Elsie Pruitt, a young brown queer woman from Evergreen Harbour, kicks off her weekends by voting. From Friday at 8 a.m. to Monday at 6 p.m., the aspiring green technician can head to her community voting board across the street to vote on whatever changes she wants to see in her neighbourhood, Grimms Quarry. One week, it’s clean energy. The next, it’s water conservation.
Pruitt is dedicated to making the world a healthy, more livable place. She doesn’t even eat meat. It’s the least she can do after her great grandfather, former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, pushed a destructive agenda that left her world riddled with industrial waste and dirty air. Oh, one more thing: Elsie is my Sim.
In Sims 4: Eco Lifestyle, the game’s latest expansion pack, you can make the perfect environmentalist. Truly. Elsie’s home is a two-floor eco-paradise. It’s outfitted with four roof-top solar panels, three roof-top windmills, and a dew collector, all of which bring enough power she can sell back on the grid. Her exterior walls are covered in living planters that help keep her crib cool. Even the indoor furniture has a reduced environmental footprint: The hanging lamp is made out of recycled lights, the coffee table is repurposed coffee store floor planks, and the dining table is built of ethically sourced wood from the nearby waterfalls where Sims vacation.
The game makes being a thoughtful consumer really easy (maybe too easy). That’s what I love about it. Elsie is a better environmentalist than I could ever be. She’s able to vote every week, accumulating “influence points” simply by interacting with her friends and neighbours. Those points allow her to vote multiple times in weekly elections, so the plans she supports always win. In the real world, money wields a similar power, but that’s why games like this are better than reality. Still, the game does mimic how to drive change in the real world by interacting and influencing others so they come to stand on your side.
“We really wanted to create a pack that allowed players and their Sims to change their neighbourhoods in a way we had never seen before,” George Pigula, a producer on Sims 4 Eco Lifestyle, told Earther in an email. “Having a theme where the eco-footprint and local community decisions driving this change seemed like a natural fit. There are so many different real-world aspects that tie into this theme.”
With every plan that passes, the community transforms before your eyes. Elsie’s backyard, for instance, went from being littered with plastic bags and trash to sprouting giant evergreen trees after the Sims voted to clean things up. The air is cleaner, too, and Elsie’s garden grows better vegetables as a result. She’s much happier and why not.
That’s because Elsie is a Green Fiend. That means she’s happiest when “living on a green street.” Oh, and she is forever striving to make her “environment more eco-friendly.” Like the real world, what you spend your money on impacts how good (or bad) your surroundings are for the planet. When Elsie is browsing for some goodies, she sees their environmental footprint. How much water does it require? Power? Does it add to the eco-friendly or industrial footprint? That’s how I was able to pick all that great furniture for the house.
It’s great stuff, and I wish the companies in the real world would tell us more about what goes into their products. It’s next to impossible to know the true impact of items or what is and isn’t greenwashing here on the other side of the game’s screen.
The game even allows you to raise your own insects for what Pigula called a “low-impact meal.” I still haven’t taken the plunge to purchase Elsie an ant farm. Again, this is also something that’s an option in the real world and there are other ways to reduce the toll of growing food on the planet that companies could help with if they were only willing to put in the effort.
Much like the real world, Elsie has to work to sustain her lifestyle. Because being an environmentalist is literally what bring her joy, I did choose a career path that makes her fulfilled. Elsie gets paid 65 simoleans an hour (!!!) as an installation intern, growing her technical skills to eventually create one-of-a-kind technologies to transform her world. I have yet to see what she’ll create, but I’m excited for the weird gadgets and gizmos she’ll think up. She’s a genius, so I know they’ll be good. Elsie is off two days a week and can even work from home whenever she wants. In a job that respects its workers, this is what’s possible.
My Sim is living her best life. That’s because Sims 4 is a utopia. That’s why people (like myself) can spend hours playing. The real world is pretty awful, and it’s nicer to just escape into my computer screen. Pigula said “fun” is at the heart of this game. I agree. Gaming can also a powerful tool to get players to think more critically of the world, too, and the Sims 4 expansion pack does offer some lessons.
“However, we have implemented so many fun eco-conscious systems that we do hope get players thinking about their own lifestyle and how little changes might contribute to their local communities,” Pigula went on. “We create our features to be fun first, but they can still start a conversation.”
My girl, Elsie Pruitt, is one hell of a conversation starter. When she’s not busy recycling her trash or exercising her logic muscles with some chess, we hit up the bar for some edamame, Cupid Juice, and a dance-off. Because yes, environmentalists like to have fun, and Elsie won’t let saving the world stop her from getting her mack on.