The followup to Maxis's addictive-as-crack computer game The Sims. Apparently the marketing suits sat themselves in a room together and thought, "how can we make this even more life-killingly addictive?" Someone clearly saw EverQuest and mated the two.

Presently it's only available as part of a free beta test, and I've signed a non-disclosure agreement so I can't say much about it. Suffice to say that the gameplay is much like the original, but all the other Sims are real and you have full control of how you make your money. You can run a brothel, a casino, be a writer .. all the while letting your real life go down the tubes.

The Sims Online will eventually require a monthly credit card payment to play.

Before you read this writeup, I suggest that you become intimiately familiar with the following node: Is it just me, or is this really creepy?

As bwerdmuller pointed out, this game is the follow-up to Maxis' extremely successful game, The Sims - played by both men (because you can break stuff and seduce your neighbor's wife) and women (because there's no end to the game, and no way to win). The first thing to note about The Sims Online is its immensity. There are currently (for the beta test) around five different "realms" online, each with at least a gazillion properties, most of which are vacant as I type this. I'm not sure exactly how the properties work, but I think that it's like so: If the owner of a property is online, any sim is able to visit that property. By "visit" I mean "teleport;" there are no annoying waits for the bus or the metro.

The really striking thing about the game (once you enter a property) is that it seems exactly like a 15-year old's typical chat room, with people typing "ty" and "rofl" and "afk." The messages that these players type show up in say-bubbles above the heads of their characters, which creates some serious cognitive dissonance. You're used to seeing "ttyl" on AIM or IRC, but not as much inthe context of real life (or at least a game that simulates real life). Not that TSO is a role-playing game, but it's a bit weird to see someone playing a game of pinball actually say "wb".

The really CREEPY thing about that game is that it's an eerie echo of a utopian dream that we all have. All the doors are open in this friendly neighborhood, and you're free to carouse from house to house, having a free salad here, crashing in a bunk bed there, dancing with complete strangers who all look like genetically engineered Temptation Island contestants. The game resists the (pre)pubescent urge to ask "a/s/l," because you can just have your sim go up to one of the curvaceous barbie women (I'm speaking from a heterosexual male perspective. Substitute genders as needed) and give her a kiss on the cheek. Or, a sweet kiss. Or hey, why not a hot kiss. There are no consequences in this game of acting like a totally gung-ho Sean Connery James Bond... but always, hanging in the back of your mind is the fact that all these sims ARE REAL PEOPLE! Sure, the hot chick you just kissed wants to go upstairs to the lovebed, but she might be a pockmarked 43 year-old man. Does this matter? Of course! We're talking about a real crisis in metaphysics here! Are you supposed to model your sim after yourself? Your alter ego? Judi Dench? And then, is there any appeal to wandering around a gigantic world overflowing with IM quips?

Perhaps I'm looking at it all wrong. Maybe Maxis is looking to use the meduim of computer games to predict a vision of the future, one where everyone has opted for cheap full-body plastic surgery, where we've controlled the climate so (sure!) you CAN wear that cool-looking toga everywhere, a world where language has degraded (evolved?) into a mush of acronyms and improperly used apostrophes. In any case, the game manages to fit into two categories: terrifying as a catastrophe in orbit, and more fun than a barrel of monkeys.

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