Explaining the wild and uncanny timeline of The Sims

While The Sims franchise includes standalone titles, its events happen on a set timeline.
the sims ea maxis timeline

The Sims franchise seems simple on the surface. You play as a custom Sim (or one of many pre-made Sims) and set forth to create the ideal life for yourself by doing mundane tasks like eating, sleeping, making your bed, travelling to work, and playing computer games. But the history and lore of The Sims goes much deeper than you’d expect – with each of the games actually existing on a set timeline.

Weirdly enough, the story doesn’t start at The Sims. Each game is loaded with ‘canon’ stories and unique tales you can track from beginning to end, with every release adding something new to the timeline. Even the spin-off handheld games can be considered part of this story, with many of their events taking place around the Sims 2 era.

Let’s break down exactly what’s going on with the Sims timeline.

The Sims 3 is a prequel to the entire Sims story

The canon events of The Sims franchise actually begin with the game’s third entry, canonically a prequel to the events of the series. While there is history that begins before the timeline of this game – the reign of Egyptian king (and haunted mummy) Horus Menhoset IX, the birth of the Al Simhara region, the establishment of ‘medieval’ Sims – the main cast and characters of The Sims franchise technically ‘debut’ in this version of the life simulator.

You can play the game and ignore its events, or you can dive into its various neighbourhoods to discover younger versions of many iconic Sim characters: Bella Goth appears as a young child, and Agnes Crumplebottom appears as a young and romantic woman.

In later games, they both appear much older.

But where the official Sims timeline gets confusing is in the additional neighbours of The Sims 3. While the base world of the game exists in the past, several neighbourhoods are set later on in the timeline. The world of Barnacle Bay, for example, is allegedly set after The Sims 2. Lunar Lakes is also set after The Sims 2, as it features a Bella Goth who is dead, and a ghost.

Read: Bella Goth’s disappearance remains the biggest Sims mystery

The timeline gets extremely messy in this early phase, but it’s basically understood that The Sims 3 is a prequel, outside of these ‘extra’ worlds, which all exist on different timelines.

The Sims is the next game in the chronology

bella goth the sims 2 disappearance
Images: Maxis/EA

The Sims, the first published game in the series, is next in chronological order. This game is not particularly lore-heavy, but many of the characters from The Sims 3 feature in this game. By the time this story rolls around, Bella Goth is an adult, married, and has two children.

Agnes Crumplebottom appears as an angry old woman, who beats Sims showing affection in public – likely as a result of not finding romance in her life.

The lack of story focus in this game means there are few tangible ties to deeper Sims lore here, but The Sims does provide a solid backstory for the Goth family, who are central to the lore and timeline.

The events of The Sims 2 are next up, and extremely wild

sims 2 tiktok
Image: EA / Maxis

The next major phase on The Sims timeline happens across multiple games – The Sims 2, The Sims 2 on PSP, DS, PS2 and GBA (all different games), The Urbz: Sims in the City, and The Sims Bustin’ Out on multiple consoles.

Let’s start with the main game, and the one considered ‘most canon’. In The Sims 2, the following timeline events occur:

  • Prior to the game, Bella Goth is abducted by aliens. She later appears, wandering memory-less, in the streets of the Strangetown neighbourhood.
  • Tank Grunt feuds with his father, but also aims to impress him by joining the military career.
  • Aliens rise to prominence as the Smith family grows, with the birth of alien-hybrids Johnny and Jill Smith.
  • Agnes Crumplebottom becomes a ghost, buried in the Goth graveyard.

While it’s never been confirmed by EA or Maxis, these events are then followed by the handheld Sims 2 games. For a quick rundown, these games feature Tank Grant as a military officer fighting back against alien invasions, Bella as an escapee from these aliens, and various other characters in wild adventures.

Many of these handheld games are absurd and surreal, and are likely not considered part of the official game timeline – but they should be noted as they do feature characters from the main games, and many of them are depicted as being older or further into their careers.

The Sims 4 takes place in an alternative timeline

bella goth sims timeline
Image: EA / Maxis

By the time The Sims 4 arrived, the timeline of the franchise was so convoluted and stuffed with spin-offs, prequels, and sequels that there was only one solution left to EA and Maxis – to create an alternative timeline, and start again.

The Sims 4 and The Sims FreePlay both take place outside of the official, canon events of the original story, with characters that appear in these games considered to be different to their original counterparts. It’s why Bella Goth is a young adult in The Sims 4, and still lives with her husband Mortimer. She was never abducted in this timeline.

This game also features subtle tweaks to the game’s story, with some characters getting new familial relationships, and others changing locations. There are few ‘classic’ Sims characters that actually appear in this game beyond Bella, which makes the storyline a bit loser and less connected to the other Sims games.

As new content and lore is added to The Sims 4, it continues to drift further from the established timeline of the series – but with two decades worth of stories, characters and lore to navigate, a complete overhaul and alternate re-telling is understandable.

While starting over means the latest game isn’t quite ‘canon’ to the rest of the series, it has allowed new players to jump in without learning the massive back story at the heart of the franchise. It also means many modern players are unaware of just how twisting the Sims timeline can get.

If you’re keen to learn more about The Sims and its dark, dense underbelly, GamesHub is hosting a major deep dive panel into the game’s lore at PAX Australia 2022. Stay tuned for more news as we get closer to the event.

Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.