Pretty much everyone has played one of the The Sims games and everyone has had their own experience in the sandbox that allows you to literally do anything to pixelated people. (Motherlode, anyone?) Premade Sims are often references to famous literature and media stereotypes with hints and scripted events dotted about to provoke ideas for the players, but ultimately, the player has control over any Sim’s life. This is why my attention is drawn to perhaps the most famous premade Sim: Bella Goth.
Over the course of the franchise, Bella was (perhaps inadvertently) subject to a mystery disappearance in the most successful installment of the game, The Sims 2. Consequently, a narrative was created for a sandbox game, and its effects rippled backwards and forwards in the games’ chronology. Her character was divided; a seductive, sweet-talking gold digger or a good-natured, enthusiastic occultist. But how far do each of her representations support either half of the binary personality she was assigned?
The first incarnation of Bella Goth is The Sims 3 version, a child of the Bachelor family in Sunset Valley. Due to the open world nature of The Sims 3, it’s hard not to notice the small, sociable little girl, and her family appear on community lots. Her assigned Traits (part of the game’s personality system) are Good, Brave, and Lucky. Bella Bachelor and Mortimer Goth are best friends, and she wears a red dress and has a gothic-themed bedroom. She does not struggle at school, has a good family life, and is very sociable and will engage most Sims in conversation regardless of life stage. This seems banal, but by using these facts placed in by developers, we can analyze Bella Goth’s changing character.
Her red dress is most likely used to tie in with the future versions of Bella to make her more easily recognizable. However, as red is the color of danger, it could also hint at an eventual dangerous motive. Thankfully, there is nothing to support this characterization. Bella’s personality is chatty, good-natured, and a bit odd (given her paranormal interest). As a capable student, she can achieve good grades and therefore get a good job, so she would not need to rely upon or be attracted to others’ earnings. Her parents Simis and Jocasta have very little characterization by comparison, meaning that young Bella cannot be influenced by them to become a seductress. Her relationship with young Mortimer is mutual and they are not incompatible (some Traits will clash, causing Sims to naturally dislike each other). She has one point in the painting skill, inferring her creativity that would later be expanded upon in other games. All in all, the first rendition of Bella Bachelor/Goth is a sweet, eccentric young girl who would grow to be Mortimer’s true love.
The Sims introduces the Goth family: Mortimer and Bella Goth, married with a daughter named Cassandra. Bella is described to be elegant and athletic with a high interest in the paranormal. She acts as a housewife in the family, while Mortimer is at work and Cassandra is at school, so she is left to her own (or perhaps the player’s) devices. I lack knowledge on whether the script supports her characterization, as I only played The Sims for about two hours at a friend’s house almost a decade ago. Using the information garnered from The Sims Wikia, she does play piano and/or paint autonomously, supporting a slightly unconventional gothic aristocratic lady character.
Analyzing her characterization uncovers an extremely multidimensional avatar of Bella Goth. The classic red dress is seen as form-fitting, yet worn with flats. ‘Athletic’ appears to be just a descriptor to ensure that the player knows that despite the boxy pixels, this woman is conventionally attractive. She contrasts with her child and her husband’s dark, old-fashioned dress, yet positive mutual relationships between them all shows that Bella is not and was not an outsider. Doing creative activities autonomously shows that her creativity has developed from her child incarnation to be a clear facet of her personality, and that she is skilled in these talents. High interest in the paranormal keeps her a Bachelor, and provides an observation as to why Bella and Mortimer were attracted to each other.
She does not seem to be as sociable—‘elegant’ and the pursuit of quiet activities in the game’s script—as she was as a child, perhaps due to the influence of Goth solitary ways or an increased focus on the home and family. This latter theory is augmented by the fact that she is unemployed, acting as a housewife, and therefore submitting to traditional gender roles, which weakens the characterization of a sexy gold digger. Golf is an upper class activity, and requires one to be out in nature using strategy and mathematical skills. Bella does not appear to be the one driving the golf buggy for fun or trailing after Mortimer with his bag of clubs. This lends itself further to the occultist characterization (out in nature) and independence from Mortimer for her own entertainment. She is a pleasant, peculiar, and artistic individual, and a perfect companion for Mortimer in these first two stages of her life.
