creating Sims and watching their lives unfurl, but it’s not this that appeals to me nowadays. There’s something about being cooped up in a one-bed flat during this quarantine period that has led my partner and I to binge watch Grand Designs like there’s no tomorrow and think about what our dream house would look like. For me, there’s got to be floor-to-ceiling bookshelves and a Murphy door in there somewhere, whereas my partner likes sunken living rooms and would be happy with a hammock in the garden.
I might be a cash-strapped renter for whom building a house feels like a pipe dream, but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. I’ve got plenty of imagination and ambition so, inspired by the architectural wonders I’d seen created by people with far more cash in the bank than I can ever hope to have, I got to work designing a jaw-dropping house for my Sims.
The first night playing the game, I managed to kill six hours in one fell swoop. I felt like I’d won the quarantine jackpot; I’d whiled away a whole evening digging foundations, fashioning complex outhouse structures and rooftop gardens, furnishing the property like I was an interior designer for the stars (despite the limited palette of building materials and furniture you get without installing mods).
It didn’t take me long to remember that money is no object in The Sims, a quick Google search reminded me of all the cheats you can use to get as many simoleons in the bank as you need to account for having expensive taste. And darling, my taste is very, very bougie.
Since it’s my partner’s PlayStation, and we kind of have to be in the same room as each other because our flat is so small, we designed a couple of properties in collaboration.
While doing so, it quickly dawned on me that we absolutely cannot build a house together. Ever. From the first minute of our project I could tell that he hated how long it was taking me to get to grips with the sensitivity of the PlayStation controller. I had to grit my teeth as he made interior design choices that I would never have made. That flooring with those tiles? That light fixture? That carpet, which looks like someone threw up on it? Yikes.
Playing The Sims 4 with my partner reminded me precisely why I enjoyed the game so much as a kid: it was the one activity I could do on a computer without anybody else expecting to join in. There’s a reason that it’s a single player game: the houses you build and the Sim communities you create are a reflection of your carefully cultivated tastes. The second you start playing the game with another person is the moment you realise how much cohabitating with another human is about the art of compromise. There’s no wonder that half the people who go on Grand Designs barely have a relationship left at the end of their projects; building a house together is an incredible test for any couple. Hats off to all those who manage it; one week of play-building a house in The Sims 4 and I was already questioning whether my partner really is the one (just kidding, if you’re reading this!).
Living and working together 24/7 in a one-bed flat during this period of self-isolation has had its challenges — issues arising from a lack of personal space that I’m sure many fellow flat renters can relate to. Maybe one day I’ll have a library to retreat to, and my partner will have a game room where he can chat to his friends over the mic until his heart’s content. For the time being at least, I’m shelving The Sims 4, forgetting about my Sims’ needs in favour of making sure mine and my partner’s real-life moodlet bars are as high as they can be under the current quarantine circumstances.
That said, The Sims 4 is a great game, and I’d highly recommend it if you’re at all interested in architecture, interior design, or perhaps you’re more of a Machiavellian type who wants to play God. But please, for the love of God, whatever you do, don’t try and turn The Sims into a multiplayer experience. It’s just not natural.
Words by Beth Kirkbride
This article was originally published as part of The Indiependent’s May 2020 charity magazine, which raised money for the British Lung Foundation. Find out more here.