My Sims, Myself

Days and nights in the belly of the video gaming beast

Hearing these things, I feel both excited and defeated. I know I want to play. But I also know I might not be able to stop playing without getting sucked into another 72 consecutive hours behind the screen.

It's a risk I can't help taking.

 

2 - With a Click of the Mouse, I Can Make You Do Anything

 

"I think children, particularly boys, are playing video games right now... because they feel out of control. It does give them a temporary sense of some type of control."

--Karen Binder-Brynes,
a psychologist who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder,
ABC News.com, October 30, 2001

 

October 20, 2000

Sitting on the dusty floor with my Sony Vaio and my copy of The Sims, I create a family. At first Jack, Janet, and Chrissy do normal things: Janet catches a carpool to her job, Chrissy drinks espresso, Jack takes a shower. Janet naps on the couch, Chrissy drinks espresso, Jack watches TV. Janet feeds the fish, Chrissy drinks espresso, Jack talks to the woman who lives next door. I do this for hours before I start to notice how sad and boring these creatures' lives are--eat, sleep, work, eat, occasionally fondle the neighbor. I wonder, What's the point? Is the only goal of their lives to keep on living? I imagine my Sims world as Sartre's No Exit staged at Skipper's Beach House.

I get depressed.

I neglect my Sims.

The Sims get depressed.

When Jack comes home from work, slumped and despondent, I take pity on him. I allow him to play an Atari-like game on his PC for some 45 minutes until I have a terrifying thought: I work nearly 60 hours per week to earn the money to buy a computer game so that I can work another 20 hours per week making my Sim work 40 hours a week so that he can buy his own computer game. Nothing elevates my own daily routine above my Sims' simple tasks for survival. It's all the same.

After lunch, a growing existentialism starts to worm its way through my brain. I grow tired of these basic moves. I get no appreciation from my Sims for teaching them to feed, clothe, and bathe themselves. If I'm going to have the power to play God, I think, why not show these unbelievers a little wrath?

The next time Janet serves dinner to Chrissy, I prevent Janet from swallowing a single bite. She watches Chrissy hungrily and begins to starve. Soon, she is so defeated that she refuses to look at herself in the mirror.

Chrissy, having drunk enough espresso to underwrite a Starbucks outlet, leaves the table and heads for the bathroom. I repeatedly block her path. She whines like a distressed poodle and eventually wets her pants. Later, I find her sobbing into her hands.

Jack, meanwhile, swims laps out in the backyard pool. I pause the game and sell the pool's exit ladder back to its distributor. Then, I allow Jack to keep swimming. He swims and swims. Then he drowns.

A new epiphany: I don't have enough money to pay my bills, I can't afford to leave my job, and insomnia prevents me from sleeping when I'm tired--but in here, I can do anything I want.

 

January 3, 2003

Why won't anyone talk to me?

I've been playing The Sims Online for a grand total of 10 minutes, and no one has so much as gestured my way. Why are people treating me like I'm some kind of monster?

And then I remember I've got a man-eating insect's noggin for a head. But is that really it? No one's talking to the girl who looks like a Gap model, either. After clicking on the icon for a yellow house labeled "Welcome: New Sims!" I've entered a large suburban abode filled with pinball machines, home gym systems, a backyard swimming pool, and a dozen other Sims--all of whom are sitting on green couches, reading silently, a gaggle of bodies huddled together turning pages.

I have the sudden urge to make them into my own personal Jacks, Janets, and Chrissys. Kiss each other! I want to command. Slap that man! Dance to the jukebox! Do something! I need to interrupt their thoughts. I yawn. I stretch. I stand up. I do a wild dance on the rug. No one notices.

Only one thing could produce such a display of solidarity: greed. The more books these Sims read, the more skills they gain, and the more skills they gain, the more Simoleans (Sims currency) they earn. When the online game was first created, it was every Sim for himself--and, like true Americans, the Sims acted like a bunch of solitary opportunists interested only in trumping their neighbors' bankrolls. So creator Will Wright tried to force cooperation. Now, the more Sims you've got reading along with you, the faster you complete your task. Call it Simbiosis.

This is progress, I reassure myself. Instead of being a pathetic video game addict who plays by herself all day, I'm a pathetic video game addict who cooperates with other pathetic video game addicts.

 

3 - Your Leisure Time Is My Social Distortion

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