by Marty Demarest

Forget what you've learned from MTV and Super Bowl ads. America's favorite family isn't the Osbournes. It's the Sims. Sure, they're atypical, what with the mixing of genders, skin colors, shapes, sizes and species; but when it comes to popularity, they're hard to beat. The Sims, which allows players to design a virtual neighborhood home by home and populate it with simulated beings, was published in 2000 and has gone on to become the best-selling computer game of all time. It's since moved to the Playstation2 in a fun version. SimCity 4 allows players to transport their Sims into cities, and there are add-on packs available that send the Sims on vacation and give them pets to care for. These have all sold phenomenally well -- not bad for a game that puts you in direct control of when an imaginary character goes to the bathroom.

Now the Sims have gone online, and unfortunately, The Sims Online doesn't work. It's one thing if you're logging on for hours each night to kill dragons and hang out with nubile young elves, but quite another to meet realistic-looking people for a stimulating session of office work. Because after choosing an appearance and name for your character (getting a life?), you'll find yourself clicking through a virtual world in which everybody is frantically working. Oh sure, people are friendly enough -- you can chat away as you spend time trying to earn "simoleans" -- but why are you doing something this mundane through a computer? Of course, you can get funky on a virtual dance floor like you never might in the real world, or you can chat up the hottie you would be too scared to approach in the flesh. But those moments seem few and far between, tucked in among "skill building" and "career paths," all wrapped up in a slugglishly moving virtual world.

One of the brilliant features of The Sims was the way that it made players look at the way they allotted time in their lives, and let them see how they use material possessions to move themselves through their world. But the characters wisely disappeared when it was time for the workday to begin. Here, that's mostly what you get. Frankly, working in the real world is more fun, and you don't have to pay an additional monthly fee just to do it.

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