My Sims, Myself

Days and nights in the belly of the video gaming beast

 

4 - Futures Made of Virtual Insanity

 

The question is, What's wrong with playing video games if it gives you pleasure, turns on dopamine systems, and gives you a chemical reward? Why not keep doing it? But then you can also say, Why not turn on the same systems by using crack? Why not masturbate 50 times a day? The problem is, our brains just aren't wired to experience continual pleasure from any experience. After a while, the brain just exhausts itself.

--Kevin Turnquist,
psychiatrist

 

October 22, 2000

It's Sunday. I've played The Simsfor such a long stretch this weekend that I feel like one of the dope bingers from Infinite Jest--a guy who is so steadfastly against leaving his room that he uses an old sports trophy as a bedpan. I can't remember the last time I blinked. In the last few hours, an almost imperceptible crackling sound in my brain has convinced me that I've somehow activated the huge vat of Pop Rocks that, until recently, had lain dormant inside my skull. My hands and forearms ache from pressing buttons. My vision is blurred. My cognitive activity has slowed to a sloth's pace--the world stands before me as if preserved in cough syrup. Yet the physical reflexes still work: My fingers are twitching and my adrenaline is rushing. I'm starting to think I could run straight from here to Texas right this second, just to take the edge off.

Gaming is a solitary activity for good reason. No one should be able to see me like this. In fact, no one should even be in the room. When my neurons are firing autonomic impulses, my ears seem to observe human voices, as if they're drifting past. Friends' questions receive no answers--not because they're disturbing the game, but because the meaning of these words doesn't register, and my brain no longer realizes that a response is even necessary. When I'm gaming all alone, I drop into a blissful half-conscious haze, devoid of larger context. My mental capacities serve only as a switchboard for my button-pressing fingers.

Rising from this epic session of gaming, I can't do anything that requires concentration--no reading, no working, no thinking at all. I want nothing but to release the pressure in my head through physical activity, to punch something as hard as I can. Instead, I decide to take a walk. When I venture out of the house for the first time in days, I feel changed, as if the hallucinogen of my choice has just kicked in. Suddenly, I'm stuck in a feedback loop, seeing everything through a limited lexicon of possible commands. And with this precise list of actions, I can control the world. While folding clothes at Urban Outfitters, I notice that a 13-year-old girl spends two hours trying on a single Playboy T-shirt. Mentally, I block her in the dressing room with a wall of bricks. During lunch, some drunk outside the pizza shop tells me I look like Buddy Holly in my glasses--I imagine him guzzling the Sims' generic beer while I repeatedly block him from the restroom. At home, I remember that Ross has left me with a mountain of dirty dishes. I wonder if I can pause the game and delete him from our house.

In real life, that's sociopathic behavior. In the gaming industry, that's what gets you to the next level.

 

January 4, 2003

I'm beginning to think my life would be better if I were a Sim.

I've spent the last four hours wasting time on my computer. But in the Sims world, I've been reading useful materials, filling my skill levels, and making thousands of Simoleans. I'm feeling focused, driven, and incredibly productive.

Because I need all 10 of my fingers to maneuver my Sim, I've learned to drink without using my hands. It's a feat surpassed only by the time in college that I discovered I could smoke while showering. I decide that such things should have a Sims skill meter of their own: logic, creativity, and puffing nicotine in unconventional positions.

When I finally move away from the game for the first time today, I create points for every task I complete. They get longer and more ridiculous as I go. Watching The West Wing fills the Adult Education in Government Studies meter. Eating the semi-rotten sandwich found in the back of the fridge fills the Recycling Precious Food That Can Never Be Shipped to Needy Children in Africa meter. Googling myself fills the Boosting My Confidence Even While Recognizing That I'm Narcissistic Enough to Google Myself meter. With all these accomplishments, I feel confident that the I'm Wasting My Time meter is empty.

 

 

5 - Time Bandits

 

"I decided to embark on my big project: to find out not just what 10 years of gaming had done to me, but what it could have done and could yet do... I took a hard look at my life. In 10 years, little has changed. I still haven't written the TV series, or the script, or the novel, or taken the world of stand-up comedy by storm. I haven't got married, had kids or bought a house. Hell, I've only bought four CDs since 1992. I've stopped my diary, sold my car, lost touch with my friends, given up my other writing jobs, been abroad twice and had three relationships that lasted more than a month. Alarmed, I set about compiling a list of what I have achieved in that time. I have completed Doom, Doom II, Hexen, Heretic, Myst, Quake, Quake II, Stonekeep, Phantasmagoria, Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max, Gabriel Knight, Half-Life, Fallout, Syndicate 2, Fallout 2, Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, Megarace 2, Baldur's Gate 2: Shadows of Amn, Command & Conquer, Red Alert, Nox, Tiberian Sun, Heroes of Might & Magic III, Might & Magic VI, Magic: The Gathering, and Micro Maniacs. Many more than once."

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