Meeting (and keeping) the neighbours in The Sims 4

The Sims 4
(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

Let's start with a joke. A man visits a doctor acclaimed for his ability to treat melancholia. "I can't eat, I can't sleep, I can't go to the toilet," says the man. "Please help me." The doctor thinks, then replies, "Laughter is the best medicine. The legendary clown Blompo is in town. He's exquisitely funny and will cure you of all your ills." The man looks at the doctor. "That won't help," he says. "Why not?" replies the doctor. The man shrugs. "I am Blompo." 

"Also," he continues. "I'm trapped in the crawlspace of the demonic house. And so are you, otherwise we wouldn't be talking." Both the doctor and clown weep uncontrollably. Laughter! Applause! Curtain down. But we're getting ahead of ourselves. This month's diary is no mere novelty train ride through the human psyche. No. We're taking a simple, suburban family home and turning it into a dark mirror of society. What follows is nothing less than commentary on the decline of neighbourhood values and the death of the big society. It's also a story about people in boxes wetting their pants. We'll get to that too.

Wardrobe torment

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

Your hosts on this journey are the Klemps, a mysterious family eager to move into their new Sim neighbourhood. It takes a long time to create the Klemps, because I want them to be perfect. They have to be exactly the right sort of sinister. They must look benign enough to approach and evil enough that you've got nobody else to blame when they are entombed in their walls. After trying a few classic options—sinister clown, robed cultist, young Tory—I settle on an aesthetic I like to call 'Cannibalcore'. Maximiliano and Wilhelmina Klemp become flesh: knitwear models for a suicide cult.

They creep into their new home, Daisy Hovel, and I set about my plan: to collect a handsome and diverse range of people from the neighbourhood, and arrange them for the Klemps' viewing pleasure. As anyone who's ever constructed a secret underground dungeon knows, however, substructures can be expensive. The sinews of large-scale human abduction, as the saying famously goes, are infinite money. Lucky, Wilhelmina has a rich relative who disappeared under mysterious circumstances, so the Klemps have some capital to build their nightmare home. Somebody should probably check the walls of the house they just moved out of.

I decorate their abode as tastelessly as the unmodded game will allow: violent pattern clashes, sinister fandangles, unexplained void spaces. It's like living in a migraine. This is the sort of building that will make its unwilling residents glad to be encased in featureless cupboards. Underneath Daisy Hovel, however, it's a different story. A simple reinforced door leads down into a bare brick basement filled with mannequins and sickly fluorescent lights. We call this Wihelmina's garden. You'll find her down here on bright days, dancing with the featureless fibreglass inhabitants, taking gulping breaths of the clammy cellar air.

The structures in place, all that's left is to change the name of the house. 'Daisy Hovel' sounds like a character from a cancelled British comic book, so I rename my property 'The Feast of Meats': a name that's unsettling in a rather non-specific way. Feasts are nice. Meat is nice. But a number of meats, of unspecified origin, is deeply upsetting.

Meat the neighbours

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

Maximiliano and Wilhelmina step out to meet the neighbours, and, almost immediately, viable additions to their collection shamble into view. But I quickly encounter my first problem. It's basically impossible to keep visitors trapped underground. The moment I remove the staircase they teleport back to safety. A small part of my dark dreams die, and Wihelmina's garden goes untended. But the Klemps are not so easily defeated. If they can't build their collection in the traditional way, underground, away from the judgemental eyes of their neighbours, they'll improvise. The very walls of The Feast of Meats will become a prison. On the outside, their house will look deliciously plump. On the inside, it will be a panopticon of despair. A gallery of soundproofed screams.

As the more gregarious and outgoing Klemp, Wilhelmina is the first to collect a trophy. A perfectly harmless teacher, known in her former life as Mei Prescott, catches her eye, mainly because her tired monochrome clothing offends Wihelmina's explosive sense of style. And while Mei escapes the basement dungeon, it's a simple task to build a wall around her mid-conversation. She doesn't seem especially bothered because modern Sims have mobile phones. She spends her first few hours browsing the internet, presumably posting about how she's trapped in a coffin (#entombed #helpme #thereisonlydarkness). It doesn't matter: our first asset is installed. Wilhelmina makes it 2-0: she spots someone sprinting by, invites him into chat, then adds him to the kitchen wall. Don Lothario is a disappointing addition, though. I foolishly leave him enough room to exercise and he's so busy doing lunges I'm not even sure he knows he's been kidnapped.

It's the sort of thing you can imagine Sir David Attenborough narrating.

Maximiliano is falling behind, probably because he hates sunlight and has the social skills of a cheesegrater. Whereas Wilhelmina is a sleek cheetah chasing down her prey, right down to the animal print, Maximiliano is more akin to an African bullfrog or trapdoor spider. He's an ambush predator. But he has a plan. If Maximiliano won't go to the mountain, the mountain must come to Maximiliano.

