Commentary

Cue the Patrick Stewart Voiceover: The Sims Machine Marches On

Medevil-Fight

Those of you with teenage daughters like mine may have trouble getting them out of their rooms this weekend. Electronic Arts released the next major iteration of its monstrously popular simulation game franchise, The Sims Medieval, this week. Prepare to be amazed at the intricacy of the simulated worlds your kids will create, the level of dedication and focus they exhibit to crafting characters and settings in these virtual worlds. Get ready to wonder why they can't show this same determination in their schoolwork.

Perhaps because The Sims isn't as drenched in testosterone as World of Warcraft or Halo and Gears of War, it doesn't get quite the same press attention as these other major game franchises. But it is a monster of interactive media that just keeps going. For Sims fans, the creation of a wholly new, historically based engine for the game in Sims Medieval is big news indeed. EA has been leveraging all of the tools associated with a major film release in promoting the game through custom video campaigns.

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The Sims Medieval has had its own dedicated Webisode series, "Once Upon a Time in the Sims Medieval" at the EA site. Promoting a property like a virtual world builder is a curious trick. While most games are promoted via their thrilling cut scenes and promises of tensions and action, this series has to get more cerebral and subtly emotional. In this series the designers talk about the features of the game in terms of how the player will feel managing it all. The story arc here is provided by the player, so the job in this kind of promotional video is to walk through the experience of managing people, things and emotions.

All of the video extras that normally accompany a major DVD release have been dropped throughout the run-up of The Sims. There is even a series of outtakes from the filming of the TV spot (see below). In other clips from the game, cut scenes feature the official Anglophile voice of pop culture, Patrick Stewart.

In the past, The Sims has been a great source of user-generated video. The games often come with embedded movie recorders that let the user generate full-on films within the Sims environment. I haven't gotten my own hands on The Sims Medieval yet (and there's no talking to my daughter at this point) so I am not sure if we will be seeing randy tales from days of yore, Sims-style. But the impulse to take control of or own toys and hijack their official corporate-endorsed narratives is nothing new. In my day as a young lad, I had G.I. Joes, while my sister had her collection of Barbie dolls. Joe and his team made regular raids on Barbie-land, repelling from the walls of the Dream House and holding Ken for ransom. In fact, as a wannabe filmmaker armed with a Super-8 camera, G.I. Joe and Barbie were the perfect models for stop action short films.

In the coming weeks I fully expect to see YouTube videos of world of Warcraft heroes pillaging Sims Medieval villages. Cue the Patrick Stewart voiceover.

Check out the TV Commercial Outtakes.

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