They say you never forget your first heartbreak or the first time you kill a man in a swimming pool. Like the lovers of history before me—Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Bert and Ernie—I too have a tragic tale to tell of woe and redemption. I remember well the first time a Sim broke my heart. I was only 14 *clicks play on dramatic flashback music*, dressed in finery from the fashion establishment Jay Jays *representative ghost of Sims past floats in and transports us back to 2004* and the charts were rank with Australian Idol contestants. It was a different time *chill wind blows* so full of helpless naivety…
A shriek emanated from the study, followed by a loud crash. Fearing the worst, my dad burst in to discover me in tears, staring at the computer screen.
“What’s happened?” he yelled in that angry-and-terrified dad voice, thinking someone had died or, even worse, left a cruel Livejournal comment. He approached me like I was a spooked horse and crouched down as the colour drained from my splotchy face.
I could barely say it. If I said it, it would make it real.
“My Sim was electrocuted and died…I haven’t saved for hours,” I (eventually) whispered, snot running down my face.
“Fucking hell,” dad yelled, “You scared the shit out of me!”
His indifference to my pain only made it worse and I cried more, cried in that inconsolable, teenage way that indicates some deeper issue, probably to do with a cute boy in a band or a misplaced ladybeetle sticker.
My sister, upon hearing the sorry story, came to console me.
“When did you last save?” she said, “Did you plead with the Grim Reaper? Do you have the Resurrect-O-Nomitron?” She asked the important questions while dad left the room, shaking his head.
We worked together over the corpse of my Sim trying to revive him, but he was gone. And now, at the tender age of 14, I was forced to make a hard choice—lose my Sim or lose hours of gameplay. I chose to save my Sim, Bernard Stapler, because he had a good job and his wife Celine only had the cleaning skill and couldn’t possibly pay the huge bills of the mansion I’d cheat-built. She was used to nice things…I couldn’t deprive her of them. I tried to start over and carry on, but it became clear that I couldn’t. It wasn’t the same. The spell was broken, and when I looked at Bernard all I could see was a complete imbecile who couldn’t even repair his own TV without being electrocuted to death and breaking my heart. So I did what anyone would do and trapped him in the pool until he died; a standard, but respectful, Sim execution. Celine was haunted night after night by his ghost until I got fed up and put her in the pool as well. It was tragic and I couldn’t play anymore.
Fast forward to a few months later and I was totally over it and obsessed with Orlando Bloom; glossy Girlfriend magazine A4 posters dotted my walls. I got back on the horse. I crafted a detailed replica of Orlando Bloom, named Orlando BloomBot. In my mind, I HAD to make some distinction between the real Orlando Bloom™ and my Bloombot because I genuinely thought my chances with IRL Orlando would be ruined if he ever found out I made a Sim of him…yes, if Orly ever fell in love with a 15-year-old pimple queen, the Sim thing COULD be a real deal-breaker. Bloombot had many dogs and suitors and lived in a mansion, as I imagined the real one would. Bloombot eventually fell in love with a Sim that looked suspiciously like me (unfortunately the real one never did follow suit) and they made sweet Woohoo, fell pregnant and gave Sim birth to a bouncing baby boy. Everything was wonderful again! But sometimes, life has other plans. Two terrible things happened in quick succession. In my excitement, I accidentally clicked enter when the baby was born and it was named Baby Boy Bloombot. This was before I was au fait with the boolProp cheat and I was devastated. But BBB had a certain ring to it, so we pushed on.
The next day, Bloombot put BBB down while standing in a corner and the game glitched out. No amount of saving and restarting could save it and I watched as Bloombot pissed on himself and the baby, screaming and wailing, trapped in that corner while his wife watched on indifferently. Eventually Bloombot died and social services came to take BBB away. I’m not too proud to say I cried.
In the wake of my tragedy, my brother revealed his own Sim trauma. As a very young child he had started a Sim: a single brown-haired man, living in a box. He didn’t really understand the game and struggled to make money. His Sim was constantly depressed and yelling at him; he had nothing and couldn’t afford to eat. He struggled with that Sim for so long, completely out of his league.
And then the Tragic Clown came and taunted his depressed Sim. The Tragic Clown performed a magic trick that backfired and the house set on fire and burnt to the ground. Shakespeare couldn’t write this shit. And he cried and wailed and we helped him cheat a little, get a job and build another box house. Things were looking up. Then the Clown, as consistent as death and taxes, came again and burnt his house down.
See the theme here? If you play Sims long enough, terrible things are likely to happen. Maybe you make them happen yourself, or maybe it’s the hand of fate, but either way you can tell a lot about a person by watching them Sim.
My sister had a particular flavour of Sim that she liked, which involved a never-ending time-management challenge (and perhaps also some teenaged angst). She would build a family with one unskilled parent who hates everything and seven misbehaved children and whip them into shape. No cheats, no help. She was hard-core. The terrible parent would be banished to paint or whittle gnomes in the basement and the children would begin their life of strict routine…there would be no foolish wand waving in THIS house.
She crafted practical homes, with rows and rows of identical, economical beds, shower cubicles and study stations, giving the house a warm feel similar to an orphanage or mental asylum. She had the children up at 3am every morning to cycle them through their maximum-mood-enhancement routine and shipped them off to school. The one budget toy would be shared between the children until each had just enough “fun” stockpiled to get through the day without going insane. She ran a tight ship as “idle Sims are the devil’s playthings” and the Sims must be making full use of their days. It was very satisfying to watch her Sim, like watching a master pianist in complete control of all the minutiae. You know, now that I see both of our patterns laid out, I have to wonder what the hell is wrong with us…were we not disciplined enough as children? Who knows. She grew up to be a very laid-back chick, so I guess her Simming was a way to rationalize some internal lack of control. Or maybe she just wanted to watch them suffer in the most mundane way possible.
In our late teens, once we both chilled the fuck out, we had a great time playing Sims together. A real life lesson came in the form of the Peen family, which comprised of an obese, cantankerous grandmother and many young children. We killed Grandmother Peen, deleted Social Services whenever they came knocking and it was complete anarchy. We revelled in the pandemonium and used all the mean interactions we would never DARE use in a real Sims game (hyper reality within hyper reality…Simception). But soon our practical natures took over and we started to feel anxious about the children…our Sim kids were dropping grades like IRL kids our age were dropping low at cool parties and we were concerned. The only teenager in the family (named something lazy like Flart7) was earning peanuts at his after school job; the family was really struggling. We brainstormed methods to save Flart7 and the Peen clan, and I’m pleased to say that, without cheats, we worked together to raise that Sim family from rags to riches (with the help of robot butlers of course–every mother’s secret weapon).
We weren’t renegades in real life and we couldn’t be renegades on the Sims either. You can’t hide your innate nature from EA Games, nor can you ever really banish the Sims music from the recesses of your psyche. You will never be able to stop yourself saying Sul Sul for hello or Dag Dag for goodbye; when you walk into a room and forget what you were there for, you will eternally have a lingering suspicion it’s because you are someone else’s Sim. Because deep down you know that Sim is life and Sim is love.
Thankfully, I’ve kicked the habit and haven’t touched the stuff in years *gets on highest horse available*. Now please excuse me, I have to go play Sim City Build It on my phone…it’s not the same but it sure takes the edge off.
Artwork by Maeve Baker