I confess: I’m a huge fan of the computer game, The Sims. I’ve played it since the first iteration and have spent an embarrassing amount of money and time on the game. It used to be a guilty pleasure until I discovered that I could use it to further my writing. I could play and work at the same time! (Well, sort of.)
The Sims lets me quickly create characters and let them live through situations (well, most of the time they live, sometimes they die) that would take me weeks of outlining to accomplish. I can experiment with various personality traits. I can give them jobs (they can even be writers), let them run their own business, keep them unemployed, or get them fired or promoted at work. They can be criminals or good guys. I can make them rich, or keep them poor. I can make them happy or mad. I can put them in relationships with other Sims (both hetero or homosexual), leave them unattached, or I can make their relationships go bust. They can even have affairs. I can give them pets or kids. Heck, in the latest iteration of the game I can even experiment with zombies, vampires, and witches and even send my Sims into the future or off to college. All of this is fodder for my creativity and stories.
More than once I’ve created a character and let them go about their business with very little assistance from me, just to see what they’d do. I’ve taken notes and used their actions and reactions in my work. If things get completely out of control, I can just exit the game without saving and go back to a time when things were better. That’s hard to do after you’ve spent a hundred pages going down the wrong path in a novel. Even better, I can save a pristine version of my character and use him or her over and over again in new games to create new stories. I can then pick the story I like best and write about it. That’s a lot easier than working through four or five stories on paper.
The Sims is a great way to spark my creativity when it’s at a low ebb. Sure, I still sit down with paper and pencil and sketch out characters and novel ideas. There are some things a computer game can never address, after all. But it is fun and different and it goes beyond just superficial details like looks and jobs. For example, I can create characters that are “made for” another character, or I can create characters that I know are going to antagonize or even hurt other characters. (These can later become supporting characters in a novel.) I can reform bad characters, or make good characters go bad. And then I can sit back and see what happens without having to slog through pages and pages only to discover that it wasn’t such a great idea after all.
I’ve even taken some of my characters and their stories and posted them to the online Sims community and let other Simmers give their input as to what the character should do next. It’s amazing what other people think of and getting their input expands my work even further. I can also take characters that others have created and add them to my game, creating even more mayhem. In a way, it’s a form of fan fiction that spills over into “real” the novels and stories that I’m working on.
Even if you don’t use it for your “serious” writing, The Sims can be a big help during NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) if you participate. When you get stuck, just boot up the game and play for a while (but not too long or you’ll waste too much time). You’ll quickly have lots of fodder for your story that will push you toward that 50,000-word goal.
If The Sims isn’t your thing, or if you need more of a fantasy element for your character creation, there are other options. There are plenty of MMORPG’s that allow you to create your own characters and situations, or you can try traditional paper and pencil role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons or Pathfinder.
Okay, so The Sims is never going to qualify for a tax deduction as a “business related expense.” But it has helped my creativity and given me a chance to explore new characters and situations while having some fun in the process. I just have to be careful not to spend too much time with the game because then it just becomes a tool for procrastination.
(Photo courtesy of Eurritimia)