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The Sims is a long running life simulation game. It is one of the most successful video-games in terms of sales and has sold over 175 million copies worldwide. In September a new version of the game is being released: The Sims 4.

The games in The Sims series are largely sandbox experiences in that they lack any defined goals (except for some later expansion packs and console versions which introduced this game-play style). The player creates virtual people called "Sims" and places them in houses and helps direct their moods and satisfy their desires.

Players can either place their Sims in pre-constructed homes or build them themselves. Each successive expansion pack and game in the series augmented what the player could do with their Sims.

At this year's E3 show we got to see more of what the new game would offer.  There was a demonstration of Create-a-Sim mode that offers more intuitive grab-and-pull tools to create characters that look like real world people. This is what is entertaining about The Sims as a series: the developers provide the tools for simulation, and the players use those tools in creative ways.

We also got a glimpse of The Sims 4's approach to personalities. Unlike in The Sims 3, where a standard adult Sim has five personality traits, here each Sim has three plus an ambition/goal that comes with a fourth supplementary trait. It's not clear whether that trait is activated when you choose the goal or when the Sim achieves it, but it's an interesting way to tie their personality into what they want to get out of life.

This was demonstrated in some game-play shown of an in-game gym. Here we're introduced to "hothead" Chuck who epitomizes the new emotions system. Some Sims on the running machines are happy, some are depressed, and presumably their moods affect how effective their workouts are. However, Chuck finds his anger an advantage when it comes to working out. Then another scene shows how Sims moods effect each other. Gladys' "foul mood" brings everyone else down when she crashes the party, since that's something we've all seen happen in real life.

In the proper game you will not only define a family of Sim characters but also sculpt their homes, neighborhoods and even modes of transport. You can't control the Sims directly like characters in other games, instead you have to influence their behavior.

The Sims 4 is a PEGI 12 rated game. In a family setting, The Sims 4 offers a host of interesting topics for conversation and ways to learn about real life interactions. Seeing how emotions effect those around us, seeing that influencing situations rather than controlling them is sometimes more effective, and generally having a canvass to play with different scenarios is a helpful experience.

Some of the families we work with have used the previous Sims game as a context in which to talk about subjects like bullying or career choices with their children. This not only gets the whole family involved in discussions but does so without being heavy handed.

As more details of The Sims 4 are made available nearer to launch it will be interesting to see how families react to the changes and the possibilities for fun, enjoyment and social experimenting the game offers.

The Sims 4 will be available on the PC in September. Previous Sims games are available on Console, Handheld and Tablet platforms.
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Andrew Robertson
Andy Robertson is the editor of AskAboutGames and has written for national press and broadcast about video games and families for over 15 years. He has just published the Taming Gaming book with its Family Video Game Database.