Why The Sims reality show Spark'd is groundbreaking for gamers - CNET

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sparkd

Spark'd is a new reality show about The Sims. 

EA screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

The idea of a reality show based on The Sims might be questionable, but let me assure you Spark'd is absolutely worth a binge now that the first season is fully available to stream -- possibly from the same PC you play The Sims on.

Season 1 recently wrapped on the new reality TV game show centered around life-simulation game. In just a four-episode run, the show shined a light on the mind-blowing creativity that can be achieved in this enduring game. More importantly, Spark'd countered the unfortunate perception that video games are a waste of time, unproductive hobbies, or most callously, that they rot your brain. 

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I've played video games and written about them, and the more I've learned, the more I've come to see them as a true art form. More often than not, when I pull back the curtain of a video game, I've found deeper themes, and the developer's personal story. Spark'd boldly shows how video games are often a form of self-expression, akin to writing a song or painting a picture.  

When I heard The Sims was getting a TV show, I admit I raised my eyebrows. What was it going to look like? I liked watching Sims fans on YouTube post short film-style videos, try challenges, review expansion packs and craft incredible builds, but did we really need a whole show built around that concept? 

But after watching the first season, my doubts have vanished. Spark'd quickly proved to be just as comforting to me as the game itself, especially amid the turbulence of the coronavirus pandemic. The Sims is a game I've returned to over and over through the years, and it's always met me where I was. It's an escape from a world that often feels out of control. In these uncertain times, it's more important than ever for people to have that. 

Warning: This article contains spoilers for Spark'd season 1.

contestants EA/Screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

A groundbreaking show

Over the season's short run, 10 YouTubers competed in teams to complete timed elimination challenges. One contestant would be in charge of writing a story, another would design characters and another would build the setting. At the end of each challenge, the contestants presented creative characters in an original Sims story to a panel of three celebrity judges, all Sims fans of course.

The judging panel included Dave Miotke, a game developer for Maxis. That's the division of EA Games that develops The Sims.

Creativity level 10

Challenge after challenge, the contestants turned out incredible creations and stories -- from contestant Doctor Ashley's time machine build, to Team Gnome using the game to tell the story of contestant Plumbella's father and the plight of miners in northern England in the '70s and '80s.   

"Hearing the contestants' personal stories through The Sims was really powerful," YouTuber Kelsey Impicciche, one of the judges and the BuzzFeed Multiplayer YouTuber known for creating the Sims 100 Baby Challenge, told me. "Adding a personal element to the competition gave the presentations more impact and made the show much more intimate and heartfelt.

It became not just about a video game, but about the players themselves, Impicciche added.

"The Sims means creativity to me," contestant Xmiramira said. YouTuber Xmiramira has been vocal about black representation in the Sims 4: On her website, she features downloadable melanin packs that offer more skin tone variety.  

In the season finale, Xmiramira and her team told her story about the challenges faced by girls in the world of gaming.

sparkd-3 The Sims/ Screenshot by Shelby Brown/ CNET

Aspiration: Friend of the world

Even though $100,000 was on the line, the contestants still supported each other instead of leaning into the cut-throat style of most reality shows. The judges weren't surprised the show's set stayed friendly, according to host Rayvon Owens. The Sims is all about bringing people together, he said. 

"The Sims is usually something you would play by yourself, but The Sims Spark'd allows for the best of the best to get together, learn from each other and hopefully take those new skills into their gameplay," said judge Tayla Parx, a voice actor in the game. "I know every contestant walked away feeling that they made a new friend."

And yes, contestants and judges sang Sims songs on set -- in Simlish.

Aspiration achieved 

In the end, Team Llama -- DrGluon, Simlicy and Xmiramira -- clinched the win. 

"It feels amazing," Xmiramira said. "It was a long road and somehow we were able to put our strengths together and make it. It's a great feeling."

After a bumpy start, the team turned out diverse and zany creations that wowed the judges. These included Xmiramira's lineup of body-positive, gender-non-conforming models; DrGluon's improv haunted house walkthrough; and Simlicy's effortless yet meticulous builds that set the stage for the stories. 

You can still enjoy the trio's work (individually, however), as all three plan to dive back into the YouTube channels where they tell stories, build properties and creatively push the limits of The Sims.

sparkd-1 The Sims screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Changing the perception of gaming

I grew up believing video games weren't a productive use of time, whether my parents directly said it or not. When they finally got my sister a PS2 for her birthday, I fully admit we stayed up until 4 a.m. playing Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. More recently, I've spent quite a few all-nighters with a Nancy Drew PC mystery game. So, sure, even a good thing in excess can go bad. 

On some level, even though I knew other people were playing video games for hours on end, I didn't want to showcase the fact that one of my favorite ways to spend time was (and still is) playing The Sims. Shows like Spark'd help showcase sides of gaming that might otherwise go unseen. I can't think of any other game that could've made this statement better than The Sims. 

"Growing up, I didn't talk about my love of The Sims to too many people outside of my friends," Impicchice said, expressing a sentiment I'd never put into words before. "I wish I would have had a television show like The Sims Spark'd when I was young so I felt more confident in my love for gaming."

judges

Spark'd judges (left to right) Dave Miotke, Tayla Parx, Rayvon Owens and Kelsey Impicciche. 

EA screenshot by Shelby Brown/CNET

Even if it doesn't cause a sudden cultural shift in changing non-gamers' perceptions that games are time wasters or somehow a hobby to be less than proud of, it's still an important show for gamers. 

"Like with anything, the more you know, the more you understand," Parx said.

Ultimately, The Sims made the jump to TV because of the endless ways it lets players be creative. In addition, and perhaps most importantly, it's welcoming to all -- no matter how they've come to play. Despite how far the world has come in terms of acceptance in the last 20 years, The Sims has always been a few steps ahead

"Throughout The Sims existence it's been really incredible to see how they continuously add to the players experience with diversity," Parx said. "From clothes, to skin colors, to the packs themselves. All of the tools they give you are for you to be the version of you that you feel like creating that day."

You can catch up on all the episodes of Spark'd on the Buzzfeed Multiplayer YouTube channel.  

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