Sim-Driven and Story-Driven Simlit

In most simlit conversations there’s always questions. Do you write first? Or screenshots first? Do you use poses? I’ve heard a few different words thrown around but the two I like best are Sim-Driven and Story-Driven. There are of course variations on these and I’m sure everyone’s definition is slightly different. But to me the basic definition is:

  • Sim-Driven: Gameplay directs the story
  • Story-Driven: Story directs gameplay

Since there isn’t as sharp a line between those two as the definition might imply. Let’s dig in a bit, with examples! My Ghost of a Chance story is a clear example of Story-Driven. So much so that. despite it having a proper challenge attached to it, I have two saves. One in which I play the challenge, the other where I screenshot my story. At the far side of story-driven are those where there is no game-play at all. The Sims are used as actors and scenes are built and screenshot, but you might not actually ever “play” the game.

Oh, the poses! I built a fake street on a lot to put the car on, then teleported both inside. Max is actually very close to the door because if he stands in the center of the car, you can’t click on him. Our police officer is using a driving pose.

In the case of Ghost, I might pull in events that happen in the challenge save, but for the most part, I’m writing the story I want to tell. In the challenge, Julia met Grim as required as a child in the park playing hookey from school – I even have the screenshot. In the story, she summons Grim with a ritual found in a book in High School. I know how this story will end already and even if my challenge fails, I’m going to tell the story the way I have planned. In this way, I can dig into non-sim-related topics. While my ghost characters are still sims, they’re also a bit more. They have issues and problems that sims don’t have because sims aren’t coded to do that.

Derelict is another such story. As I told Amelia’s story, I pulled in events from the gameplay (I didn’t have a separate screenshot save except for flashback scenes), but I interpreted them through the lens of the story I was telling of a child abandoned on a spaceship. When as a sim, she maxed the wellness meditation skill and started floating – I decided to use the screenshot and decided the gravity on her ship had failed.

I had been struggling to figure out how to get Amelia out of her rut. She was living if not peacefully on the ship, she wasn’t inspired to change her state now that she had come to a kind of equilibrium. Having the ship fail, spurred her to look for a way out. So I was able to use the game event to plot my story.

Sim-Driven is the opposite of story-driven. Caption Stories are often a good example of the far side of sim-driven. You play the game, take screenshots and annotated them with the events that happened in game. Biblioteque ISBI, my Toddler Challenge, and Drifter House 005 are all caption stories. It’s a great way to showcase all the wild and crazy things sims do this way and a surprising twist in game can really change the direction of the story. You might have an idea of how the story will end, but it’s probably vague and every twist and turn on the way are revealed as you play. If Social Services had taken all of the toddlers away from Guppy in my 7 Toddler Challenge, that’s what you would have seen.

Uh oh. Belinda came right up to us and kissed us! I think she cast a love spell for how fast our friendship-love went up.

Not all Sim-driven are direct gameplay reports. You can still create a story from the events in game. A lot of my first legacy – the Pigglewiggles – was like that. Part of it are in a “story” format but they reflect the game. In gen six, I really did have my heir sleep with his sister’s wife to create the next generation (and the sims really didn’t get jealous). In my Drifter House 004 (as well as quite a few Pigglewiggle generations) I used first person to tell the story. This was all still Sim-Driven though for as events unfolded in the game, they unfolded in the story.

“It was so weird. For a few moments, we couldn’t tell who was the original and who was the clone. All our thoughts and memories seemed to be perfectly in sync.”

I’m going to guess a lot of simlit is neither purely one or the other. Instead, the stories lean one way or the other or even both ways depending on the chapter. Recently, I’ve been enjoying “weaving” the gameplay with the story. Kind of interpreting what happens into the game as a story.

My Huffmans are a prime example of that. I play the game and know the events, but I can twist the events to make sense. When my second set of twins were born in generation two – the game put Pippin’s crib in a different room. I interpreted this as him being in the infant ICU. When MC Command gets one of my unplayed sims pregnant but not married, I’m free to interpret how that event happened. Often I move events around so one thing happens before another event to make it make a better story.

Sometimes, as what will happen in my upcoming Huffman interlude, I am interpreting events and have to go back and screenshot some of the scenes to place the events in a location, but they did happen. Maybe in game the two fell in love in the backyard after being invited over and not in the conservatory or over coffee – but the end result is the same.

In addition to this method, in my new Switch game, I’m trying and entirely new technique. I write the story AS I play the game (I have two monitors). This means a lot of time spent paused, but it’s kind of fun. Post 1 of Switch is basically 6 hours of in-game play. I found I needed a few more screenshots after I’d written pieces (mainly around the large dialog moments) and had to go back and get them. But when I wrote he went downstairs, I took him downstairs, and when he started chatting with some sims, I went with it. It’s kind of like Phoenix and I are writing the story together and the story is experienced by him as we play the game.

This was the only picture I took ingame of Phoenix and Lorens’ conversation. I had to sneak back later to steal a few more since their conversation was quite long. Of course, the foolish sim decided a DIFFERENT stall was his now and not the Tajine place. Sigh.

