Could the Upcoming Sims Reality Show Be Amazing?
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We live in a time where virtually anything can be a reality television show and it’s no secret that the United States adores the stuff. Even I, a certified hipster, can find something to enjoy in reality television. It’s a genre that has rules and expectations, and they almost always pay off. Perhaps that’s why we’ve seen the formula work for so many different subjects. We’ve seen shows for cooking. Shows for singing. Dancing. We’ve seen shows for dating and we’ve seen shows for cohabitating. Heck, we’ve even seen ones for gaming. But I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything quite like the upcoming show The Sims Spark’d.

Of course, the simple trappings of the genre usually lead to something intriguing. The shows are often very edited, they usually have challenges and eliminations, and contestants are usually working for a prize. They’re like game shows that you can’t play at home. Instead, we just look at the human behavior and wonder how we would react in such a situation. And, sure, you can take the attitude that most of the show is manufactured, and that’s fine. I do. But I also don’t mind that it’s manufactured. There’s something compelling about the unreality that shrouds these shows. Figuring out what is natural and what is unnatural is part of the fun. And buying into the premise, suspending disbelief, engaging with the shows with a “what if this is true?” kind of attitude can be fulfilling. It’s thrilling voyeurism, it’s a sense of superiority, it’s a sense of awe, it’s catharsis, it’s vapid, it’s a lot of things. It just depends on who you are. Without knowing anything about the show, I’m wagering it’s worth a view or two.

But we do know some things about the show thanks to the reveal trailer. The first thing I noticed is that it blends the familiar with the novel, which is probably what you’d expect from such a weird idea.  The trailer hits the beats you’d expect. People bonding, people excited, people crying, people having breakdowns. We see the nervous and the competitive. The trailer indicates that there will, indeed, be challenges. But in the wake of one of the challenges, we see contestants crying together.

The show will be a reality television show centered on the popular simulation game, The Sims, and it will be coming to TBS, a channel that doesn’t really have anything airing in the reality television genre, nor does it seem to have much else planned. Sure, it had hits like America’s Greatest Makers, King of the Nerds, and The Real Gilligan’s Island, but, overall, it doesn’t seem to be the place where reality TV thrives. Still, I’m cautiously excited.

To recap the pitch, The Sims Spark’d is a reality television show about a game that simulates reality. In it, 12 Sims players will compete for $100,000. The meta levels to all of this mean the show is a simultaneously absurd and obvious suggestion. I’m intrigued.

Of course, the simple trappings of the genre usually lead to something intriguing. The shows are often very edited, they usually have challenges and eliminations, and contestants are usually working for a prize. They’re like game shows that you can’t play at home. Instead, we just look at the human behavior and wonder how we would react in such a situation. And, sure, you can take the attitude that most of the show is manufactured, and that’s fine. I do. But I also don’t mind that it’s manufactured. There’s something compelling about the unreality that shrouds these shows. Figuring out what is natural and what is unnatural is part of the fun. And buying into the premise, suspending disbelief, engaging with the shows with a “what if this is true?” kind of attitude can be fulfilling. It’s thrilling voyeurism, it’s a sense of superiority, it’s a sense of awe, it’s catharsis, it’s vapid, it’s a lot of things. It just depends on who you are. Without knowing anything about the show, I’m wagering it’s worth a view or two.

But we do know some things about the show thanks to the reveal trailer. The first thing I noticed is that it blends the familiar with the novel, which is probably what you’d expect from such a weird idea.  The trailer hits the beats you’d expect. People bonding, people excited, people crying, people having breakdowns. We see the nervous and the competitive. The trailer indicates that there will, indeed, be challenges. But in the wake of one of the challenges, we see contestants crying together.

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It seems as though the idea is for the contestants to use The Sims to tell stories. How the challenges will force creativity remains yet to be seen, but I am eager to see them work within parameters on top of the ones already given by the game. And it looks like the stories they tell might sometimes be personal. So, instead of getting a show about gamers, we are getting a show about artists who are using The Sims as their medium.

So the show will be great for fans of The Sims. That seems like a fair bet. Curious voyeurs should enjoy it, too. But might it be rife with narrative, outside of the interpersonal drama of the players? I imagine that is exactly what The Sims is bringing to the table. Contestants will have to work as designers, gamers, directors, and writers within strict time frames. I am wondering how much control they’ll be given, too. Will they have to, at times, sit back and let their sims go about their days and then report through a narrative lens? Or will they exercise a greater amount of control over the in-game events. Probably both. Honestly, it’s the unanswered questions that have me so excited at this point.

I won’t refute the notion that this could all just be a novel idea that will fade away quickly. The cynic in me also suspects it might just be incredibly ambitious marketing. But The Sims is a cultural icon, and I think pointing a camera at its fans could reveal some interesting stories in its own right. Hopefully The Sims Sync’d ends up being a catalyst for emotions and art. If not, all the people I’ve seen laughing about the concept on Twitter can pat themselves on the back and tell me they were right. I’m willing to take that risk when I say I’m pretty sure this show is going to be something special.

Benjamin Maltbie
Benjamin Maltbie

Writing Team Lead
Date: 07/14/2020

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