Thursday, April 9, 2009

What is wrong with over thinking things?

Well, you tend to go insane and write shambolic reviews of The Sims. Like I did about a week ago for a reviewing competition. I don't think I'm going to win with this effort, but it staved off the effects of insanity for about ten minutes anyhow....or perhaps encouraged them. Goo goo ga joob!



"When I consider this carefully, I find not a single property which with certainty separates the waking state from the dream. How can you be certain that your whole life is not a dream?"- Descartes

I turn on the machine and live another life, I am ghost in the machine, and I am hungry for Baked Alaska.

When people think games, they think computer simulations with a point. Whether it be shoot a whole bunch of people, build a city or unravel a mystery, but has there ever been a game which is so nihilistically compelling?

When people ask me my favourite game, I say it is something along the lines of Fallout or Psychonauts, not because The Sims isn't popular, but because of my own shame. Each time I start up the game, I hear the hollow silence of my own coffin underneath the cheery music which permeates my consciousness.

I know that for an hour or twelve I am certainly not myself, I am not the same man who thinks playing until two in the morning isn't a fruitful exercise, instead I am not only a taskmaster but this game has somehow tricked me into believing I am a master of my own self.

I get a call on the telephone, that sim wants to come over for a while. I have work in an hour; I have no time for this foolishness. I need a goddamned promotion, I don't have any bills piled up on the table or children crying for the newest shiny toy and I feel myself lulled into a path by the promise of a piece of candy in front of my feet.

"And if you go chasing rabbits-
And you know you're going to fall"- Jefferson Airplane

I'm Alice, and I don't particularly care that the Cheshire cat is grinning at me. What do I care for the logical reality which dictates this all ridiculous? What do I care for the arguments that my time would not be served by playing a people simulator?

Paradoxically, The Sims has you obsessed with time management as you go down the rabbit-hole to confront your own shortcomings. I look at my sim, and I see an idealised version of myself. He has a job, several attractive sims a phone call away and a home that I could only dream of...and a hot tub!

For others, digital gender-play is the order of the day as their digital manifestations go and give birth to a whole bunch of more Sims which fulfils some paternal fantasies. Others though desire the game as a mere toy, the denizens of the world to do with what they will, locking them up in a room with no food or toilets for days on end and smile wryly as their sim fights for life.

What is this game where you can't just design cities, take life but instead control every aspect of a digital person's life? More to the point, why do I desire the control? In a game which takes control away from your real life and substitutes it for a program, is the need to dictate the terms of life to these beings the last bastions of our humanity telling us that this is a video game, and nothing to be feared?

Am I over-thinking this?

The reason why The Sims is a guilty pleasure is that I seek control. I demand perfection from my sims in stark contrast to my failed endeavours and this makes me feel more than a little guilty. Am I simply projecting my desires onto these hapless digital creatures? What right do I have to demand perfection from these creatures when I am sitting in my room at two in the morning playing a video game?

Perhaps a story will help illustrate my point.

It's about 7PM sim-time. The sun has just come down rather rapidly, and I'm preparing my sim for another day of promotion-chasing. He lives in a two-story house, has a good looking trophy-wife and two kids who are at the top of their classes. Yet, it's not enough.

I have to get him up four hours early, just to make sure that he's in the best condition he can be so he can chase that promotion. Most people will be happy just stumbling into work, getting through their shift so they can get their pay check and put food on the table. My mum did it after all, she raised two kids while getting a degree and working a full-time job.

I find myself now, faced with this being in my control and I'm making sure his kids have the upbringing I never had. Oh God I'm so ashamed.

Why do I want to push my sim into this path though? For some arbitrary cash bonus? Am I simply playing by the game's rules in the hopes of hearing some stupid little chime and my sim's stats getting a boost? Why am I following the pied piper to my own death? Not the death of my sim, but to the death of myself.

It's about 2AM real-world time and I feel like rebelling. The sun has long gone down and my sim is preparing for another day of work. Little does he know that he's not going to work today. That's right; I'm going to ignore the honking of the carpool.

So the hour is fast approaching, and my sim is seemingly looking toward the door. Is my sim...learning? Has years of routine finally come home to roost? It's a moot question anyway, and the car pulls up and starts honking. My sim indicates that he wants to go to work, to get the moolah, to get the points and to get the special item. No, I say, you will stay home and paint! Still he indicates that he wishes to go...I should have turned free-will off.

My sim hasn't grasped the concept or rebellion, and a look outside will tell you why. It's a sunny day outside, and as far as I can tell, it's never rained in this part of the neighbourhood. I look at the houses in the neighbourhood and notice a distinct lack of dilapidation present. This neighbourhood sickens me, but yet I want to spend every waking moment I have there? I'm so ashamed.

Back to my rebellion.

The honking is unceasing, it drives into your brain like a jackhammer into pavement, all compounded by my sim's desire to walk on the straight and narrow and my determination for him to rebel. Who am I to force my cultural ideologies on this little guy? If he really wants to go to work, I should let him. The car's honking louder now. No, I made him what he was through years of routine implementation, and it's my responsibility to show him that there's another way to live life. He doesn't have to go to work, he doesn't have to be a slave to the corporate dollar.

Back in real life I get my bank statement back, and the 90 dollars I spent on the game and 30 dollars I spent on the expansion pack stick out at me. Here I am trying to affect rebellion when I can't rebel myself.

Like a crack-addled clown I go back for more time and time again. Perhaps the greatest act of rebellion would be to turn the computer off, but there's no time for that now, the car's honking is getting louder.

Finally, the car speeds off and my sim is left in a daze, reflecting his creator's state of mind. Here I am free from the constraints of arbitrary gameplay goals and I have no idea what to do. All I keep on thinking is that he should be doing something constructive as I open another bag of chips.

He should be painting a masterpiece, getting his body in taught shape or cultivating contacts. In the middle of my ruminations, a little sim comes up to her daddy and gives him a hug before going to school.

Suddenly, it's not about rebellion anymore. The reason why my sim should aim to be all he can be is right there in a simple act of affection. Who am I to deny a future for this child because I want to rebel? That's when you realise that you're not the G-Man anymore, but instead this game has been controlling you all this time.

So, why is The Sims a guilty pleasure? Because I know it controls my mind, and yet I go back for more each night. There's an old joke, it goes something like this.

A man walks into a doctor's office and says he's depressed.

The doctor says "Polliaci is in town, he'll cheer you up"

The man says "But doctor, I am Polliaci!"

Playing The Sims is to experience all of the follies of human endeavour, and I'd be laughing at the joke if it weren't 2AM.

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