The Sims and Constraint

No sooner do I post about constraint in games than Shamus Young over at Twenty Sided contradicts me. I said that The Sims begins constrained by a lack of funds and ends up with more options later in the game. He says the opposite:

At the outset of the game caring for your little Sim happy requires your full attention. Just keeping it fed, clean, and employed is an exercise in strategy and planning ahead. As you progress, the Sim acquires items that make filling those daily needs easier. The more you accomplish, the less there is for you to do. By the time your Sim has made it to the top of their occupational ladder, they have become self-sufficient and you’ve effectively put yourself out of a job. There’s nothing really left for you to do but watch.

He wasn’t responding to me, but I think I’ll pretend he was. There are two constraints going on here: the constraint of actions, and the constraint of goals. At the beginning of The Sims, the player’s actions are constrained. She can only buy one or two varieties of each class of item, she can only build a small home, and she has few options in terms of friends and relationships. The player’s goals, however, are many: because she does not have a working home set up, each of the Sims’ basic needs is urgent and difficult to satisfy.

As the game progresses and the Sims advance in their jobs, more resources are available, and the player’s actions grow less constrained. She has a choice between any number of items for each situation, can afford to expand the home, and has any number of options for entertainment and advancement. The player’s goals, however, reduce in number. With the problem of the Sims’ basic needs all but solved, the endgame of The Sims becomes a struggle for a few goals: perhaps career advancement, perhaps a happy marriage or kids, perhaps some other aspiration. As the number of actions increases, the number of goals decreases.

Bringing this back to Yume Nikki, the topic of my original post: Yume Nikki starts out with most of the actions available, but with either zero goals (because the player hasn’t a clue what she is supposed to do) or infinite goals (do whatever you want!). And these don’t really narrow. Sure, there’s an overriding implied collection goal and an apparently depressing ending I didn’t get to, but that’s not what the game is about, in my opinion. It’s a game about atmosphere and exploration. In the same way as, for example, Knytt, the game says, “Go out! Find stuff!” Unlike Knytt, however, Yume Nikki has no helpful “stuff indicator” or unity of setting to assist the player.

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