30 November 2010

A Long, Full Life

This is going to sound geeky, but my Sim died the other day, and it depressed me a little bit. Why? Well, by a mix of Sim and human standards, her life had not been as fulfilling as it could have been.

A few months ago, I installed the Sims 2 on Martin's old computer. No one was using it, and I wanted something to do while he did weekend work but wanted me around.

I immediately started work on a Legacy family but also created a Sim self and Sim Martin to be their neighbors. I would alternate between the families to give myself a break from the problems of one ridiculous household by wrangling another.

Anyway, because Sim me and Sim Martin were created at the same time, I assumed that they would die of old age at the same time. But, as in real life, that was a silly expectation.

For those who are not familiar with the game, Sims have aspiration levels of red, green, gold, and platinum. You rack up aspiration points by completing your Sims' "wants," which in turn depend on their age and aspiration type: Grow Up for toddlers and children, and Family, Romance, Wealth, Popularity, and Knowledge for teens, adults, and elders. The number of points they gain throughout their lives determines how happy they are and how long they live.

If you manage to get your Sim to elder-hood without them starving, drowning, burning, getting electrocuted, or encountering any of the other unnatural causes of death, you then get to see them die of old age. They suddenly stop whatever they're doing, stare into space, and see the Grim Reaper, who gently escorts them out of the game. Meanwhile, any family and friends in the area also stop what they're doing, run to the area, and sob miserably over the Sim's passing.

Now, if your Sim happens to die while carrying a platinum aspiration level, the Grim Reaper arrives escorted by hula dancers and hands your Sim an umbrella drink and a suitcase. Your Sim then sets forth into the afterlife with a smile on his or her face, and a platinum grave marker with the symbol of their aspiration appears in their stead. It's a sign of a long, full life that will stand as long as your Sim's descendants continue the game, or unless you delete it.

So, what happened to my Sims? Well, Sim Martin's wants generally involved making friends and being creative. By the time he was an elder, he was a bestselling author and a retired celebrity chef. Sim Kat's wants centered around her family's well-being, but I also got her a career in science to increase the household income. By the time she was an elder, she was a retired mad scientist and had two well-raised kids and one grandkid.

Before long, I saw that death would catch up with my Sims soon enough. To make sure that they would go out in a happy, platinum state, I timed the youngest son's wedding for one day before their deaths. Both Sim Martin and Sim Kat wanted him to get married, and completing the want was worth 8000 points, a number sure to max out their aspiration levels.

On the day of Grim's arrival, all Sim Martin and Sim Kat wanted to do was hang out with their family and each other. I thought it was a sweet way to end it all. Also, while interactions with other Sims are worth only 500 points, nice Sims generally want lots of contact with each other throughout the day, which makes it easy to maintain a platinum state.

Finally, the hour arrived, and the Grim Reaper came--but for Sim Martin alone. My happiness at seeing him accept his umbrella drink quickly dissipated at the sight of Sim Kat left behind, bawling her eyes out over a platinum grave marker. To make matters worse, I had no idea how much longer she would have to live.

I hoped to keep Sim Kat happy until her turn came. The next day, she wanted to hang out with her sons and grandchild, so that kept her in platinum for a while. But the day passed, and she still didn't die.

The next day, she wanted to find love again. Specifically, she wanted to hang out with her best friend from work, a fellow retired scientist whose alien spawn was now Sim Kat's daughter-in-law, and see if they could take things to another level.

This is not a scandal to Sims, for whom a day can be considered equivalent to a human year (and alien abduction and insemination, though it produces green kids with humongous eyes and great cheekbones, is completely accepted). I should also have expected Sim Kat to want to find love because wants cycle.

For instance, after a Romance Sim has attracted, kissed, and seduced another Sim, they'll want to do it over again with someone new. After a Family Sim has had a baby and taught it to walk, talk, and go potty, they'll want to have another child.

Unfortunately for Sim Kat, Family Sims also like being married. So if a Sim spouse leaves or dies, their wants will naturally reroll to finding love again.

I could have ensured my Sim's happiness by inviting her best friend, who was single anyway, over for lunch. However, my human loyalty to both Sim and human Martin refused to give in.

I had hoped that Sim Kat would live at least one more day, either to fulfill her other big want, to have another grandchild (one of the daughters-in-law was due to give birth soon), or for the small wants to reroll to something simple, like talking to her eldest son or making pancakes for everybody. After all, I had managed to keep Sim Martin happy by completing enough simple wants, so he died in platinum even though his last manuscript was still unfinished.

