culture

‘The Sims 4’ Now Lets You Become a Social Media Influencer

Using influencer mentality as a gameplay mechanic has slowly but surely been creeping into video games

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Electronic Arts

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October 17, 2018

Inviting players to live the social media influencer life has definitely become a recent video game bandwagon. And The Sims is jumping on board.


It’s often easy to forget that “Sims” is short for “simulation,” but that’s just what the increasingly complex game has attempted to do since its first release in 2000. Of course, in those early days of the internet, social media hadn’t developed into the sometimes terrifying, privacy-stealing behemoth it is now. But in the upcoming Sims 4: Get Famous expansion, the developers at EA’s Maxis studio are ready to simulate society's contemporary obsession with becoming an influencer.

 

It seems only natural that video games would tap into this new vein of generational aspiration. The rise of YouTube has buoyed a rise of influencers that has instilled a new sense of success and achievement in those who grew up watching PewDiePie and Markiplier do what they love as a job and make millions. In this gaming trend, being an influencer who creates wealth out of amassing followers has become a shorthand for yesteryear’s rewards. Instead of gaining points in power, money or prestige through force, deception or justice, players gain points in a fictional follower count. The math and the serotonin kick is still the same.

 

Gaming, on many levels, is an escapist medium. It often taps into a player's own fantasies of what they might want their lives to be and grants them some version of a different, possibly better, life. It's no wonder game development is tapping into the modern rash of entrepreneurial influencers.

The Sims 4: Get Famous, arriving Nov. 16, is all about putting your character in the shoes of a social influencer, hell-bent on inspiring jealousy and self-confidence issues on all who scroll through their feed. “Sims can ... bask in the limelight as an inspiring influencer, livestreaming every lavish moment and giving other Sims maximum #FOMO, or even by gaining worldwide acclaim in their current career,” EA said in an announcement. “No matter a Sim’s claim to fame, they’ll be able to attend exclusive parties with the stars, outrun starstruck fans, truly experience the VIP lifestyle of their dreams and more.”

 

The Sims isn’t the only franchise that has included social media into its gameplay. And it’s actually far from the first to cast the player in the role of an aspiring influencer (an existentially haunting phrase if there ever was one). Social media has been slowly but surely encroaching into many games over the past ten years, even if it’s not a main focus of the narrative. Last month’s breakout hit Spider-Man on PS4 even includes a fictional Twitter feed of sorts that follows the web-slinger’s antics in a pretty clever way.

 

However, the player as an influencer, wherein a game asks the player to increase a made-up follower count as a way to advance, is a somewhat newer inclusion into games. Though the road has been well traveled before The Sims chose to walk it.

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One of the first notable games to employ this mechanic was Kim Kardashian: Hollywood, a free-to-play mobile game released in 2014 as part of the grand Kardashian plan to appear in every part of our lives. In that game, the goal is to go from the E-list to the A-list. Players do that by increasing their fans through such notoriety-building activities as club appearances and modeling jobs. While there isn’t any ersatz social media implementation, the suggestion of its inclusion is obvious. You are succeeding in the game by getting more people to follow your life.

 

A different game that followed this influencer trend was 2017’s South Park: The Fractured But Whole. In this sequel to 2014’s South Park: The Stick of Truth, players actively "friend" and "socialize" with non-playable characters in a parody social media called Coonstagram. It’s named after Eric Cartman’s wincingly-named superhero alter ego The Coon. For The Fractured But Whole, using the social media to build a following is integrally tied to the game’s experience and progression. Sure, there are multiple optional milestones that can be accomplished by friending people. However, actual main storyline advancement sometimes relies on players gathering followers and increasing your social media clout. Of course, it’s done in a classic South Park satirical way, but it still uses influencer mentality as a gameplay mechanic.

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One of the most recent and possibly most egregious examples of this trend is Ubisoft’s The Crew 2. Released this June, the sequel to 2014’s The Crew has players race and complete missions driving cars, planes, boats and other vehicles. And all of it is in the service of gaining “followers” that will skyrocket you to stardom.

 

“Players will progress through the game by earning followers for participating in Main Events, Skills and side activities. Gain enough followers and you’ll increase in Status,” reads the official Crew 2 website. “At each new Status reached, players unlock new activities and disciplines.” In The Crew 2, the Status rankings level you up based on popularity. You begin as Anonymous, then move on to Popular, Famous, Star and finally, Icon. Truly an advancement for the modern age.

To some games, like The Sims 4, the fantasy of a different experience has grown beyond simple control over a simulated life. It now includes the fantasy of captivating other simulated lives to view, admire and fawn over the original simulated one.

 

“With The Sims 4: Get Famous, players can achieve their wildest dreams of becoming a celebrity and all of the perks that come with fame in The Sims 4,” Senior Producer Grant Rodiek said. “The development team has added a slew of fun, humorous, and lavish new gameplay content to ensure that fans, and their Sims, can experience the luxury lifestyle as they play with life, this time in the spotlight.”

 

Because of the current social media environment, that “fame” described by Rodiek has evolved into one that includes a lot of work to cultivate followers and a different, evolving view of how modern players want to be rewarded. The Sims isn’t the first to tap into this new hustle for fame through constructing a following. And it won’t be the last.