2000 was a happy time. Revelling in the exuberance of boyhood years, I was a casual gamer. Mostly because of time you understand: If I wasn’t writing, playing some sport or other, studying or covering the base needs of sleep, food, drink and occasional hygiene, I could be found hammering Final Fantasy IX (better than VIII, but no VII) or playing through Half-Life yet again, even two years after its release.
Then a friend introduced The Sims, a game I played and was intrigued by for about a month. The idea would surely catch on I realised, and so felt obliged to give it my attention. But as I plugged on further and further, an increasingly poisonous feeling in the pit of my stomach distracted me. A feeling of unease accompanying a realisation that I was, in fact – as my mum has always said of any of my gaming – wasting my life.
Why? I’d never felt this before, and the game was pretty much the same as the others I had. You directed characters on certain paths, and were duly rewarded by advancements, achievements and ultimately progression towards greatness.
But, as my very own Sim, who I dressed how I thought the future, career-focused me might want to dress, went about the chosen career that I thought might one day suit me, there was an illusionary ring at the virtual doorbell. Oh, it was that lovely lass (collection of pixels) from down the street. That oh so pretty lass (collection of pixels) that was my Sim’s neighbour and would-be girlfriend. They chatted for a bit, and it was all smiles, jokes, giggles and fun in their world of simlish. I sat, carefully clicking speech actions and interactions that my Sim should take to encourage the budding relationship. But then lightning struck and I felt the venom rise in me for being duped. ‘Hang on’, thought the younger and unerringly inquisitive mind I had, ‘This is all a bit wrong’. And you know, I was bloody right!
Because while the rest of the games I have played in my years with opposable thumbs have exorcised those fantasies I might have of variously being the saviour of a manga universe, a professional footballer, a professional football manager, a knight, a martial arts expert, the puppet-master of various martial arts experts, a wrestling mega-star, a big-time boxer, a master of fitting bizarre shapes in ever taller stacks of previously positioned shapes (perhaps not that one), err…being Damon Hill, a tennis Pro, a zombie-shooting member of S.T.A.R.S, a bandicoot, or a commander who conquered, The Sims offered me nothing. You hear that? NOTHING.
What I was blithely doing was sitting at my desk and living a virtual life which was taunting me, sapping time away from my own life and putting it into one where, would I continue on this slippery road, I would never experience an actual ring at the door from an oh so lovely lass. The Sims is a computer game in which your Sims (and not you a la FFVII) play computer games for pity’s sake! That should be reason alone for the world to take whatever sharp edges they can find to the bottom of any Sims disc in the immediate vicinity and scratch the damned franchise from existence. In The Sims, you could watch your Sim become a culinary expert while you stuffed your mouth with burnt beans on tepid toast. In various extensions, you could go live it large, have a house party or hot date, go on holiday or make it in Hollywood, while in fact you were only succeeding in physically stopping yourself from doing any of them.
I’m not mad at EA. They run a business to make profit and to make games people will buy. Over 16 million copies of the game have shifted since 2000, and with the sequel and various expansion packs, it seems not a week goes buy without The Sims 2: Another Mundane Addition to a Mind Numbing Franchise, popping into the top ten of the all-formats charts. EA have marketed it wonderfully. It’s just that (and this is very unlike me) The Sims need to be taken out, decommissioned, frozen, killed off, defenestrated, disembowelled, handed their P45/pink slip or feature as victims in the very next Saw film (it might save it). The development teams’ skills are being misused, the public’s money and time misspent.
And what’s worse, our existences are being wasted by playing it. The games are worse than evil. And if anyone offers you any of the releases, just say, ‘Or, I could actually live my life.’