Aspirations & plans: lessons learned from The Sims

The Sims is a popular franchise which focuses on establishing a fulfilling home life while also creating goals for a lifetime. Players develop their Sims starting as young as children within a family all the way through the older stages of adulthood. Along the way they make decisions on whom to socialize with, what skills to develop, how they enjoy their spare time, what career they choose to follow, and what material or experiential things they wish to attain. All of these choices require planning for the future and determining what they value the most.
These choices, while decided by the player, are generated by the game based on the Sims’ personalities. If when designing their Sim they selected that their Sim’s favorite food would be French toast then within the game an aspiration may arise to eat French toast for breakfast. If they think of it at night and lock it in as a goal they wish to hold onto then fixing French toast for breakfast the next morning becomes an in-game achievement.

Mirroring reality, once the player has achieved smaller scale aspirations they begin to grow along a trajectory to larger and larger achievements.  The player might be prompted to then serve French toast to a group of friends; this incremental scaling of an aspiration can teach us about the importance of understanding our goals in terms of scale and level. If we take this scaling aspirational matrix, meeting at the cross-section of classification and timescale, we can accomplish many of our dreams in similar fashion as to which we accomplish them in the game The Sims.

For example if you want to be a rock ‘n’ roll star you need to consider the many steps to reach that goal. A person in the real world may think “I have no chance of accomplishing that” but if we apply the same scaling properties of the Sims and their aspirations, we can see that you must start off small. Start by aspiring to learn all the words to your favorite song and singing in the car or signing up for drum lessons. Then you just create progression points; if each day you say “I’m going to accomplish something small” you’ll steadily grow in skill. You say “each week I’m going to look for an opportunity to perform in front of other people”, and then go out to a karaoke bar.  You follow that up with the aspiration of the month which is to find an open mic night and perform by yourself. Finally setting a yearly aspiration to perform with a band or as a solo artist and get paid. We can quickly see that this method of taking a dream and scaling up or down to determine where we fall along its path can help us to understand how one goes from having an aspiration to achieving it.

By engaging the player in both the most mundane and exciting life choices, The Sims shows us that planning to eat dinner and take a shower after you get home from work exercises the same parts of our mind that are required to plot a course to becoming a rockstar. The actions we take and the impact they have over the course of our lives is a combination of listening to the dreams we have and taking the appropriate steps to accomplish them.

The greatest lesson The Sims grants us through its model of scaling goals is that if we break up our dreams into a path to success we can learn to enjoy the journey as a series of results. By including and nurturing a sense of satisfaction for completing the smaller milestones along the way, we can create a lifestyle of fulfillment and accomplishment.


Andrew Mantilla is a ludologist and video game journalist for Play Professor.  You can check out more of his content on Facebook, and Instagram.

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