Unfortunately, this is where it goes slightly downhill for Bella Goth. Her next incarnation is … missing. In The Sims 2, Bella has disappeared from the Goth family, having been abducted by aliens. She leaves behind an elder Mortimer, an adult Cassandra, and a second child named Alexander. Her disappearance is key to the Pleasantview story the developers inserted, with certain events occurring due to her missing state. According to the town description, Bella was last seen at Don Lothario’s house (her daughter’s fiancé) alone with him. Don initiated romantic interactions with Bella, but she rejected him (proven by Don’s Memories). Soon afterward, she must have been abducted by stargazing through Don’s telescope. Mortimer and Cassandra both have Memories of her being abducted by aliens despite the town’s description leaving the answer open-ended.
To test whether this Bella was a complete blank slate compared to the previous Bellas, I did some jiggery-pokery and created the Goth household just on the edge of Pleasantview, giving Bella a dark-themed house and a variety of things she could interact with—some artsy, some not. Pleasantview Bella naturally gravitated to painting, electric guitar, comedy films, and the ballet bar. Her scripted behaviors indicate the characterization from The Sims has carried over to the next installment, even if her family ties were not. The red dress, long dark hair, and jewelery are no longer blocky and become a clear part of her character. It seems a shame that Maxis decided to remove her from conventional gameplay, as she was a lot of fun to watch putter about. The Sims 2 script again paints Bella as an artistic, talented, attractive, and eccentric woman—however the chosen backstory for Pleasantview wishes to undermine it.
The parts of the story that support her gold digging or duplicitous nature are that her last known location within Pleasantview was Don Lothario’s house. Don is a womanizer known for having four romances at the start of play, including Bella’s now adult daughter Cassandra. It is possible that Don invited Bella himself, but it seems uncharacteristic of her family-centric personality to go over by herself and not invite other members. The illicit meeting is further emphasized by the description in the Lothario family box, as Bella is described as “scaling the deck of his condo.” Finally, what does Don Lothario offer to Bella that the now-wealthy Goth family cannot provide? These chosen descriptors add more weight to a devious Bella. Mortimer and Cassandra have Memories of Bella being abducted by aliens, but Sims can only obtain Memories if they are present at the scene and it is impossible in normal gameplay to be abducted with the telescope that Don has. If we take these facts at face value, Bella was not abducted by aliens and there is a separate story to the one Mortimer and Cassandra know.
Moreover, Mortimer is now an elder, yet Bella is still a young woman even though they were the same age in both The Sims 2 and The Sims 3, reinforcing the classic gold digger trope. Bella Goth can be found in Strangetown as a Townie, but this is not the same Bella from Pleasantview. It is suggested that this is where the aliens left her after abduction, bolstered by the fact you can see a crashed spaceship in the neighborhood and that Strangetown is a hotbed for bizarre events, sometimes involving aliens. This Bella has the same attire and is the same age, but her face is completely different. She has what is known as ‘Face 1,’ the default pretty face that can be selected in Create A Sim (despite this, many fans consider her to be the ‘true’ Bella). Maxis had access to the original Bella and most definitely had the power to place her in Strangetown, so why create a new one? Multiple Bellas are further complicated by the presence of a grave for Bella in the The Sims 3 world Lunar Lakes; if resurrected, this Bella is a blonde and bears no physical resemblance to the Bella in Sunset Valley. The Bella Goth in The Sims 4 is confirmed to be a totally separate Bella to the five Bellas previously mentioned.
All this probably sounds like I’m clutching at straws to make A Valid Point™ but The Sims 2 was the first game I ever had. I remember being influenced by these descriptors and hints that Maxis laid down to point the player in the direction of the mysterious, duplicitous characterization of Bella Goth. I remember being glad that Bella was gone, that Mortimer was free of her mystic influence, and Cassandra was able to live life out from her mother’s shadow. I remember seeing Bella Goth as a walk-by in Strangetown and being confused as to why she did not look like the Bella icon in the Goth Family Tree. I remember feeling no intense desire to reunite Bella with her family that so dearly missed her. It begs the question: why was I so predisposed to this poisonous interpretation of a materialistic temptress if the core idea of the The Sims franchise is sandbox gameplay?