The Sims Under Fire
In many ways, the Sims community travels a predictable path very cyclical in nature. Before the release of a new pack, Sim Gurus take to Twitter to whisper near-nonsensical clues into the internet void. After gripping the clues in their hungry hands, Simmers pick apart every image, every word, every irrelevant sound byte that they can in order to piece together what could be Sims's next maniacal mystery. The reveal inevitably sets the community aflame, and Simmers fill social media with their hopes: fresh ideas for Let's Plays, intricate plans for brand new builds, and curious musings for refreshed CAS items. All of this, fueled by slow asset drops from both Gurus and GameChangers culminates in a Guru-led livestream that reveals all assets in real-time, alongside confirmed game mechanics. Days afterward, the new pack drops, Simmers both rave and disparage the pack with equal voracity, and then quietly murmur about the next expansion, ad nauseam.
Sims 4: Journey to Batuu followed few of these usual pathways.
What began as a quirky guru-led teaser quickly tanked. As speculations solidified into truth and as Simmers everywhere came to grips with what appeared to be a pointless, crossover pack, Simmers began to assert their fervent displeasure.
Players openly and loudly railed against the pack, taking to all forms of social media to announce their distaste for Maxis's decisions. Simmers disliked the trailer at unheard of rates, causing the like-to-dislike ratio to embarrassingly widen; players filled comment sections everywhere with their marked discontent.
This time, there was no guru-led livestream. Gurus fell silent on Twitter, and as an ominous orange glow saturated the ash-filled Californian sky over Maxis headquarters, Journey to Batuu silently released with little to no fanfare.
There are a slew of player objections to Journey to Batuu, a handful of which are legitimate, but I humbly ask Simmers to suspend judgment for a moment, to indulge me, as I defend the pack I quickly grew to love. I unpack here each objection in turn, unraveling the oft repeated arguments against Batuu in hopes of changing minds. In return, Simmer's Digest offers a lucky reader or listener this stunning pack for free. Stay tuned to find out how you can win.
"Star Wars is too niche."
When Gamescom hosted the worldwide premier of the newest Sims 4 pack, Simmers quickly disparaged the subject as "niche." Players used this blanket term to encompass two objections. The first objection suggests that Star Wars as a theme only appeals to a small subset of people. The second objection suggests that Star Wars assets: the clothes, the furniture, the clutter, the build features, and so on, are so unlike everything else in the game that players would be rendered hopelessly unable to use any of the assets.
Both of these assumptions are wrongheaded.
I'll start with the easiest rebuttal. This rebuttal is by no means the most important, but it is the simplest, and it's this simplicity that dismantles the flimsy “niche” premise.
Star Wars, as a franchise, is unequivocally the second highest grossing film series behind only the Avengers. Its fanbase, fueled by a slew of comics, animated cartoons, films, books, spin-offs, and more, is so vast that the movies alone grossed nearly 10 billion dollars worldwide. Beloved since 1977, the Star Wars movies made George Lucas a household name, embedding characters like Luke Skywalker and Obi Wan-Kenobi into American pop culture canon. This fact alone, that Star Wars has fascinated millions of people worldwide for over forty years unravels the notion that Star Wars, in any shape or form, could be considered "niche."
But even this is beside the point.
Simmers are a more specific breed. The demographic is filled with people with a knack for interior decorating, fashion, architecture, and family planning. One might assume that people with such inclinations would be less interested in something like Star Wars, and this is largely correct. Sims is a heavily female-dominated gaming faction, and only 18% of American women call themselves avid Star Wars fans according to a 2019 study. If we cross-reference that statistic with the small portion of American women who play Sims, you can only guess how small that relative interest becomes.
But Sims, before all else, is a sandbox game in which a player can play what they like however they like. When game developers introduce new facets into the Sims, players can use new game play items to suit their own style of gameplay.
