My character is hungry, cold, and exhausted. She drags her feet over to the fire, shoulders hunched, to warm up. Now for food. I take her over to the stove to craft the one meal she knows how to make… a grilled cheese sandwich?
No, this isn't your standard survival game—this is The Sims 4 (opens in new tab), a game I am convinced should be nestled in the survival genre along the likes of Rust (opens in new tab), Valheim (opens in new tab), and Minecraft (opens in new tab).
Before you storm to the comments, pitchforks in hand, hear me out. As the name suggests, The Sims 4 has always been a simulation game and fits in amongst others like SimCity, Flight Simulator, et al. But The Sims 4 has something that a lot of these don't: living, breathing (virtual) humans to micromanage and keep alive.
The Sims 4 shares a lot of the traits that we associate with survival games: you build a base, albeit with simoleons earned by working rather than by materials harvested. Sims can die from hunger, being too hot or too cold, and being exhausted. Environmental hazards like fire or thunder can wipe out your Sims in the blink of an eye.
The Expansion Pack Eco Lifestyle (opens in new tab) even takes the survival aspect up a notch. It fleshed-out The Sims 4's lacking 'off-the-grid' lot trait, which severely limits which items you can use without power or water. It added wind turbines and dew collectors, forcing you to live off natural resources if you want to take that bath or keep your fridge cool.
Of course, a big aspect of survival games is defending your base from various nasty critters that float around the world. You might be thinking this is where The Sims 4 stops being a survival game, but it technically has those too—in the form of vampires. Introduced in the imaginatively named Vampires pack (opens in new tab), these creatures of the night enjoy traipsing up while your Sims sleep, and invading your home with their thirst for blood. You can defend against them by stringing up garlic around the entrance of your base or drinking a cocktail that defends against their powers. Grandmaster vampires can give everyone big moodlets which can cause sims to die from things like laughter or anger, so kinda… passive murder? Definitely enemies, anyway.
The Sims 4 is also home to a ton of crafting mechanics. Some earn you money, others serve a purpose. There's the woodworking and candle-making tables, which can be used to make some quick simoleons in a pinch. Or using Nifty Knitting's (opens in new tab) rocking chair or Eco Lifestyle's fabricator can produce a variety of clothing and living items to spice up your humble abode on a shoestring budget. There's even a bee box courtesy of the Seasons (opens in new tab) Expansion Pack—us Simmers were keeping the bees happy before Valheim ever poofed into existence.
It's interesting the way The Sims 4 evolves when you frame it as a survival game. Sure, it's still a cutesy character and home creator at its core, but its adaptability for different levels of challenge is something you don't get from a lot of games.
If you want to load your family up with money (opens in new tab), build them a lavish house and have them spend their days painting and schmoozing with other Sims, you can do that in just a few clicks. But if you want to give your Sims a rougher go of things, you can tweak that just as easily. Changing your household funds, lot traits, the objects available to you in your home—these can all shape the way you play in an instant, and are perfect building blocks to creating a survival experience.
Just a cursory glance on Google will bring up all sorts of different challenges created by the community. Want to juggle raising tons of tiny humans? The iconic 100 Baby Challenge (opens in new tab) may not be your typical survival endeavour, but requires you to micromanage tons of different Sims at any one time, and can take months to complete. Or you can opt for something like the Rags to Riches challenge (opens in new tab), which in itself is rooted in core survival gameplay, dropping you on an empty lot with 0 simoleons, forcing you to use methods like harvesting fruit bushes, collecting rocks and dumpster diving to build up your funds and create a livable home for your Sims.
So what's the point I'm making? I guess if anything, it's that genres are pretty dumb. I know I've just spent several hundred words boxing The Sims 4 into various genres, but in reality games are often much more expansive than the labels we put on them. The Sims 4 (opens in new tab) is often passed over by people who assume it's not 'gamey' enough, but games like The Sims are what you make of them. For me that can be anything from ultra-realistic millennial gameplay, enjoying some cheese-on-toast while warding off unwelcome visitors, to surviving by the skin of my teeth in a tiny corrugated metal shack, living off the land. Then again, what's the difference?