Life simulation games (or artificial life games) are games where the player lives through or controls one or more virtual characters. According to the Fundamentals of Game Design, these games usually focus on individuals and relationships or on simulating an ecosystem. These games are also considered a subgenre of simulation video games in general, which are games that broadly mimic or reproduce various aspects of real-world activities.

There are an enormous amount of games that can fall under this category, even though it is already a subgenre. It’s possible to argue that all video games technically simulate some aspect of real life or another. However, in this article, when I refer to life simulation games, I am focusing on those games that reproduce daily life. For example, the HARVEST MOON A.K.A STORY OF SEASONS series, the ANIMAL CROSSING series, and THE SIMS games.

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Unlike role play games, which have a rigid story structure, these life simulation games allow the player to craft their story by living it in a reproduced world. These life simulations take the player through a fresh life either in the first person or the third person. In short, life simulation games can be addicting because players can live vicariously through the game character(s), build their stories, and revel in their success or do it again!

A Second Life

Games are a way to provide players with a second life. For instance, role play video games will take players through the exciting story of another person. For example, THE LEGEND OF ZELDA: BREATH OF THE WILD takes players through the reincarnated Link’s new adventure. Many people enjoy following along plot-centric games and living those stories. However, many people also enjoy a more simplistic game.

Games like ANIMAL CROSSING allow the player to live a calm, daily life. In ANIMAL CROSSING, the player enters a town as a new villager and lives among their neighbors. The game provides the player with a fresh start. They meet other villagers for the first time, in some games, they are given a part-time job, and they can also participate in town events. Being able to mimic daily activities in this way can be incredibly satisfying, especially when the player may not be able to live as leisurely in real life.

In third-person games like THE SIMS, players have a more objective look at a second life. Players can live vicariously through any multitude of characters in any number of towns. The charm of THE SIMS is that the sims players create can do anything; they can look any way the player designs, they can get any job, and they can be anything! Who wouldn’t have a little fun making themselves the leader of the free world or a powerful witch?

Or a sexy vampire for that matter…

Forge Your Success… Slowly

Furthermore, because you can be anything, it’s satisfying when you finally achieve those goals! Life simulation games follow a regular passage of time, sped up or not. Days regularly pass, like in real life, and unlike many role play games that move the time along as suits the plot. Because time has to pass, success takes time, closely resembling real life, which makes accomplishments comparatively satisfying.

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For example, in STORY OF SEASONS or HARVEST MOON games, the player’s job is usually to cultivate their farm and town. In the beginning, you start with a handful of seeds and a couple of tools and eventually, you can make your fortune and save the town! STARDEW VALLEY is similar: your late grandfather leaves you a farm and tells you to become a farmer if you ever feel disenchanted with city life. In this game, your goal is primarily to save the town from the Joja Corporation that is taking over the small town’s economy.

A STARDEW VALLEY farm: years in the making

You can run the heartless company out of town by giving offerings to the Junimos living in the abandoned town community center who will fix up the former hangout spot and bring the villagers together! However, some of the items you need to offer are only available during certain times of the year, if you’ve achieved a certain amount of shipments, or after you’ve unlocked certain areas of the map. Again, these milestones take time and work to achieve, much like things in real life.

Another big part of these life simulation games is social interaction. In all these games, there are other villagers or characters to interact with and become close with. The central part of the STORY OF SEASON games or STARDEW VALLEY is building a friendship with the other villagers and potentially marrying one of them! Similarly, in ANIMAL CROSSING, a big part of living in your town is getting to know the other villagers and doing favors for them. Getting closer to the other characters is a critical aspect of life simulation; it’s a sort of accomplishment that takes time, days of talking, and lots of gift-giving.

ANIMAL CROSSING: NEW LEAF gets meta sometimes

Live in the World, or Play it Again!

Even after you have filled your farmland and saved the town, gotten married, or gotten to know every villager, players keep coming back to these games over and over! Why? For some games, like ANIMAL CROSSING, the villagers will cycle out. The simulation keeps going! Villagers will move out, others will move in, and players can get to know all these new people. Or, on the other hand, if you find a villager you’re extremely fond of, players will come back to the game to maintain that relationship, just like they would with real friendships.

For games like STARDEW  VALLEY or HARVEST MOON, players might feel extremely satisfied with their accomplishments. The farm still needs to be maintained, and there are still villagers they may not have gotten close with yet. Or maybe, like in THE SIMS, players might like to continue their family’s generational line since there is always more life to be lived.

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If none of that, players might come back to do it all over again! There are multiple save slots for most, if not all of these games, and players can build themselves back from the ground up. The player can even try a different method, or marry a different villager. Whatever the reason, these games can become powerfully addicting through their realistic presentation or mimicry of the real-world regarding social relationships and personal achievement.

While life simulation games may not be as exciting as role playing games, they still capture the time and attention of many gamers for their remarkable ability to offer stimulating second lives that may enhance our only one.

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