The items and areas the developers create are but backdrops for a player's imagination, which brings me to the second facet of this argument: that the items offered in Journey to Batuu are ill-fitted to the rest of the Sims. But what does this even mean? The Sims, comprised of a barrage of varied worlds -- the arid deserts of Oasis Springs, the everlasting dark of Forgotten Hollow, the lush suburbia of Willow Creek-- is not nearly homogenous. And even if it was, even every world was as suburban as Willow Creek or as empty as Newcrest, these worlds belong to the player and the player alone. A player could presumably bulldoze every lot Willow Creek offers only to erect a series of ancient temples or galactic headquarters. There is no "fitting in" to a box that does not exist in the first place.
The Sims is and always will be your world to direct, to build, and even to destroy. No pack can take that from a player. It is still your world. Play with it.
“Batuu’s Build/Buy assets will only compliment Strangerville’s.”
Sims 4 usually follows a certain drumbeat, offering build/buy assets that are "accessible," ordinary objects that suit "realistic" gameplay. Discover University, for example, was filled with hoodies, pullovers, simple jeans, and comfortable shoes. Nifty Knitting took what is "accessible" and offered them an ultra-feminine sheen: furniture in pleasant pastels and woven, firmly inoffensive tops in delightfully simple color palettes.
Journey to Batuu is firmly off-beat. Its assets are of the fantasy grunge variety: it boasts giant, strangely-shaped mechanical doors made of stone and steel; there are sofas fashioned from wire and cargo; the clutter is comprised of blaster safes, bars that bubble with colorful alien liquids, and weirdly low-hanging ceiling lights. Because the assets are strange, many Simmers assumed that the items would not suit any other packs but Stangerville.
While these two packs do share a sci-fi kinship, they are not alone by a long-shot. Journey to Batuu items appear both futuristic and ancient, makeshift, pieced together by brilliant hands in a fantastic world. These items marry easily with the ancient tribal assets of Jungle Adventure, the muted, handmade, recycled materials of Eco Lifestyle, the quirky and fantastical features of Realm of Magic, and the natural, easy woods and fabrics of Island Living. The talented builder and interior decorator can piece these parts together in creations both cozy and awe-inspiring.
"The pack is just set dressing."
Initially, this troubled me too. As an avid Star Wars fan, I wanted to imbibe every bit of what makes Star Wars Star Wars. On Batuu, there are only a few places that a player can explore: the Cantina, the First Order supply base. and the Resistance woodland base. Without cheats, a player cannot build on these worlds or modify the existing buildings. The restaurants, shops, and even the "dwelling" are rabbit holes that the controlled Sim pops into for a predetermined amount of time, reappearing with an adorably iconic beep-boop.
But as I played the pack, I began to realize why Sims 4 developers may have made this strange decision. Naturally, because George Lucas's space opera revolves around intergalactic travel, Journey to Batuu mimics this experience by requiring the player to move between its three worlds at a near constant rate. To finish missions, to locate targets, and to fill up on supplies, the player must move from the Resistance to Black Spire Outpost, to the First Order many times. Traveling means one important thing: loading screens.
As any player with a less than stellar computer will tell you, loading screens are a hassle and a half. The more intricate a world or build, the longer it takes for that world or build to load. Waiting for my extremely average computer to load the Star Wars world I wanted to see over and over would have made the game nearly unplayable. "Set dressing" optimizes load time.
That being said, a bathroom in the Cantina would have been nice, guys. Come on.
"No one asked for this."
Another refrain I've heard against this pack is that "no one asked for this."
I know for a fact that I am not the average Simmer. I have little to no interest in family play, in farms, in improved babies, pets, or anything remotely resembling "realistic" play. I am a Simmer who loves what is quirky and fantastic. Vampires, Get Famous, and Realm of Magic are among my favorite packs; they allow me to push the limits in my gameplay, to create a truly magical and immersive universe catered to my specific tastes.
I know that I am not the average Simmer, but I also know that I am not alone.
Simmers are a diverse bunch. There are as many ways to play the Sims as there are people on Earth. Because Simmers are not a homogenous group, no one person or faction within the Sims community can speak for all Simmers.
