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Lose yourself in the world of ‘Sims 2’

When I was in college, I’d sit in the downtown coffee shop, jealously watching the stylish employees chatting quietly behind the counter. What were they always talking about that made them so oblivious to my presence, my need for a refill, my urgent desire for the bathroom key?

Shortly after graduation, I joined the apathetic elite and put on the coffee shop smock. And sure enough, we would talk, sometimes for hours, as customers impatiently tapped their empty mugs on the counter.

Now, dear readers, I give you an unprecedented insight into our mystical discussions:

“Can you make them pee themselves?”

“Not directly, but you can keep stopping them from going to the bathroom until they, you know, kind of explode.”

That was the year “The Sims” first infected American society. In the coming years, it would become nothing short of a phenomenon that shattered video game sales records with its ongoing expansions and cultural longevity.

Now, almost five years later, “Sims 2” has been unleashed, ushering in a new era of lost productivity and conversations that are, at best, awkward if overheard in public.

A quick primer for the seven of you out there who missed the “Sims” bandwagon: The game lets you create people, build their homes and improve (or ruin) their lives as they cavort with your other creations. You can tell them when to eat, where to sleep, what job to take and what to do for fun.

A lot of people call this “playing God,” but I think of it more as a sort of micromanaged social engineering. I’ve never heard of God telling someone: “Use the upstairs toilet, Ken, and then take a shower. You’re filthy, and the carpool arrives in 45 minutes.”

“Sims 2” is basically a re-creation of the original. The graphics are now 3-D and truly astonishing in their intricacy, but the addictive gameplay remains – thankfully without much of the original tediousness. (“Ken, be sure to flush the toilet after you use it. And wash thy hands!” Yeah, there’s less of that.)

Here’s what’s new:

• Instead of living free-form, ageless lives, Sims now have individual goals (get a promotion, have a kid, etc.) and a limited lifespan. They age from toddler, to child, to teen, to adult, to elder rather quickly, and they die of old age (or because you brick them into the bathroom, whichever).

• Creating the Sims, which was always one of the best parts, is now an infinitely customizable process. Along with eye color and hair style, you can change their cheek bones, ear size, forehead curvature and dozens of other variables.

• The game has an even more mature feel than before. Sims not only can make out and have babies, they can “woo hoo” in a hot tub or even in a department store dressing room. It’s probably a bit risqué for those under 14 or so, but for everyone else it’s just campy and fun, with blurry splotches covering the naughty bits. Oh, and every Sim is a potential swinger, so don’t be surprised if your character flirts with the male maid and the lady next door in the same day.

Of course, all those graphical upgrades and acts of public indecency come at a cost. Mainly, you’ll need a pretty good computer to handle the intense 3-D video. You’ll also lose countless hours of your life, but at least you’ll be taking out your sadistic impulses on someone who can’t call the cops.

For those of you who have played the old-school “Sims” in recent years, there will also be a few disappointments. That game was followed by a litany of expansions that brought more household items, clothing styles and decorating options. The redux can feel pretty limited sometimes, likely because the programmers devoted most of their energy to the Sims themselves and how they interact with one another.

However, I’m sure more expansions are on the way, and a variety of new items already are available for download on the Internet.

So if you’ve got some time to spare, and you enjoy nurturing and torturing with equal gusto, this is probably the game for you. You can even put it on your application to be a Starbucks barista.


David Griner is city editor for The Union. He can be reached at davidg@theunion.com by e-mail.

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