Scroll through the comments on Duncan Angiuli’s viral TikTok videos, and you’ll see other users crowning him the “King of Sims” or “CEO of Sims.”
Just one thing: He’s never played The Sims. Not even once.
That fact, Angiuli said, may make what he does “the greatest viral stunt in all of Sims history.”
Angiuli’s videos regularly clock more than 1 million likes on TikTok, the social media app best known for its teenage demographic and nonsensical, niche memes. At least a third of Angiuli’s content is focused on The Sims, mostly impersonations of Sims or imitations of their language, Simlish. One recent upload racked up 1 million views in 24 hours. As someone who hasn’t played the game, Angiuli is an outlier in his age group.
Just 17 years old, Angiuli is a TikTok star with over a million followers, and he’s done it with the help of a game Gen Z can’t get enough of. Gen Z is generally defined as anyone born between 1996 and 2010, and their views, likes and comments pouring in by the thousands make it evident that, two decades after The Sims’ initial release, the series is connecting with newer, younger audiences. Many of those viewers were even born well after the first game dropped.
Sim gets surprised by 1 Million party then throws up aggressively♬ It’s the Sims – Ilan Eshkeri
Angiuli isn’t the only creator jumping on the trend; a handful of others have made their fame with The Sims, including the 25-year-old Erica Cole, a painter and artist who films videos recreating her Sims’ artwork. The concept proved to be a hit, with a single video in the series garnering more than 207,000 likes and boosting Cole’s following, which is now just over 30,000.
“I was very surprised with how much positive feedback I got,” Cole said. “My friend knows how much I love painting, so he said I should post on TikTok. I listened to him and it turned out really well!”
Angiuli and Cole never expected their videos to blow up, but Gen Z loves anything related to the game. In a survey for EGM with 482 responses, 75 percent said they watch The Sims content on TikTok. Half have been playing for more than three years. Of the 447 respondents under 24—all Gen Z by definition—only 48 individuals said they don’t plan to buy future expansion packs and games.
That enthusiasm spills over on TikTok, where dozens, if not hundreds, of Sims-related videos are uploaded every day. Cole said she’s planning a new series of videos, and Angiuli revels in his role as Sim royalty.
“It is so fun to think of a real life situation, and then say, ‘Okay, now what would happen if it was a Sim, and not a human?’” Angiuli said. “The ideas are unlimited, and everyone seems to enjoy them.”
The unlimited ideas Anguili pointed out are also a big reason why his viewers and others on TikTok love The Sims in the first place. Respondents—all anonymous to protect minors—said creativity, freedom, and control are their motivation for playing. They gushed over building houses and called themselves “addicted.”
“[My favorite thing is] customization!” one respondent said. “I get to build whatever house I just saw online. My Sim can be raised by their parents [and] gain positive or negative traits! Builds awesome storylines in my head.”
Many respondents said they enjoyed the storytelling aspect of the game. Because of the limitless possibilities, it’s easy to spark interest even after a player has grown bored or tired of the same characters.
“Nothing quite triggers my creativity like The Sims does,” another response said. “I still play even though I get tired of it. I can always create a new person and start all over again and become just as invested.”
Teens can be mean or bully and poke fun at their peers for their hobbies, but unlike experiences with other role playing games, there doesn’t seem any stigma around playing The Sims. Both Cole and Angiuli have friends who play, and many survey responses indicated teens love connecting over it, discussing expansion packs, making jokes, and sharing memes.
The creative aspects and connections might have been part of what the game’s creator, Will Wright, had in mind while developing the first titles. Wright first gained recognition for SimCity, released with Maxis in 1989. After losing his home and most of his material possessions in the Oakland firestorm of 1991, Wright dreamed of a new game that would focus on building a home and simulating daily rituals.
“I started to wonder about all the things we have and how we purchased them for a reason,” Wright said in a 2011 interview with Berkeleyside. “Why do we need x or y or z? Why do we think something will make me happier?”
Wright based a lot of the original release on shopping and consumer behavior, mimicking the aftermath of rebuilding his own life and home. Maxis was acquired by Electronic Arts in 1997, and in February 2000, the first Sims game was released for Windows. By 2008, The Sims had become the highest-selling PC franchise of all time.
Wright left Maxis and EA in 2009 to start a new venture called Stupid Fun Club. In March 2018 he announced a new project, the upcoming mobile game Proxi.
Wright’s most famous creation has continued to be successful after his departure. The Sims 4, released in 2014, is the title a majority of survey respondents reported playing. A handful also play The Sims 3 and The Sims Mobile, the latter of which released in 2018 for Android and iOS. It may come as a surprise, but a solid majority of teens reported playing the game on PC, and a total of less than 20 percent reported playing on a phone. Regardless of where they play, though, most enjoy the all the significant upgrades and expansion packs. Players can now have basements, new careers, ghosts, and more. The latest add-on, the Tiny Living Stuff pack just launched on consoles today.
As the game expands, so do the possibilities for play. This makes it easier than ever for creators like Angiuli and Cole to express themselves on the app, which TikTok is pleased about.
“We’re excited to see how users like [Angiuli] are sharing their enthusiasm for The Sims,” said Lizzy Hale, senior content manager at TikTok. “[It’s] intrigued fans for the past 20 years; it makes sense that this community is finding a home on TikTok.”
EA seems equally pleased to know players are taking Simlish song covers and creations online. Spokesperson Ray Almeda told EGM it makes sense that young fans express themselves with the power they’re given through the game.
“Many fans [use] numerous social platforms to show their passion,” Almeda said. “Through a world of player-created stories and characters, they have a plethora of tools to enable the power of self-expression.”
That same passion benefits creators like Angiuli and Cole, who both say TikTok has changed their lives. Cole, who has been an artist since childhood, said her videos have helped her sell more paintings and increased attention for her Etsy and Depop shops.
Angiuli said he’s connected with stars and been offered deals he never imagined. “I have received brand deals from major companies. I was able to quit my part-time job because of it,” he said. “I have become friends with celebrities who I believe never would have known I existed. It’s all so insane.”
Angiuli also said he’s recognized when he leaves the house, and that this could be only the beginning of his online presence. In addition to his Sims-based output, he also films extremely popular videos impersonating an angry, middle-aged white woman—the stock figure that’s come to be known as “a Karen.” Angiuli said his audience often debates which of the tropes is funnier, and that, although he doesn’t consider it a competition, Sims videos do give him more freedom.
The Sims is celebrating its 20th anniversary today, but the game’s best days may yet be ahead. Considering how many teens love storytelling through its creative gameplay and how many creators upload what is essentially free marketing to TikTok almost daily, the potential to reach new and younger audiences is only growing.
It’s not the only game to enjoy a trove of memes and posts by its players, but right now, it’s one of the trends ruling TikTok, and that’s where Gen Z spends a lot of time. In a world where teens are making jokes and memes about World War III, seemingly to cope with a dramatic and often-stressful news cycle, The Sims offers lighter fare, a respite from the anxiety.
The videos may sometimes be in Simlish, but that doesn’t stop viewers from understanding what the game has to offer. In fact, that creative freedom may be exactly what continues to attract young players as they navigate difficult times and awkward phases. It certainly draws them together.
Header image credit: EA, Maxis
Abby Lee Hood is a Nashville-based writer who covers games, women’s issues, online culture and more. She lives with her hedgehog, Noodle, and cat, Tom. She is also a digital marketer and offers TikTok consulting, and is currently working on her debut novel. Find out more about both on her website.