The Sims is a pretty good simulacrum of human life. Sims fall in and out of love, move, change careers, have families, and grow old. It’s easy to see the ups and downs of life reflected in this game—Sims even endure the mundanity of catching a cold and getting poor marks. One thing Sims can’t do, though, is be sober.
Technically speaking, Sims don’t drink alcohol, just like they don’t have sex. Instead of having sex, they WooHoo, and instead of alcohol, they drink juice. They have drinks that gesture towards cocktails we have in real life: instead of a Screwdriver, Sims order a Wrench. Instead of a Dark and Stormy, they have Dim and Gusty. They even sort of get drunk. If you have enough juice, Sims get a moodlet that makes them a little extra happy. If they drink too much in a given amount of time, they’ll get a moodlet that makes them feel ill.
If there’s an option to have a drink, it’s likely that whatever Sim you’re playing will autonomously grab one. This stood out to me in particular when I made some Sims of a group of friends I have. A few of the people in the group don’t drink, even though we meet up at a bar once a week. In one of The Sims 4 expansions, Get Together, you can make clubs for Sims to join. I made one for this friend group with club activities meeting up at a bar, playing bar games and having drinks. It wasn’t until I called a club meeting that I realised my friends who are sober would be drinking in-game. Seeing one of my friends who has been sober for over two years order a Sims equivalent of a beer and happily drink it felt like I was betraying them. It didn’t even change when I sent that Sim out to a bar but not as part of a club. If they were around alcohol, they drank it.
Recently I haven’t been drinking, but when I make a Sim of myself, if she’s around The Sims’ equivalent of alcohol, she drinks it. I can babysit her actions by hovering over her and cancelling the action if she tries to get a drink, or by turning off autonomy entirely, but that makes the game less fun. I want a Sim of myself to reflect myself as much as possible, and it’s strange to see a Sim of me compulsively engaging in actions that I don’t. The game’s version of alcohol doesn’t come with many of its real life consequences. Sims don’t black out or have hangovers, and they don’t get addicted. But seeing drinking in bars presented a value-neutral activity is disturbing when I know people who can’t or don’t drink.
A lot of our society is centred around drinking. In the past I’ve struggled to think of places to have casual get-togethers that aren’t at bars. In games, many social activities like going to an industry party means being around and possibly consuming alcohol. People in real life have figured out ways around this. I’ve ordered a club soda with bitters and a lime at bars, and I’ve happily clutched a can of Diet Coke at parties. In The Sims, there is no other option, and that’s a real shame.