There are a few leftfield ways of bringing other Sims to your property, and he chooses the weirdest one of all. He spends some time pondering artwork of a sad clown. Enough time, apparently, to manifest said clown in The Feast of Meats. There's nothing in the rules about imprisoning personifications of your inner turmoil, so into the wall he goes. Best of all, it's around now that I notice, for some reason, Maximiliano has a clown's face when he changes into his bed clothes, presumably as a hangover from those first tentative character creation moments. This feels like an especially pointed mockery of my new visitor. The Talented Mr Ripley, but with greasepaint and pompoms.

Against all expectations, Maximiliano evens the score when some minor celebrity, Thorne Bailey,  invites himself over. It's the sort of thing you can imagine Sir David Attenborough narrating, "The Minor Celebrity brazenly sits down to watch TV in The Feast of Meats, unaware of the imminent danger. It's already too late. Maximiliano strikes! And the celebrity goes into the larder." As a fitting punishment, Thorne's misery cupboard is directly opposite the telly, as a permanent reminder of his transgressions. This feels like a big win for Maximiliano. Not only is it an act of pure opportunism, but this is the first neighbour who feels like he truly deserves to be here. And, even more pleasingly, his celebrity status means he's literally shiny, like a rare Pokémon card. Wilhelmina will be consumed with jealousy.

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

On a functional note, I decide to add windows to the cells. This isn't so the Klemps can observe their chattels, you understand; they see them more as living insulation than people, and voyeurism is so passé. Instead, this is so their new guests can experience the true horror of The Feast of Meats. It's not just the loss of liberty, but the cloying, inescapable spectre of the Klemps living their horrid lives. When you become a feature in the Klemp gallery, you are not just staring into the abyss, but also watching two sexless human cardigans flirt so painfully that sometimes, they literally have to hide in bed out of embarrassment. Death would be a release.

So far I've made this setup sound perfectly idyllic. But there are some issues with The Feast of Meats.The first is that my front door keeps having to move, which is disrupting the feng shui of Chez Klemp. At one point I try to encourage people to come in via the basement, still holding onto the hope of populating Wihelmina's garden, but it's too much of a faff.

Instead, I decide that the entrance to The Feast of Meats should only appear when the house hungers for new flesh. It's something straight out of a Clive Barker book. "Beware the blue door," the neighbours whisper. The second issue is with the Clown. I learn the only thing worse than a talented clown is a useless one. Every time he tries to juggle, he ends up dropping his balls, triggering a sad trombone noise that plays, on average, around every five seconds. If Maximiliano and Wilhelmina weren't already criminally insane it's the sort of thing that would certainly nudge them over the edge. Luckily, Wilhelmina is talking to herself and Maximiliano is standing in a corner, crying. Everything is fine!

Urine trouble

(Image credit: Electronic Arts)

After a few days of no food, sleep, or toilets, our guests are in poor shape. I catch Don doing press ups in a pool of his own urine, and Thorne does nothing but scream. To lighten the mood, they allow my wall pigs a morning of exercise, ablutions, and brief conversation. I build a rat run between cages then open the doors so the inhabitants of the gallery can stretch their legs and chat. It's not much of a party. The clown sleeps on the floor. Mei refuses to use the bath because a stranger is watching. Disappointed with these despicable ingrates, I tempt them back to their nooks with the promise of a working toilet, then lock them back inside. Without the toilets. I won't be so generous next time.

As a punishment, I decide to find new ways to make them unhappy. The simplest way to do this is to make Maximiliano cook. He's so bad at the culinary arts that his meals actually make Sims depressed, which is perfect. He also hates cooking, which feels like I'm getting extra misery as part of the bargain. My only worry is that, over time, Maximiliano's culinary skills will improve and he'll end up making his acquisitions happy. Or at least, not-miserable. There's every chance they'll die before that happens, though. Every cloud.

Outlive, laugh, love

I know what you're thinking. "This all sounds wonderful. How could anyone be unhappy when life offers such bountiful fruits?" And you're partially correct. But I can't help but feel for Wihelmina, who spent so long designing the perfect basement dungeon, only for it to go empty and unloved. As we've established, it's impossible to keep one of my Sim neighbours locked underground. But the same isn't true of my actual Sims. And, if we're honest, Maximiliano and Wilhelmina do seem to be drifting apart. She loves the taste of human hands. Maximiliano prefers ears. Apples and oranges.

That's why, one night, as Maximiliano changes into his clown outfit to go to bed, Wilhelmina tempts him into the cellar with the promise of WooHoo. But there is no WooHoo in the dark place. Only mannequins and clown paintings and a space where the staircase used to be. You are reminded, no doubt, of the tale of Perilaus of Athens, who was burned alive inside the brazen bull, the very torture device he himself invented. Some days you imprison the clown. Other days, you are the imprisoned clown. I told you this was going to be deep.