The Sims is a very good example of what Doug Church at a Game Developers Conference lecture described as abdicating authorship in computer games. That is, instead of the game designer coming up with the game s story ahead of time, as is the case in 95 percent of adventure, role-playing, and action games made today, the authorship of the game s story is abdicated to the players. Players can then take the story in whatever direction they want, no matter how prurient, dull, or hackneyed it may be. Indeed, at first players may not even think of the experience as being a story, just as they may not think of their own life as a story. Yet it still is a story. In The Sims , the storytelling becomes more of a collaborative effort between players, who direct the action, and the game designer, who provides the framework, tools, and space with which the players can work. Since players are intimately involved in the creation of the story, that story becomes theirs, and as a result players becomes that much more involved in the game. Instead of having their strings pulled by the game designer as has happened in so many other games, it is the players who are now pulling the strings. The feeling of empowerment is tremendous indeed.
It is widely agreed that The Sims is a software toy and not technically a game, even though it is frequently called a game and discussed in the same breath as other titles that definitely are games. Indeed, The Sims is a toy because it does not present a definite goal to players, though it may insinuate or imply one. There is no winning or losing The Sims beyond what players define those terms to mean. Perhaps players will think they have lost when their sim dies as the result of a cooking fire. Or maybe players will think they have won when their sim manages to build the largest, most extravagant house in the neighborhood and has reached the apex of her chosen career path . However, these victory/loss conditions are ones that players are suggesting into the game, not ones that the game demands. This abdicates authorship to players more than a goal-oriented game ever could. For instance, every time someone plays a racing game such as San Francisco Rush , the ending of the game is predetermined; once players or one of their opponents cross the finish line on the track, the game ends. Thus the end of the story that Rush is telling is predetermined. Players may be able to author how well their own car does in that race and what sort of tactics it uses to try to win, but how the story ends is a known, unchangeable quantity. Even a game like Civilization , which gives players a great deal of freedom as to how they will play their game, still constrains players by saying the game is over when the year 2000 rolls around, when a civilization wins the space race, or when one achieves military dominance . By setting up victory conditions, the game designer is authoring how the game will end. Since The Sims and other software toys do not dictate how the game must end, players are left to decide when enough is enough. The familiar subject matter of The Sims certainly helps players to define their own goals while playing; since they understand the world of The Sims , players have some idea what success in that world might mean, and thereby can make up their own goals easily. Some players, perhaps primarily the hard- core gaming aficionados, see this lack of winning and losing as a detriment to the game, but for many players it would seem to make the playing experience all the more compelling.