I admit, as much as I enjoying being able to tell and imagine a story a certain way – or the ease of captioning screenshots (although that is more difficult than you might think), I like blurring the line best. I like thinking of my sims not as actors but as co-creators. Together we are telling this story. Sometimes, they may have the best idea for what happens next and sometimes just by switching the timing of the events around I can say something new and tell a better story. It’s kind of like having a writing partner to bounce ideas off of. I can see my simself saying “You wanted to have a Mutant Racoon Party? Well tough, I’m going to set myself on fire instead.” I may direct them and nudge them, but they have an equal say in where the story is going.


  1. I like the collaborative approach , too . Sometimes the game itself enters in and helps write the story , too. I love those moments of wondering , “What is the story here ? “, then discovering it as it unfolds . .. finding the patterns and meanings .

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Even story-driven stories can surprise you. When I very first conceptualized gen 2 of the Thoreau’s, Loralee and Tommy were not meant to stay together (or I honestly would’ve changed his hair color–I hate this game’s golden blond!) but when I wrote them, I realized they actually were soulmates.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I liked this breakdown comparing the two types of simlit (and how they can cross over into one another!) Despite how story-drive I am, I’ve even let the game dictate a few things here and there… Like Clara! She would not have existed if Mari and Jonas hadn’t both rolled the “Try for Baby” whim and the same time!

    I liked this little discussion piece. Nice job, Rae!

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  4. I’ve always referred to my game as my “co-author”… perhaps this is because before I got into Simlit, I wrote on “play-by-post” forums for such a long time and was used to the sort of back-and-forth, give-and-take style with other authors there. I sometimes go into game with an idea in my head, and may set out with that vision in mind and aim toward achieving it, but am not surprised (an honestly expect) the game to instead take things in another direction I may have not intended… and I’m fine with that, because I’m just used to that “your post, my post” writing format. Sometimes I jump into game with no ideas at all, and just see what it has for me (these days I consider it “the games turn to “write a post”), while other days, I have a very clear vision of what I want and it’s pretty much a “pose studio” kind of day for me (and I consider those days my turn to “write a post”). It probably sounds silly, but at least this particular coauthor issues no complaints about our arrangement. ^_~

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    • That feels very similar to how I play most of my games. When I’m playing I might have an idea of what even will happen, or no idea and see what happens.

      I love the variety of stories that occur that way on their own or with gentle nudging. And how many ways to look at simlit partnerships!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. This is a great breakdown and a good post to read if you’re getting into sim lit.

    I am also a fan of collaboration with my Sims to varying degrees. I think of it as reality TV and I am the producer. Sometimes, I need to manufacture situations or plot lines to make it interesting, other times I just sit back and watch as my sims take over and create something far more interesting than I ever could *cough Snowdrop marrying her sister’s boyfriend when I wasn’t looking! cough* I might get them to repeat a scene in a different location and I do control the set and wardrobe for a consistent look!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Haha! That’s a great way to think about it. I love the idea of replaying scenes that happened but in a better location or time. I’ve done that only once I think, but it’s makes perfect sense and stays true to experience.

      I’ve been lucky, or unlucky, that nothing quite so dramatic as sibling rivalry for the same guy has happened to me and my sims, but I fear, or hope, it’s really only a matter of time.

      Liked by 2 people

          • So true! My poor Sims have lost potential romances, great apartments, and everything else to MCCC, it’s so great!

            I think I’ve explained that MCCC is responsible for some current drama in my game, but I never really talked about what exactly happened.

            While in bed after some “risky woohoo” with her new beau after an amazing date, the notification popped up that a pregnancy had started with him and another Sim. Then a notification popped up saying that she married his sister. So of course I had my Sim take a pregnancy test, hoping she wasn’t going to get drawn into the drama. And of course she was pregnant. You really can’t write this stuff!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Ahahaha! Love it! If we tried to write it, it wouldn’t be half as crazy! They say truth is stranger than fiction….And despite the fact this is all fiction, the truths MCC gives us are often better than what we’d do on our own.

              Liked by 1 person

  6. I love this post. I find my natural writing style in the Sims is most like Sim-driven with me interpreting the events. I reorder events sometimes too because it fits my narrative better.

    In the post I’m currently working on, I wanted to introduce a new character. I wanted basically all but one of my existing Sims to hate this new one. But the Sim is nice, so I figured I’d have to use cheats to get them to frown. But my Sims had my back. They ALL hate the new Sim, lol. My main characters were even nice enough to show up to a community lot without beckoning to come frown at the newbie. I literally laughed aloud the entire time I was choosing between screenshots to illustrate my story at that point. I couldn’t have planned it better myself.

    It’s moments like this that make me love my approach to the story. Some of my fave Simlit stories are written this way too. I always love the little author’s notes at the beginning or the end saying how they just ran with some unexpected Sim rebellion from the planned storyline.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree, those bizarre events are essential sometimes to really make the story something unique.

      I love it when sims seem to know what you’re looking for and do it. That is awesome that they all came over and disliked the new sim on their own!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I tend to be a control freak with my Sim stories. I am primarily story driven. I say primarily because the game is notorious for visiting unforeseen incidents upon you. Doing stories from challenges such as Murkland or the bachelorette challenge … even The insane asylum challenge that I already have done just scares the crud out of me.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Just as there is no right way to eat a Reece’s, there no right way to write simlit….but I do really enjoy sim driven or sim inspired writing. Def it’s capturing the magic!!

      Liked by 1 person

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