Me and My Sims

Three Days in the Most Surreal Game on Earth

2:40 I debate whether to fish my manual out of the trash. It's not so much the banana peel on top that gives me pause, but the fact that I never use manuals. Find them obvious. But this game is hard, and I'd like to win it sooner rather than later.

2:42 To hell with it. I need the manual.

3:30 I've learned that Sims won't piss in public. I've also discovered the building tool.

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

3:35 Laying bricks. With a cross between a drafting application and an interior-design program, I build the Boals a simple house. Then I decorate.

4:30 I'm eating pizza, taking a break. Notice that my apartment is smaller, proportionally, than the Sims' house.

6:00 A Sim day runs out several times faster than a day in real life. It's already getting dark in Sim land. They fall asleep on the floor. Snoring loudly.

6:30 A new Sim day. The carpool comes to take Yolanda and Jenni to work. Jenni says: "I'm too depressed to work," refuses to budge off the couch. I try to get her to make out with Sharon. No luck. I consult the manual.

It says Sims can be het or gay. What's wrong with my girls?

7:30 I have to go outside. I'm tired of worrying about what happens to these cartoons. On the street, I am startled by the darkness. The streetlights loom above the ground. People look vaguely menacing. I head uptown to see a Sim addict I know. Figure he can explain about the girls.

7:32 The cab drops me off a block too soon. After studying angles in the game for so long, I'm struck by the straightness of the street. How it forces me to walk in one direction. Grids.

7:35 Inside. The addict knows. Last week he flew from JFK to Hong Kong, an 18-hour trip. On a flight sim. Navigating in the weather in real time so that when it rained over France on his screen, it was raining over France, the country. He says The Sims is far less complicated than steering a real plane. But he had the same problem as me: couldn't get two guys to kiss. He's gay and found this annoying. I tell him I wasn't annoyed by the lack of kissing, just . . . never mind. It's stupid.

10:00 Home again.

10:20 How are my lovely Sims? Sharon is in the kitchen, preparing lunch with a food processor. John is jumping up and down, complaining about something. Yolanda is watching TV. Two others are slapping each other.

10:30 Fire!

10:31 Sharon set the damn kitchen on fire.

10:32 Everyone's screaming fire, fire.

10:33 The second cabinet is aflame.

10:35 I find Extinguish.

10:36 Too late. As Yolanda puts down one flame, Sharon has already caught fire.

10:37 Sharon is dead, burned alive. A gravestone rises to mark her passing.

10:38 Fuck this.

10:39 I need some good, clean action. Loading Unreal Tournament, my latest shooter.

11:40 I'm darting through time-space. Circle strafing some punk from the Five Towns. He goes down easy. Move. Kill. Move. Kill. The reptilian pleasure of a clean shot to the head. Survive. Taste immortality.

We don't know why, exactly, games bathe the brain in endorphins. But the pleasure must be one percent survival—the adrenaline of fight and flight—and 99 percent the result of mathematics woven into light.

Pythagoras was a vegetarian and a spiritualist. Thought math would save his soul. His mantra: Numbers are things.

12:00 a.m. Still playing. Polygons crash my retina, enter the cortex, set dendrites on fire. The code renders my enemy as a stack of squares. My ammunition: tiny, tiny squares that must reach the opponent's square before he moves, along a line, to another square in space. Every second a new puzzle.

12:45 Somersaulting in zero gravity, on a roller coaster in four dimensions, I draw a bead on a moving target, spray blue orbs of death at his back, spiral down and—slam—hit the bounce pad, rocket up again, soaring into starry space as his lasers explode beneath my feet in a dazzle of yellow light. Missed, bitch.

1:30 Enough. My eyes belong to someone else. My hand is a rock. I shut the box down. Drink a shot of rum (it was lying around). Pass out.

DAY 2 

8:30 a.m. Wake up starving. Delivery order: Scrambled eggs, bacon, rye toast, and extra home fries. Vanilla milkshake.

9:30 I bulldoze the Boal family. Start again with a new brood. Just two adults, easier to take care of. Caution is the order of the day.

10:00 Discovered that the Sims' radio plays MP3 files. Very cool.

10:30 Discovered another secret. The way to excel at The Sims is to pretend you are the characters. You have to give a shit. I'm making sure Sim Mark takes a shower. Goes to the bathroom. Has a quick snack. Then there are phone calls to make after work, to keep the social score up. Sitting in the hot tub relaxes Mark and Mary. They like it in there with all the bubbles, outside in the backyard, with the sun setting, radio playing their favorite tunes—my favorite tunes.

11:30 Managing their joy effectively.

1:30 I like the way Mark looks when he's working out. The little weights on the bench press move up and down. He huffs and puffs, getting stronger.

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