Me and My Sims

Three Days in the Most Surreal Game on Earth

3:00Doing splendidly. I've made friends. Advanced Mark up the career ladder by getting him to study hard. Mary has a great job, too. They are both happy most of the time. Occassionally, they are supremely happy. My favorite new purchase: a color flat-screen TV. You can change the channels.

3:15Watching Mary in the kitchen prepare dinner. I am watching Mark watch Sim TV.

"Surveillance: n. A watch kept over a person, group, etc., esp. over a suspect or prisoner."

3:20Mark and Mary are kissing. Finally. Would you like to have a baby? Sure.

3:30A phone call. A social worker is coming to take away the baby. Child abuse. What the hell? I fed her.

3:35I need help. Surf to thesims.com, where true believers congregate. Find thousands of postings. Links to hundreds of fan sites. People write fictional stories about their Sims and post them. Fantasy within a fantasy. Found this tip:

"In order to keep that love alive, EVERY morning, and after work, and right before they sleep, they both hug and kiss each other, no matter what, unless either one of them is in a bad mood. I find that strategy to work the best for me, and I hope it works for you. Good Luck :-)"

4:30I keep Mark and Mary kissing. Her hand caresses his back, slides down to his ass. This gives me a brief jolt. A little jealous, I consider my own sex life—find it lacking.

5:30Debating the merits of downloading the naked "skin" for Mary. A skin is a hacker modification that lets you change what the Sims look like. Playing Barbie.

6:31I must be crazy.

7:00I go for a walk. Someone once said a schizophrenic going for a walk is healthier than a neurotic in a chair. Bump into a lamppost I've passed millions of times without mishap. Call comes in on the cell: Have dinner with me. Get lost finding the restaurant. I try to explain about the game, how it casts a spell of scale, how you get pulled into this generous miniature and you can't easily find a way out. She looks at me like I'm a little off.

7:15It's not me, I say. It's the game.

7:20She says, "Relax, I'm used to dealing with lunatics." She's an editor at a fancy magazine.

9:00Back home. Thank God. That was taxing.

10:00I am Mark. And Mary. But less Mary than Mark. I know this because I make Mary pay the bills. My bills are buried under newspapers. The inside of my fridge: a biology experiment. I need (a) Mary.

11:00I don't care about this game.

11:02I do care.

11:03Damn.

DAY 3

9:00 a.m. Still playing.

12:00 p.m.Ditto

1:00Drinking Go-Go to stay awake. It has a rad can: an anime babe with giant eyes, orange hair, purple micromini. Dolores in a digital line.

1:15I'm hard-wired from two sips. Cut Go-Go with two fingers of Bombay gin. Not bad.

I remember this: "The difference between art and games? I don't know. Art is such a big word that means different things to different people. Art is a form of communication. Games are a form of symbolic manipulation." Will Wright, March 16, 2000.

2:00When you've been playing for 17 hours, and are now in a silent dialogue with your Sims, this distinction falls away.

3:00I think I need a new couch.

4:00And a few more friends.

4:30Feel slightly insane, out of touch with the present. Think perhaps the present does not exist. Nor the future. Think we invent the future to escape the present, and all its horrible immediacy.

5:00I turn back to the Sims. For solace.

5:15I am good at this now. Playing is contemplative. Relaxing.

5:30When the future arrives, we'll all play at being ourselves in a game like The Sims. We'll upload our little fantasies and then—gaze at them. Which is to say that in the future we'll regress, since fantasy always looks backward over the shoulder of Time, to a moment that never happened.

6:00I zoom in to touch my Sims, pan out to watch. Telescoping intimacy.

7:15Bathing Mary in a bathtub. Can hear her lather up. One thing the definition of surveillance doesn't tell you about keeping watch: The voyeur doesn't just gaze; he connects. Think of guards who watch prisoners. They sometimes date the convicts. Even get married to them. Surveillance as a form of love.

7:30What am I learning, right now?

7:31Either this is a special experience, or an utter waste of time. Or both.

7:40I need a break. My social meter is low. I turn off the game.

Can't take this lonely sim. I know science isn't done with us yet, but I hope when it is we turn out to be more than digits in a wetware shell.

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