Me and My Sims

Three Days in the Most Surreal Game on Earth

I had to do it.

Computer games are my sin, my soul. At night when I’m tired, in the morning when I awake, they are there, always ready for another round of generated joy. Every so often I go under, bingeing on photons and electrons as though they were electric cocaine. For 72 hours straight.

I play first-person shooters, the heavy metal of the medium. Simulations, on the other hand, are easy listening. So when Will Wright released a new simulation called simply The Sims, I passed. If it was anything like his earlier creation, SimCity, it was not for me. SimCity is an exercise in urban planning—a meager form of recreation. After a day on the subway, the last thing I want is to mess with a virtual IRT. I prefer killing—blood-sport games played online against real enemies, with the bass thumping and thunder in my hand.

10:32 - Everyone’s screaming fire, fire.
10:32 - Everyone’s screaming fire, fire.

In The Sims, you just play house. Create a family and attend to domestic affairs. There is romance here, and though gay affairs are hard to maintain, polygamy is not that difficult. The game's object is simple: Make your Sims happy, or else they'll sink into depression.

But nurturing kids and building relationships had more appeal than I expected. A Sims subculture has already blossomed online, where players post their houses and peek into each other's virtual families. The game debuted at the top of the bestseller list in February, as men and women alike bought it in droves.

And when I heard even self-respecting shooters talking about how addictive The Sims is, I couldn't help but feel the itch. A junkie will try anything once.

I wound up playing The Sims for three days. Hardly sleeping and never working, I ate pizza out of the box and let the bonds with other humans slip away. What follows is a partial record of those hours.

DAY 1

10:00 a.m. The buy. The route to Software Etc. is crowded with people who actually work for a living.

10:30 Back home. While the CD loads, I scan the manual, then toss it in the trash.

10:40 Snug in my chair. I give birth to my Sim family. The Boals: seven adult females and one adult male. Choose faces for them. Clothes. Body type. Skin color. Where's the body armor?

10:45 Assigning the Sims personalities. To six women I give high points in the categories of being active and outgoing, so they'll perform well on the job, bring home the bacon for the man. He is assigned points for being playful. Stud duty. The seventh woman, neat and tidy: family house-slave.

I have a whorish imagination. My mind will wrap itself around any fantasy, lay down for any fairy tale. I am a sucker, in particular, for myths involving superhuman powers or other magnifications of self. Like Narcissus. He would love video games. Perhaps that's why children, with their fragile egos, love them too.

10:50 Home is an empty lot. The Boals move in. They are cartoonish, and they jerk when they walk, revealing an ugly bump in the code. I study their surroundings: a classic suburban landscape. Leave It to Beaver in color.

I can zoom in or out. Rotate the plane of perspective. Peer at my plot of paradise, enclosed by a moat of blacktop roads. Will Wright told me French audiences complained about the width of these roads—too American.

11:00 A newspaper girl drops off a paper and hurries away. Pigtails flapping.

The prompt says:

—Read
—Recycle
—Find a Job

11:02 I get Yolanda and Jenni jobs as "team mascots." Pay: $100 Simolians a day.

11:05 Jenni throws the newspaper in the trash before I can employ the others. Have to watch these Sims. They move on their own Artificial Intelligence. But those who prophesy the advent of spiritual machines make a mistake: AI is not the same as free will.

12:00 p.m. John Boal crosses his legs. A cartoon bubble appears above his head showing a picture of a toilet. We don't even have a front door, let alone a toilet. I'm considering what to do about this, when he goes in his pants, leaving a puddle on the green grass.

12:15 Nancy goes on the grass.

12:16 Yolanda goes too.

12:17 Judy pees.

12:18 My lot looks like a swamp. Fuck.

1:00 I've discovered shopping.

"Hygeia-O-Matic Toilet, $300. Ingenious flipping seat and flush handle make using the Hygeia-O-Matic a blast."

1:25 I also bought a fridge, couch, TV, couple of beds, stove, and kitchen cabinets, and dumped everything on the lot. But now that I have a toilet, I can't get the Sims to use it. They just throw up their arms and start yelling at me.

2:00 My Sims are sad. I can tell this because their "happiness bar" has dipped into the red danger zone.

2:15 I try to cheer them up with a round of group backrubs.

2:30 Mary Boal begins to sob. Cries in short little bursts. When the Sims talk they sound like a cross between Charlie Brown and the Teletubbies. An infantile gurgle. Also, the volume warbles: The soundtrack fades and grows, producing a kind of aural hypnosis.

2:35 Flies are buzzing over dirty plates in theliving room.

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