I've never been a big fan of Will Wright's games -- when I was a kid, I found SimCity and SimEarth too deep and confusing and, as a teenager, was quickly bored by The Sims. A games desgin student at Anglia Ruskin University named Robin Burkshaw, however, has me singing a different tune. It seems that with a little bit of wit and originality, you can create, or at least catalyze, a really interesting narrative out of The Sims 3: he created two homeless sims, gave them a few character traits, and then let them run loose.
From his blog, it sounds like the results could be awfully hilarious:
This is Kev and his daughter Alice. They’re living on a couple of park benches, surviving on free meals from work and school, and the occasional bucket of ice cream from a neighbour’s fridge.
When you create a person in The Sims 3, you can give them personality traits that determine their behaviour. Kev is mean-spirited, quick to anger, and inappropriate. He also dislikes children, and he’s insane. He’s basically the worst Dad in the world.
But the experience quickly becomes sad: "His daughter Alice has a kind heart, but suffers from clumsiness and low self-esteem. With those traits, that Dad, and no money, she’s going to have a hard life."
I don't want to put words in Burkshaw's mouth, nor do I want to talk on a subject that I don't know much about, but Alice and Kev shed a lot of insight into games' potential for social criticism and awareness. Indeed, there are several links to social organizations and charities at the end of Alice and Kev's tale.
Do yourself a favor and hop over to aliceandkev.wordpress.com -- it's compelling, fascinating, and heart-wrenching stuff. I'm not going to spoil it for you, but I read every entry in one sitting.