For many neurodiverse people, ‘The Sims’ has been a lifelong comfort


Pixel by pixel, the life simulation game “The Sims” offers that experience for more than 20 years. Since its first release in 2000, “The Sims” has become one of the best-selling PC games in the world. Time has not dulled its brilliance either.

“Sims” creators on Twitch and YouTube have been testing the game, building complex houses and trying absurd challenges like having as many babies as possible or subjecting their Sims to Kafka-esque psychological torture (all fun, of course). Some pioneering “Sims” creators even role-play on Instagram, showing perfect Sim lives for their other Sim friends to praise and envy.

But “The Sims” is also a haven for neurodiverse players, some of whom grew up with the game and keep repeating it well into adulthood. “The Sims” is an open world game, which means there is no right or wrong way to experience it. Whether you want to speed up the apocalypse or just help their little Sims with the laundry, there are no expectations that are not set by the player himself. For some with autism, ADHD, or other conditions, that means they can tailor the game to whatever they want: a place of comfort in a confusing world, some sort of social roadmap, an alternate reality where they’re in control, or just a lifelong special interest.

The idea that “The Sims” offers a neater, simpler version of our own world is built into the game’s DNA. Game creator Will Wright lost his home during the 1991 Oakland-Berkeley firestorm in California. During the reconstruction, he was moved to consider what life really consisted of. A set of needs to be met? Items to own? People to love?

“When something like that happens, you get a big picture,” he told Berkeleyside in 2011. “Where do I want to live? What kind of things should I buy? You almost see your life as a project in progress.”
This view resonates especially with people with autism or ADHD who spoke to CNN. “Neurodivergent is a nonmedical term that describes people whose brains develop or function differently for some reason,” according to the Cleveland Clinic. Such circumstances present opportunities and challenges in equal measure. Areas of life that others may find easy or automatic, such as performing daily tasks, meeting basic physical needs, and interpreting social situations, are often, to borrow Wright’s words, “a project in progress.”
Helen Ashcroft, a Sims player and video game editor with autism, first picked up the original “Sims” game when she was 20 years old. Through different stages of life, she has found both comfort and creativity in the open play of the game.

“I’ve always been fascinated by human behavior. I also love any game that I can build and create with. The Sims have combined both,” she tells CNN.

Of course, you don’t have to be neurodiverse to find solace in low-stakes games like you are, like “The Sims.” But for people like Ashcroft, structured social interactions and the ability to create different situations work almost like a real-life laboratory.

“I can play in different ways depending on my mood. Sims have their own emotions for me to explore and I can act out different situations in a safe environment. Neurodiverse players can explore relationship dynamics that aren’t natural to us,” she says .

benji, a video game journalist and creator of Sims with autism, who prefers to be called by his social media handle, says he turns to video games as a form of escapism.

“One thing that makes ‘The Sims’ so special is that it’s not ‘punishment’,” he told CNN. “It’s a really good oasis, so to speak. My everyday life demands so much from me, and I can just sit down and do whatever I want with those little people.”

Benji says he gets the most satisfaction from the game by setting goals for his Sims and mapping out what their story will look like. And while he doesn’t identify with the emotional aspects of the game as much as a very sociable person, there have been times when he felt surprisingly seen.

“At one point, the developers introduced a new trait — now a Sim could be an ‘overachiever.’ So when I applied that trait to one of my Sims, he got bored and restless as his life went to sleep. took on challenging tasks, he was so happy and fulfilled, and I thought, “Wow. I’ve never had anything to do with each other. so much for a Sim in my life.'”

Gamers try
Educators and psychology professionals have observed the benefits of life simulator games such as ‘The Sims’ not only for neurodiverse groups, but also for those with brain injuries or those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Research from the University of Pittsburgh shows that “Sims”-like games helped a group of children with cognitive problems improve their problem-solving skills and recognize how different traits influence behavior.
Research from the University of Kentucky suggests that simulation games can help people with ADHD mimic and thereby sharpen their executive functions.

People with autism and ADHD are not the only ones who find satisfaction in inhabiting their own designed world. As communities have naturally developed around “The Sims” and its many expansions and adaptations, other marginalized identities have recognized a similar value. Some LGBTQ ‘Sims’ players say the game has helped them on their way to living their true selves. (“Sims” characters have always been able to form romantic relationships with other adult Sims, regardless of their gender.)

“When I realized I was gay, I couldn’t share it with others,” Polish “Sims” user DOTSim told Electronic Arts, the video game company that publishes “The Sims”. “I think being able to express myself freely in a safe environment of the game has given me the courage to finally get out of it.”

Over the years, EA has released several updates that allow people to fully customize their appearance, race, cultural identity, gender identity, and sexuality. Benji, who is from Sao Paulo, Brazil, says he has noticed occasional updates with cultures outside the US, such as music from international artists recorded in Simlish, the language of the Sims.

This addition underlines the very reason why neurodivergent players keep launching “The Sims” year after year, across all life stages. If the world doesn’t seem to be built for you, it’s a relief to be able to build one yourself.

The Valley Voice
The Valley Voice
Christopher Brito is a social media producer and trending writer for The Valley Voice, with a focus on sports and stories related to race and culture.


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