According to Double Shot at Love’s upcoming season’s entry rules, if a contestant catches fire and dies, it’s their fault, sorry!
Double Shot was once a nasty MTV dating show starring twin sisters Rikki and Vikki (season one) and then Vinny Gaudagnino and Pauly D (season two) from Jersey Shore. The drama of the show was powered by 20 contestants vying for the attention of one or the other of the two stars, sometimes swapping! Also alcohol. This spring, contestants in the unofficial third season will try to win the hearts of a pair of sisters named Bambi and Evani, who, as it happens, are simulations.
The sisters and their suitors are all characters from The Sims 4, the latest version of the iconic life simulation game. Their dating show only exists in the Sims universe. You can only “look at it” by activating push notifications for a Tumblr run by the creator of the program. It’s not exactly reality TV, but it should feature the same chaos and kisses and fights that make that kind of thing worth watching. It might also be the only new dating show you can watch this summer, given that most major reality shows have already discontinued production due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Shae, the Simmer who invented the virtual version of Double Shot, is a 30-year-old teacher from Arkansas. (He asked me to use only his name out of concern for his privacy.) After Shae created Bambi and Evani, other Sims users sent their contestants to try out the show. Shae has 30 virtual men to choose from so far, and plans to narrow the list to 12 or 16; more likely to crash the game, even with the mod you downloaded to get out of the Sims limit of eight virtual people per house. Tickets are open until the end of the month, and Shae will post her first episode in the first week of May.
While preparing to host Double Shot, Shae is also finishing a Sims game for The Bachelor in which a contestant actually set herself on fire and died. “I hope things like that happen” in the new show, he told me. “With so many Sims in one house, there will probably be quite a few fights. Much crying. The Sims cry a lot. “
A game with the possibility of accidental death is more absurd, no doubt, than an average dating show on ordinary television, but that absurdity is welcome. In a world without happy hour with friends, or a night out at the club, or 90 minutes of yelling and kissing during prime time, hanging out takes a bit of creativity. Shae’s project is one of the many strategies that people are trying to recreate the things they miss most in their everyday lives. It is also a sign of how the strange internet culture is flourishing as normality dissolves. Everything is weird now. When there is nothing else to do, why not spend the summer watching animations courting?
When the real world is the banana, you escape into a fantasy. People have been using The Sims to do exactly that for two decades. The game gives players the open task of maintaining a career and creating a family and watching their characters carry on with their lives, responding to basic human feelings like hunger and loneliness and saving for their dream homes. The Sims can die, the current version of the game is the first to include ghosts, but the objective of the game is to enjoy a life in which you control each entry.
As of this January, 20 million people were playing The Sims 4, which came out six years ago. Patreon houses a robust economy of custom content that can be added to the game, and the Sims community on Tumblr has long been one of the site’s largest and wildest.
Tumblr, the main home of alt-twee internet culture, is the best place to be during a pandemic. The people there already live in an imaginary world, but now they are doing everything possible. The Tumblr data team has reported huge spikes in mermaids and pirates and country houses in the woods. Oceancore, a label for people who want to live by the sea like the heroine of a 19th-century novel, had a 1,000 percent jump in likes during the last week of March.
Sims content on Tumblr more than doubled from mid-February to mid-March, largely due to a host of new messages and creative challenges. The Quarantine Challenge, for example, requires participants to set up a new Sim game and play with a single Sim, who must wash their hands and work from home and find pen pals to maintain their social life. They are not allowed to leave the house, but they have to learn three skills. They can video chat with their friends.
Just because The Sims is literally a game doesn’t mean it’s a joke. Each of the sisters in Shae’s Double Shot version has a complicated backstory and carefully calibrated personality. Bambi is 24 years old and is a musician who “flirts like hell” and “doesn’t let anyone tell him what to do”. Evani is 26 years old and is a journalist who loves facts and truth and strives to achieve it.
Anyone who wants to send a Sim to compete for one of their hearts has to send Shae a file of his character, which he can then put into his game and manipulate as he sees fit. Once virtual men are in the game, they will react to whatever you throw at them based on their preset abilities and character traits. The Sims will participate in group dates and challenges, just like other reality TV shows, and will be eliminated week by week. (Time passes more or less normally in the game, although it speeds up if everyone sleeps.) The romance must develop organically between the pre-established characters, just like the internal struggles. “I want to bring some Sims into the game that will crash and hit heads, because that makes drama and drama fun to watch on TV,” Shae told me.
Shae will make “episodes” by watching what happens in the game and then writing it down with her own comment. It will also use a game mod that allows the user to pose their Sims and take a still photo. Then you will edit them in Photoshop to suit your aesthetic and post the results on Tumblr.
“I mentioned everyone in advance, any shot being raised will only be an amplification of what happened in the house,” he said. “I’m not posting any Sims that hug and kiss if they don’t actually in-game.” (On that note, her blog also warns that the show will include “adult content.” As in: “There will be some language, there will be something to drink, there may be sexy moments.”) Like a typical reality show, this one will have a producer curating the shots and directing the action; nothing is completely real, but neither is it completely false.
Bambi and Evani have an impressively diverse list of parties to choose from so far, including a cop named Miles, who describes himself as a great cook and “sympathetic sympathizer”; a marketing manager named Lincoln who loves eggs Benedict and freckles; and a single father named Cameron whose character description says he “had a scholarship to practice electronic sports at the Foxbury Institute [a Sims college in the game], but he gave it all up to become a chef.”
Erin Guest, 41, of Melbourne, Australia, entered an art gallery curator named George. Lexi Stine, a 22-year-old from Pennsylvania, was hoping to give her contestant an edge by suggesting that she may have already seen Bambi from afar in a musical performance. “I think my Sim,” a music producer named Zander, “has a very good chance, since he thinks it is” destiny “for him to be with her,” he told me. Janel Johnson, a 24-year-old from Maryland, had a barista named Morgan enter the game. She is trying not to get her hopes up about Morgan’s chances, so she doesn’t feel too disappointed if he gets kicked out. “In the end, all I want is for single women to find a happy ending,” she said.
It is all very romantic, of course. People have been created out of nowhere to fall in love with each other for no reason except entertaining those of us who can’t really kiss strangers right now. “I’ve always been a great romantic,” said Shae. “I love reading romance novels. I love romantic movies. “She has been playing The Sims since it was first released 20 years ago.” Doing a love challenge like this brings something new to the game that I didn’t know I could do before, “she said.
Although The Sims is a game designed to be played alone, having a showrunner like Shae makes it a shared project for too lonely times. Strangers on the internet are confident that she will use her characters to create something nice to watch, and they will stick around to talk about it as it unfolds. They are invested in how it turns out not only because they are competitive, but because, in a moment of near-total romantic freeze in the real world, the kind of voyeurism promised by dating shows becomes even more compelling. Right now, no one is dating or behaving recklessly, not even the people who are normally paid to do so on national television. In a twist, The Sims is now a way to play not just an alternate life, but any life.