I've always thought of them as god games, as the Guiding Hand has very definitely god-like powers over the little peeps. If we don't take a close interest in their lives they are liable to starve to death. The hand can pick up a villager on a whim, rename them, decide if they're to be a farmer, scientist or whatever, and interact in other ways.
However, the Guiding Hand's powers are limited - there is a greater god called Arthur who moves in mysterious ways and makes his presence known by having created the island and its wonders, sending occasional island events, giving some of the villagers stubborness to do what they want, not what the GH wants, and other craftiness. It looks as if VV5 will make the player's godhood much more explicit; there was a definite step in that direction in the Facebook version of the game.
Growing older is obligatory; growing up is optional.