by Marty Demarest

We all have poop meters. We have food meters, comfort meters, and entertainment meters, too. And when one of our meters fills up, it's hard to concentrate on anything else. Keeping our meters regulated is an important part of life. Or so I've learned from The Sims.

For anyone who's played The Sims -- and since it's the best-selling computer game of all time, that's a lot of people -- the fact that you can learn something about yourself from a game is no big surprise. Just like us, the Sims (the computer-controlled "consciousnesses" in the game) are motivated by things such as hunger and fatigue. Of course you can meet these needs in traditionally boring methods, like cooking, napping, and going to the bathroom. But in The Sims, most players simply buy objects that better fulfill their desires. You know the cycle: Work harder, so you can earn more money, so you can buy more things, so that you're happier, so that you can work harder.

Makin' Magic, the latest (and allegedly final) expansion pack for The Sims, takes the game from wry social commentary to fantasy. In Makin' Magic, the Sims are given the power to alter reality with magic spells and wizard duels. But there's also more hands-on work. In the basic game, all jobs were automatic: A car appeared every day to take your Sims to work, and they returned a few hours later with money ("simoleans"). In Makin' Magic, you can actually have the Sims harvest spell components and sell them in "Magic Town." What this tells us about ourselves is beyond me. And given that The Sims' game engine hasn't aged particularly well, the extra busyness becomes frustrating as the action onscreen slows down.

Leaving aside Makin' Magic, The Sims is still one of the smartest games available. Livin' Large and House Party (the best of the game's seven expansion packs) both come bundled with it in the new The Sims: Double Deluxe ($40), and they really are the best of the series. However, is the game worth the $160+ that dedicated players will have spent for the basic game and every expansion? No. But then, those players, bolstered by the fun they've been having, probably got better jobs, so they could earn more money, so they could buy more Sims, so they could have more fun...

Publication date: 1/29/04

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