“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Do you remember hearing that question when you were a child? Even better, do you remember the answer you gave?
Many of us wanted to be doctors or lawyers, firemen, ballet dancers. Some of us aspired to be mothers and fathers. Still others aspired to become teachers — or even the President of the United States.
What determined our choices? What were the influences in our lives?
What we saw in our own families surely played an important part in our youthful decisions about our lives. If our mother stayed home to care for us, perhaps we felt that this was how life should be, with father working outside the home and mother tending to children.
Or perhaps one or both of our parents were artists or musicians. Maybe they encouraged us to develop our own creative talents. Maybe we admired certain grown-ups we met and aspired to be like them, to follow in their footsteps.
Of course, whatever choices we made as children were necessarily influenced by our own personal abilities, our unique characteristics and physical strengths. A quiet, thoughtful child would be less likely to choose acting or performing than a boisterous, outgoing one. A physically gifted child would probably not dream of being a businessman spending his days behind a desk in an office cubicle.
What does this have to do with simming and storytelling? A lot.
It’s true that not all sims are created equal. Some spring forth fully grown from CAS, but others are created in CAS at various life stages, including childhood. Still others simply walk into our stories as they interact with our sims. These townies, as they are called, may be any age.
Whether we plan our stories out in advance or simply allow our storyline to shape itself, any sim who takes part in those stories needs a backstory, and many times this backstory originates in childhood. Good storytellers seek out these backstories, and use them to (a) understand the character more fully, and (b) provide motivation for the character’s actions in the story.
Sim children have four different “childhood aspirations” they can pursue. These aspirations are very general, and they relate to the four essential elements of living: physical, emotional, mental, and social.
- Physical children are active. They run, they jump, they love to play. Their motor skills develop quickly. They are coordinated and good at sports.
- Emotional children are the sensitive ones. They’re sometimes shy and often prefer being with family members than with other children. They love music and art and can be quite content when they are alone.
- Mental children love learning — about everything. They’re highly curious, love to read, and are always asking questions. Math, science, computers, languages, and geography all interest them. They pick up new skills easily and are always seeking information on one topic or another.
- Social children are those who draw others to them. They consider everyone a friend and can spend hours talking to others. They love parties, enjoy club activities, and they will go out of their way to make sure everyone has a good time.
When we choose an aspiration for a child — whether born in game or in CAS — we’re setting that sim child on a specific pathway for the future. We are, to some degree, giving a tentative answer to the “What Do You Want to Be” question. We can then help — or hinder — our sims as they grow up. We can encourage them and guide them toward suitable careers and experiences that play upon their strengths, or we can discourage them and put obstacles in their way, forcing them into different directions.
With fully-formed sims, both those we create in CAS and those we meet as townies, it’s also important for us as storytellers to “turn back the clock” and imagine the sim as a child. What aspiration would have suited that individual?
There are many questions a storyteller can ask about a character.
- What was this sim’s childhood aspiration?
- As a child, what did he or she dream of doing?
- What influenced him or her?
- Is the sim still pursuing that childhood dream?
- If the dream has died, what happened?
- If the dream is still alive, what obstacles does the sim face now?
Pitting childhood dreams and aspirations against grown-up realities can lead to emotionally moving stories. Here are a few examples:
- A talented, sensitive boy who yearns to be an artist yet whose physically-oriented parents think art is for “sissies” and force the child into sports programs which make him feel inadequate and awkward.
- A bright, intellectual student wants to pursue a degree in higher education but her family can’t afford college tuition. She’s stuck washing dishes at a restaurant and feeling bored and unfulfilled.
- An out-going “party animal” finds out that his girlfriend is expecting a visit from the stork. He does the right thing and marries her, only to later resent her and the child for tying him down.
- An active boy dreams of playing professional ball for the Llamas, only to injure his knee before he achieves his goal. Now, he’s forced to find a dull, boring job in order to pay the bills.
Ideas for conflicts between childhood aspirations and adult responsibilities are endless. Use your imagination to get inside the heads of your sim children. Find out what they want and let your story evolve from there.
Provide them with little incentives, or throw one problem after another at them. Throw in life-changing events that might totally shake up their aspirations.
- Maybe after his sister dies in a house fire, shy little Johnny changes and works to develop himself physically so that he can be a firefighter.
- Maybe geeky little Emily never gets invited to parties and when one boy says her glasses are ugly, she vows to make herself beautiful and popular when she grows up.
- Maybe after their father loses his job and the family is plunged into poverty, the family’s children decide to become business tycoons and make millions of simoleons.
Again, ideas are endless.
To make your sim stories more meaningful, look back at childhood aspirations, use your imagination, and build characters with strong goals and motivations.