Video Games

Why Sims Players Are Paying $5 to Dust Their Houses

Bless this virtual, sentient, linty mess.

In a virtual room, a brown-haired Sim with a green plumbob over her head vacuums amid piles of gray dust.
Thrilling. Electronic Arts

There are almost as many ways to play The Sims as there are Sims players: to recreate everyday life, to escape from everyday life, to play architect, to play God. Electronic Arts’ long-running lifestyle simulation game series has more than 20 million players and dozens of premium options that let those players bring excitement, magic, and adventure into the lives of their characters, called Sims. Now, in an exquisitely mundane update that costs $4.99, The Sims 4—the series’ latest iteration—can also function as … a dust accumulation simulator. Not that cool capital-D Dust from His Dark Materials, either. The kind made from lint and dead skin and stuff.

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In March, EA released new ways to enhance your Sims 4 experience called “kits,” which are more scaled down and less expensive than the game’s other downloadable content packs. Two of those kits, Country Kitchen and Throwback Fit, are pretty straightforward furniture and clothing packs that add new customization options to the game. In The Sims, you are essentially keeping these virtual people alive and designing their entire existence, from clothing to homes—these kits just offer a little more variety. But Bust the Dust is a little different than the rest, in that its primary purpose is to make your Sims’ lives dirtier. “Dust off the vacuum and tidy up in The Sims™ 4 Bust the Dust Kit!” the kit’s description boasts, making a mockery of the exclamation point by using it to try to sell one of the very worst IRL chores.

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There is plenty of filth already to be found in The Sims even without the paid add-on, since cleaning is just one of the many humdrum, real-life activities that make The Sims what it is. Old food will spoil, toilets and countertops eventually need a good scrub, and maintaining good hygiene is one of the Sims’ most basic needs. Past expansion packs have offered their own unique flavors to the endless cycle of cleaning things and making them dirty again, like City Living, which can result in roach infestations, and Cats & Dogs, in which you’ll need to pick up after your pup.

What makes Bust the Dust unusual is not just that it adds the new element of household grime to the game, but that it also only adds the new element of household grime to the game. Roaches and dog poop are very minor features of the aforementioned expansion packs, and even a more narrowly focused pack like Laundry Day, which gives your Sims the ability to wash their clothes, comes with a bunch of furniture and some new looks. But Bust the Dust isn’t interested in bells and whistles. It’s just … dust.

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Maybe that’s not totally fair. The kit also provides vacuums you can buy (to bust the dust) and new character aspirations (so your Sims know how to feel about the dust and busting it). But mostly, paying $5 gets you a bunch of virtual dust, which accumulates over time on the floors of your Sim’s house, both in a thin coating and in interactive clumps around the room. Early reviews last month complained that the dust accumulated way too quickly—within a matter of in-game hours—but it took around two and a half in-game days for my house to go from clean to dusty. My Sim was thrilled when this happened, because it made the house feel “homey,” and presumably because Sims can’t have asthma. Around this time, a dust bunny moved in and became a kind of companion that you can feed (it eats dust) and pet (which again, is sentient dust).

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In a virtual living room, a small, blue-eyed creature sits near a pile of gray dust. A text box above reads: "Dusty Springfield. So friendly! So cute! But also ... so dusty! They may help find a few Simoleons under the couch, but at the cost of your clean home."
A dust bunny in a dusty room. Electronic Arts

By the end of a week of not-cleaning, the house had gone from “Dusty” to “Dirty” to “Filthy,” and my Sim was no longer pleased. Having guests over earned her a “It’s Not Usually Like This” embarrassment debuff—a hit to her mood that made everyday tasks harder to perform—and cuddly dust bunnies were replaced by their evil counterparts, “filth fiends,” which have glowing red eyes and can apparently start fires if left unchecked too long. The folks over at Powder & Bulk Solids, a trade publication for “industries that process, handle, and package dry particulate matter,” even praised the Bust the Dust add-on for raising awareness of real combustible dust hazards, plus or minus the sentient dirt critters.

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In a virtual living room, a small, red-eyed creature sits among piles of gray dust. A text box above reads: "Dustin Hoffman. Uh-oh. You know you haven't done chores in a while when these critters appear. They're lean, they're mean, and unclean!"
A filth fiend in a filthy room. Electronic Arts
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But if you achieve the right balance of virtual grime and your Sim can stomach it, you could conceivably devote yourself to keeping your house dusty full time and never work again, because dust bunnies come with an unexpected perk: They regularly bring Sims cash. Supposedly this is dropped money that had rolled under the couch—except that at one point, I had three very well-fed dust bunnies delivering to my Sim such extravagances as gourmet meals, rare artifacts, and enormous sums of cash, things I have not once found under my couch in real life. By the end of the week, I had made more than 10,000 Simoleons, the game’s currency, simply by being a grubby little homebody. The dust provides.

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