After creating a custom character and choosing a home built out of repurposed shipping containers in The Sims 4 Eco Lifestyle, my character appears next to her new digs and immediately coughs. A lot.
That's because the air quality in Port Promise - a neighborhood from the turn of the 19th-century industrial town Evergreen Harbor - is very poor. Evergreen Harbor has clearly been on the decline since those industries have moved on. There's an old, ugly water treatment plant, an outdated railway station, and a dam looming in the far corner. There's also trash everywhere. Literally - your outdoor garbage can is getting a new life in this expansion pack, as it can overflow and will get extra grody (read: full of cockroaches and flies) if you don't stay on top of it.
Every choice you make regarding your environment in Eco Lifestyle will have consequences. And while producer George Pigula is quick to insist that EA is not "making the choice of whether green or industrial is good or bad for you", you'd have to be a GOP congressman with pockets full of oil dollars to want to destroy this town. Or maybe, you just wanna watch the world burn.
Whatever choice you make, Evergreen Harbor will quickly adapt to them, adjusting the scale at the bottom of your screen from industrial to green. During my recent preview of Eco Lifestyle, I became obsessed with inching that slider closer to my own personal green ideal, as a way of coping with the fact that I feel helpless to reverse global warming in real life.
The Sims 4 Eco Lifestyle still lets me play as myself, but the idealized, upcycled, 100% eco-friendly me.
There's a lot to do in Evergreen Harbor, especially in Port Promise, which is the least green of all three neighborhoods. Like in the real world, there's one major benefit to choosing the industrial route over the green one - you can make more money. Sure, your Sims will be coughing all over each other and there's an increased chance of fire and roaches, but you won't be as piss poor as Sims Alyssa.
If you choose the green route, be prepared to commit, as the green living ain't easy. The repurposed shipping containers I live in are a bare-bones living arrangement - an old coal barbeque on the deck serves as my kitchen, candles provide lights. I have to shell out what little money I have to buy a few things to create energy and collect water, so I can live as off-the-grid as possible.
My dew collector that provides water for my shower and sink frequently breaks, and my rather small water stores are depleted quickly. The solar panel gets dirty and soaks up less sun, or breaks altogether, robbing me of the TV - the one vice I allow Sim Alyssa in an attempt to boost her fun meter quickly.
I buy some outdoor planters to grow my own fruits and vegetables but the plants die if I don't tend to them, which I can't always do because I have to work to make money. Speaking of that, coming home from a shift often leaves me with lingering embarrassment that I've shunned my freegan lifestyle in order to suck the corporate teat (although I'm a criminal, so at least that's cool). And those plants that need tending to? If I buy and scrounge up a quick veggie burger to assuage my hunger, I'll feel bad that I didn't cook from my own harvest. Again, the green living ain't easy.
It takes several agonizing days of aggressively wooing Knox Greenburg (the crunchy granola Sim new to this expansion pack) to get him to agree to elope with me. Why, you ask? So I can shack up at his super cool upcycled house, quit the criminal life, tend to my plants, and start moving that Evergreen Harbor meter to green, of course.
It's me, the freegan
You could say that, in reality, I am a bit of a cliché - I'm a mostly vegan, queer woman who lives in Brooklyn, rescues street cats, and has a septum piercing. I own vegan leather Doc Martens (they're gorgeous, but painful to wear) and drink oat milk, which is one of the best alternative milk options for the environment (almond milk requires an astronomical amount of water to produce).
However, I also consume tons of energy daily in order to power my Xbox, charge my Switch, give my laptop juice while playing The Sims 4, blowdry my unruly hair, and keep my Amazon FireStick awake and ready to stream Vanderpump Rules at any moment. When my roommate who used to compost our organic waste moved out, our apartment stopped composting because I was too lazy to go do it myself. Recently, I've eaten chicken wings and bought far too many articles of clothing from fast fashion websites as a means of coping with quarantine stress.
After several years of doggedly sticking to my morals only to watch Republican politicians refuse to vote on environmental measures (or even acknowledge the existence of global warming), I became excessively jaded with the whole ordeal. Let me buy that flame print bathing suit and eat that questionably farmed chicken wing because nothing matters, right?
It may seem trite, but Eco Lifestyle lets me live in a world where my choices actually matter. I can make a Sim that looks exactly like me (down to the jet-black space buns, septum ring, and baggy overalls) and make decisions that positively and immediately affect the surrounding environment - something that conventional capitalist theory makes an impossibility in the real world. As the Guardian reported back in 2017, more than 71% of global emissions can be traced back to just 100 companies worldwide. That means that any ecologically-conscious person's attempts to shrink their carbon footprint barely makes a difference in the world - a disconcerting truth that makes it fairly easy to just give in to habits that are bad for the environment.
But as this Vox piece suggests, there's a moral benefit to choosing to live green, and there are ways to help enact structural change that might benefit our children and grandchildren. It's certainly disheartening that I'll never live to see a world like Evergreen Harbor, where green Neighborhood Action Plans result in immediate ecological benefits and where I can grow my own cruelty-free meat. However, Eco Lifestyle is a reminder that there are real-world ways to treat our planet better (like recycling, composting, and using alternative energy sources), and it starts with us.