Slaves in The Sims 3: Why a civil war era plantation became news
The internet is a dangerous and intoxicating source, blurring the lines as it does between information and trivia, news and tidbits. This week a user on Reddit posted information about his latest creation: a semi-accurate recreation of a slave-era plantation, complete with a regiment of slaves and all done inside The Sims 3. Trusty worker ants carried the story to all corners, and outlets reported on the story, because that’s what they do.
BourgeoisBanana – the user in question – was interviewed by PC Gamer about the project, and he quite honestly describes it in the original thread on Reddit as a “terrible thing” which he initially created out of boredom. In the interview he confesses to being an architecture and history buff, noting The Sims is an ideal outlet for such things, and reportedly strove for as much historical accuracy in the building design and conditions as possible. Through the use of various mods and tweaks, he was able to make it so that slave sims were unable to enter the main house, and stuff a large amount of them into appropriate accommodations.
So why are we talking about it? The initial thread is simply someone showing off their work, of course; and the PC Gamer piece is quite an interesting and informative look at the creative process and potential discussion behind the idea. But such a thing was reported as news on all the usual channels, with varied levels of sensational language and head-shaking. Creating nasty situations in The Sims isn’t a new idea by any means, as the drowned and urine-soaked corpses of my former families would attest. It’s hard to imagine a breaking story about someone locking their sims in a room filled with wooden chairs and fireplaces, or forcing their happy married couples to get into fist fights while their children look on.
At one level it’s obvious: the whiff of controversy and the bloated news cycle. It’s something we touched on recently from multiple angles, as websites clamor to post every hint of news without a single care for its legitimacy or worth. Something happened, therefore we should report on it. It’s the most basic and incorrect understanding of the concepts of journalism, and it completely ignores whether something is newsworthy. Not that it would matter, as these are not in-depth investigative pieces, they’re flat-out regurgitation of the most basic facts. It shows a certain disrespect for the reader, reducing them to a simple number on a chart rather than working hard to make sure they have access to information and entertainment.
The irony in this case is that there is potential for the slave plantation to be “newsworthy” – the irony being that it’s the way the situation has been covered that begs for a little analysis. Benoit B. Mandelbrot would experience an infinite series of nested approvals.
Controversy is the other reason this non-story is a story, what with racism being one of those things which can send people back to their bunkers with a mere utterance. There’s still that unspoken idea that we’re not supposed to talk about it, especially not through the trivial medium of video games. Really, we’re not supposed to talk about anything particularly controversial. Tomb Raider’s attempted rape was seen as a horrible misjudgment at best, and a disgusting trivialisation of the issue at worst. Religion is referenced in games constantly, but direct discussion and analysis is generally avoided. And race is just ignored, more often than not.
Mass reporting of what basically amounts to a history nerd playing with a doll house is the industry’s way of playing adult. Adults don’t laugh at people being blown up, are always kind to women, and they’re always ready to cry out when anything might possibly be offensive if looked at from the right angle. It’s similar to a little girl who thinks being a grown-up like mummy is about wearing makeup and high heels.
With any luck, it will gradually become more and more ridiculous to report on such trivialities, simply because gaming will continue to become a closer representation of the entire human experience; instead of just the fun parts. Or the press will start doing their job. Now taking bets.