Image by Aaron Parecki
Maxis’s video game The Sims teaches an important lesson about human behaviour: Most of the time, we’re just trying to meet a set of basic needs. In the world of the Sims, those needs are hunger, comfort, hygiene, bladder, energy, fun, social, and room, each represented by a slowly depleting bar. And they’re so true to life that you should check your own before you leave home or start a long trip.
Most of your morning routine is about keeping these bars out of the red before you head out: breakfast, a shower, choosing your clothes, loading a podcast to entertain yourself on the train. But when you’re doing anything outside your normal routine, like a weekend adventure or a flight, you might forget these essentials (a known psychological phenomenon).
So add the Sims needs to your “wallet, phone, keys” checklist before you leave home. Then consider whether you’ll be away from food, water, or shelter for longer than usual, and pack accordingly. Even that weird “room” need is real: see if you can score an upgrade on your plane seat.
Beyond the actual problem of hunger or discomfort, empty Sims bars are likely to make you grumpy or anxious. Like the H.A.L.T. triggers for destructive behaviour (hungry, angry, lonely, tired), these mundane needs can escalate into terrible decisions, especially when you misinterpret them. (I’m much more likely to get in an argument when I’m tired and underfed, because my dumb brain turns “I’m hungry” into “I’m mad at my friend.”)
The list is simple, but the real work is in training yourself to recognise these needs more often. Put a reminder on your front door, or your bathroom mirror. Go through the checklist out loud with your partner. Practice meeting each need in the same order every time, so remembering one always reminds you to do the others, like remembering the next song in your favourite playlist.
In The Sims, one solution is often buying something new. But the game doesn’t reward overspending. In real life, consider whether the shiny new thing you want to buy will actually fill one of those bars better than something cheaper, or something you already own. Once you think about your needs in the mundane terms of Sims bars, a lot of impulse purchases will feel silly.
We often think of real life in game-like terms: “levelling up” our stuff, earning “points” with people. But the Sims teaches us that if life is a game, it’s not one of constant upward progression to an ultimate goal. It’s a game of sustaining yourself, adjusting to new events, and finding stability without stagnation.