Simulate the World | Autoethnography

UX Design

My first Blog post was figuring out my niche, which at the time was UX design. Where I began exploring the profession and began a course on Linked in to explore this more. Unfortunately, my niche changed as I could not find an appropriate persona to adopt for my autoethnographic research or my Digital artefact. A week went on and I had begun to narrow down my niche as well as map my fieldsite. This was a watershed moment for the development of my digital artefact. My blog post Mainstream UX vs Game UX distinguishes between the two, more particularly, the section which mentions the importance for game developers and game designers to have excellent communication. This point is later refined in my Pitch – where I had decided to focus on The Sims 4 – the new niche had transformed from UX to Game UX. As stated in my Pitch, the user-centric approach of making tasks easier in UX design varies ever so slightly to accommodate videogames, in fact, in an ideal world, video games would be completed in the press of a single button according to Alistair Greo’s comparison of UX design.

The Sims 4

The Sims 4 is a videogame within the franchise the Sims, possibly the most played and most know life-simulation game to ever exist. The franchise is built on trying to make a simulation of western, suburban – and now city – life, however, often the game falls short. Besides the obvious example of virtual reality, it is not prominent to see a videogame manufacturing a system that gives a visual environment to all the players involved, (Mujber & Szecsi 2004, p1836) especially when attempting to simulate life itself.

Changing my niche

The focus on the Sims 4 led me to focus on the way in which the Sims implement UX. The Sims 4 is a type of simulation game. Like many others within the genre – truck simulator, flight simulator, football manager and many more – it is built around simulation.  

In Exploring user experience in game interface: a case study of The Sims 3 It discusses how the Sims is a franchise built around virtuality, by simulating environments to create an immersive experience of the virtual world (Ali 2013, p.10). Although the academic journal talks specifically about the Sims 3, in What Is the Difference Between the Sims Games? Megan Ellis outlines the difference in-game features. Ellis recognises the inclusion of, neighbourhoods, sim complexity, more diversity and life stages, all of which contribute to a much more accurate life simulation. There are no substantial points to suggest that the values in the game have changed and therefore the arguments in the academic journal analysing the interface of the sims 3 link directly to the Sims 4.

Feildsite

Discrete-Event System Simulation describes simulation as the ‘imitation of the operation of a real-world process’ p.4, as this directly relates to the sims 4. After my pitch, I decided to change my niche from UX design to the Sims 4. I found much more interest in doing a Digital Artefact on the Sims 4. This meant creating a new map for my fieldsite, and as you can see from the image below. My autoethnographic approach meant I had a huge emphasis on epiphanies. I began exploring the niche, I noted these epiphanies on my blog post My New Niche | The sims 4. After explaining my process and reasoning for changing the niche, I accounted for my autoethnographic investigation of the Sims 4.

Problematising

Often problematising would happen at an earlier stage however due to my niche changing to the Sims 4, this would happen later. I aimed to explore whether the game was being ruined by the inclusion of so many mods, the implication being, would the game be more or less realistic with mods and what would that mean for simulation games? I discovered many online communities about the Sims 4. Most of them are centred around modification and customisation. Later finding a large amount of primary and secondary sources around the sims 4, I was particularly interested in mods and custom content. This was the main catalyst for my digital artefact’s content. Simulate the World was my digital artefact for the semester, a Tik Tok account where I play the Sims 4 considering the epiphanies and concepts used in my theoretical framework.

Digital Artefact & Research

In my Beta the pitch had changed to accommodate my new niche and new theoretical framework. My new aim was to explore the Sims 4 and more particularly the modification of the Sims 4. The Blog post discusses how the decentralised network of the sims 4. By this time my theoretical framework – which is often referred to as an analytical framework – was decided, considering Simulation, Modification and Paratext.

At a time, it was once the people relevant in designing the game who was the ones who conveyed their particular point of view, in this case, the simulation of life. However, with modifications being easily accessible in the Sims 4, the responsibility is also on the players.  

This accessibility to create and apply modifications in the Sims 4 is evident in the folder titled mods which EA have decided to include on the base game. Arguments have been made that it is even encouraged. Inheritably this means – as I found out through experience making my digital artefact – players took to asking other players for a better gaming experience. This makes the experience of the game become decentralised when examining the paratext of the niche, moreover, games cannot truly decentralise without modification (Smith 2009, p.25).

Persona

More Sims 4 Epiphanies is where I began to expand on the epiphanies I had with primary and secondary sources, particularly focusing on simulation. Expanding on this post, I conclude by saying mods are not running the game, as many players preferred to use mods over buying overpriced expansion packs. Although this created a decentralised gaming experience, players found mods a necessity. In fact, I found a better gaming experience, my digital artefact had also evolved to appreciate modded content from social utility and user feedback as mentioned in my Beta. In conclusion, my content creator persona had also transferred into the decentralised network created by modification. Modifications change the paratext of the game and can either make it more realistic or less, the freedom of the modification leaves the simulation up to the player’s discretion.

Gallery

References:

Ali, NM Abdullah, SZ, Salim, J & Lee, H 2013, ‘Exploring user experience in game interface: a case study of The Sims 3’, The Computer Games Journal, vol. 2, no. 1, pp. 6-18

Bachen, CM Hernández-Ramos, PF & Raphael, C 2012,‘Simulating REAL LIVES: Promoting Global Empathy and Interest in Learning Through Simulation Games’, Simulation & Gaming, vol. 43, no. 4, pp. 437-460

Banks, J Carson, J Nelson, B & Nicol, D 2001, ‘Discrete-Event System Simulation’, Prentice Hall, vol. 5, no. 1, pp. 1-326.

Ellis, C, Adams, TE & Bochner, AP 2011, Autoethnography: An Overview, Qualitative-research.net, Forum: Qualitative Social Research, viewed 5 October 2021

Fiadotau, M 2015, ‘Paratext and meaning making in indie games’, Journal of Comparative Research in Anthropology and Sociology, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 85-97.

Mujber, ST Szecsi, T & Hashmi, MSJ 2004, ‘Virtual reality applications in manufacturing process simulation’, Journal of Materials Processing Technology, vol. 155-156, pp. 1834–1838.

Rak, J 2015,‘Life Writing Versus Automedia: The Sims 3 Game as a Life Lab’, Biography, vol. 38, no. 2 pp. 155-180.

Smith, AV 2009, ‘The Impact of Decentralisation on Networked Computer Games’, Computer Games Programming B.Sc. (Hons) & School of Computing University of Derby, pp. 1-54.

Wark, M 2006, ‘Digital Allegories (on The Sims)’, Grey Room Inc. & Massachusetts Institute of Technology, pp.126-138.

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