Fantasy Simmers have asked for more fantasy items for our gameplay for years.
We, too, are Simmers, and our opinions also matter.
"The timing is terrible."
We live in a difficult time: the air is electric as we bend the arc of history toward justice. African-Americans bear the brunt of a four hundred-year-old sorrow as we watch people who look like us gunned down in the streets every day. We have fought for decades for equal representation in both media and government. We persist despite the inequities the system has forced upon us. The times, with the Black Lives Matter movement swelling in the wake of George Floyd's murder, have even companies like Maxis and EA finally taking note of their own failings.
But taking note of these failings does not excuse them.
This argument, that the timing for Journey to Batuu is unfortunate, is a legitimate objection. Maxis has finally heard the vehement cries for representation through improved skin tones after six long years, because Maxis, like the rest of the world, can no longer turn a blind eye. The crowd is too loud, too large, and too correct to ignore. That it took six years for justice is the crux of the issue; it shines a light upon who does and does not have a seat at the Maxis decision-making table. Skin tone variety is one of the first facets I notice in any game that I play, and the ashen, gray undertones of the darker skin colors were apparent to me minutes into Sims 4. I find it difficult to believe that a person of color in a position of power would have green-lighted the skin tones from the get-go, but this is an essay for another day.
The developers have released Journey to Batuu at an eyebrow-raising time, but like the expansion and game packs that came before it, its creation and release date were predetermined years ago. However, for a game that presumably seeks to include all players, the fact that developers would take on the task of creating a Star Wars Sims world before correctly representing its players is a slap in the face,
But there is a silver-lining to this unfortunate timing. For all of its failings, Sims 4 could not have chosen a better franchise to represent its move into more inclusive game territory. Star Wars, despite its popularity, has a relatively whitewashed history. The main heroes of the original stories were largely white men, aside from the space pirate Lando and Darth Vader's voice. Like much of fantasy lore, Star Wars marginalized women and people of color for decades. But times are changing. Including women and characters of color like Finn, Rey, and Rose into the main storyline, Star Wars seeks to redeem itself. We can only pray that Maxis truly does the same with not only improved skin tones but also more ethnic hair choices, disability inclusion, and more.
"The pack is so disappointing and linear that you'll only play it once."
I am, in no way shape or form, disappointed in this pack. It is the most fun I have had with a pack since Get Famous, and that is saying something. Not only does my custom-made super Sim get to be a Jedi, he also gets to fly an X-Wing, beat up stormtroopers, make trouble with his BB-8 unit, splice data control panels, coax Rey into lightsaber battles, drink and gamble at the Cantina, and much more.
The pack is chock-full of entertaining gameplay and Star Wars nuggets that make the dedicated fan's heart flutter. (Even the "wipe" transitions between worlds excite me; it's a quintessential Star Wars detail you probably won't catch unless you're a big fan.)
A player would, presumably, play through the varied story lines at least three times: once to master the Resistance story, again to get through the First Order story, and another time to conquer the Scoundrel missions.
But, honestly, it is not the predetermined storyline that shapes a player's experience in the Sims. Rather, each play-through can feel different, more or less significant, depending on the Sim and backstory that the player has crafted for the Sim.
Batuu is no different than any other linear game feature. To suggest that a Simmer would play through, say, the chef's career path, master it, and then never touch it again, is preposterous. It is the player who makes each experience fresh. Player-created challenges and self-imposed boundaries create rich gameplay; the worlds that developers build in the sandbox are mere catalysts for the miracle that is your own creativity.
We've come back to my main premise, which is this: the Sims exists as a game that players can largely mold into their own image, and that image is as diverse as its players. There is no pack that can snatch a player's creativity or freedom. Whether you purchase Journey to Batuu or win it through Simmer's Digest, the Sims belongs to you, the player. It is your world. It has always been your world. And it will always be your world. Play with it.
Stay safe, happy Simming, and may the Force be with you.
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