One day in 2014, 32-year-old musician AJ Luca texted her friend with some sad and shocking news. “Gina Marie’s mom,” the message began, “just died on the kitchen floor.” Immediately, without hesitation, Luca’s friend replied with her condolences. Gina Marie’s mom, Marie LaRosa, was a successful businesswoman who founded a large resort company with her husband. She died suddenly, of old age, while cooking. Gina Marie took over the family business after both of her parents passed. And all of this makes sense—none of this is weird—if you ignore the fact that Gina Marie and her mom are Sims.
It’s safe to say that New Jersey-based Luca has always been invested in her Sims. Her (real life) friend immediately knew what Luca’s text about Marie LaRosa meant—and sent commiserations, even though Marie was just a bunch of pixels in one of the best-selling video game series of all time. “My husband and my parents are on a first-name basis with my Sims,” Luca says, “I talk about them like they’re humans.” When catching up with family in the evening, Luca might say something like, “Cash Covington married Alysha today!”
Gina Marie and her mom were characters Luca created in The Sims 3, but when she bought a gaming laptop to play The Sims 4 in 2017, she made a new family: The Holts. Elementary school teacher Amy O’Grady married detective Jon Holt, and together they had five children: master painter Sadie, programmer Jon David, famous athlete Bobby, pro-gamer Paul, and veterinarian Andrea. Today, Amy and Jon have eight grandchildren. All it took was five years of Luca’s life.
For half a decade, Luca has been playing with the same Sims family—which has expanded through marriage to include the Covingtons and the McDermotts. As someone who has never played with the same Sim for longer than a week (and as someone who has forced more than one Sim to swim themselves to death) I am fascinated by Luca’s gameplay—and the gameplay of 21-year-old substitute teacher Shannon, who is also based in New Jersey.
Shannon (who declined to give her last name for privacy reasons) has been playing with the same Sims family for seven years. While Luca periodically turns off the game’s aging feature so that Jon and Amy Holt do not die, Shannon doesn’t—meaning the first man and woman of her Sims family, John and Laura Jones, have long since passed. “She got electrocuted while fixing the dishwasher, I still remember it,” Shannon says of Laura’s passing, “It was very sad.”
There are now 11 generations of Joneses. Shannon uses the (non-Sims related) ancestry app Quick Family Tree to keep track of her characters, and also shares the family’s progress on her social media accounts @simmingshannon. Here viewers leave comments like, “bruh why did this make me emotional.” Unsurprisingly, Shannon herself is emotionally attached to her Sims.
“I’m always taking pictures of them, and I have this huge wall in their house that’s just full of family photos from every generation. It is emotional, you get a little attached,” Shannon says. She calls playing the Sims an “escape” and “a way to explore different parts of life in a safe space before going out into the real world.” In the future—the real world—she hopes to have a big family of her own.
Luca says big families have always intrigued her—she’s an only child. “When I watch shows like Parenthood and movies like The Family Stone, I wonder what it would be like to be in one of those big families. So I make them on The Sims,” she says. She’s delighted when Sims from separate families she’s created turn out to be “soulmates.” That’s how the Holts and McDermotts first came together: Andrea Holt and Allie McDermott were college roommates who fell in love.
Still, Luca never expected to play with the same Sims for so long. She’s tried to recreate “the magic” with new characters, but it never feels the same. “When I play my other save games, I start to miss the Holts, Covingtons, and McDermotts,” she says, “Something about them is very special to me.”
Last August, one of Shannon’s TikToks about her Sims got 3.1 million views. The popularity of her videos may inspire other players to invest more time in their Sims, but for now—22 years after the first game was released—Shannon and Luca’s style of play remains fairly anomalous.
“It’s just always a good time,” Shannon says, “If I’m ever in a bad mood, I go and play with them.” Luca says people who only play with their Sims for a short amount of time are missing out. “I get so emotionally invested in everything my Sims go through because I’ve lived with them for so long,” she says. She compares it to watching a TV show once a week, religiously, for years and years: “The characters become part of your daily life.”