But Grimmie decided to arrive for Sim Kat just when her aspiration meter fell back to gold. Although my Sim wasn't disappointed (gold-level Sims still get the hula sendoff, but sans special tombstone), I was.

Putting myself in the game was definitely wish fulfillment on my part. I wanted the pretty home, the interesting career, and the husband, kids, and grandkids, and I made sure that I got them. The fact that I had outlived Sim Martin meant that I'd had more of my desires fulfilled during my lifetime than he. By both human and game standards, I didn't really need anything more.

But because of her job and because her wants focused on her family, Sim Kat didn't get to fulfill any of human Kat's other fantasies, which involve doing something big and creative. Sim Kat didn't finish her novel or paint a masterpiece because she was too busy studying things for science, cooking dinner, and making sure her kids did their homework. Sim Kat didn't want to write or paint in the first place, but like I said, it would have been wish fulfillment for me.

The less petty reason for my disappointment is, even though Sim Kat died surrounded by her family, and with all the memories of her achievements, she was still lonely. Though she died pretty happy by Sim standards, she was not as happy as she could have been by either Sim or my standards, due to both the game's design and my own choices.

So my Sim's death bothers me because I can't help seeing it as a miniature of my own existence. It's not just some game. I am afraid that my own decisions and last wishes mean that I die unsatisfied. I am afraid that even if I do find fulfillment, I will always seek more of it. I am afraid that I can't or won't let myself be content with what would otherwise be a really good life.

25 November 2010

Think About Death and Get Sad and Stuff

(Scott Pilgrim is an unemployed 20-something who plays bass for the band Sex Bob-Omb. Its members, his friends, are also 20-somethings in dead-end jobs and with varying degrees of maturity. Scott himself thinks dating a high schooler will distract him from the baggage of his last breakup. He then finds his dream girl in Ramona but soon trips over her own baggage; he must duel to the death with her seven evil exes for their budding romance to survive.)

You don't have to be a fan of the original comics to enjoy "Scott Pilgrim vs. The World." And I've discovered today that you don't have to know anything about indie music to enjoy the soundtrack.

That sounds kind of stupid and maybe even pretentious, but when it comes to music, I live under a rock. I don't watch TV or listen to the radio; if I do, it's usually whatever station the jeepney driver prefers (kailangan pa bang i-memorize iyan?). My boyfriend is more up-to-date, but he prefers hip-hop to the guitar-y, synth-y, whingy stuff on this record.

However,the currency of the Scott Pilgrim OST, its age-appropriateness in more ways than one, is precisely why I like it. Sure, I know that this hot indie stuff is what my peers are listening to, more or less, but that's only part of it. At the same time, the whole record is nostalgic. Some of the tracks--particularly both songs by Crash and the Boys--sound like something I would've enjoyed in high school. Some of them sound like they were written in any of the previous five or six decades. (In the case of "Under My Thumb" by the Rolling Stones and "Teenage Dream" by T. Rex, some of them were.) Then there's that 8-bit bonus track that definitely brings back memories of the classic Nintendo (or in my case, Family Computer Game) of my childhood.

Other things I can hear in there: it thinks it's mature but is really just smug, it's really frantic and in a hurry, it still clings to unrealistic ideals for relationships, and overall, it drags its feet about coming to terms with reality.

Maybe I'm reading too much into the soundtrack, especially considering that I steeped in the comics for months before the movie came out. But all in all, the whole Scott Pilgrim experience--comic, movie, and soundtrack--has been about being fully aware of how old/young I am while wishing for another time: my years of teenage ignorance, some defining previous decade I hadn't been born into, or the mellow, "real" adulthood that is to come but can't simply be skipped to. And while I don't know music, I do know that many of my friends out there feel the same way about their lives. The critics were on to something when they said that "Scott Pilgrim" was the story of a generation.

You guys. We are Sex Bob-Omb.

12 November 2010

Microwaves are awesome.

Want to know how my first foray into more interesting eating went?

I decided to try making potatoes au gratin in my microwave using this recipe. Here's how it went in blurry phone pictures:

Ingredients. The ice cream can contains salt, not ice cream.



It was less like a gratin and more like cheesy baked potato slices, probably because I didn't cut the potatoes thinly enough and used less cheese than advised. But it was still excellent. I could have passed out from joy.

The very next night, I had pasta topped with pork and beans. Hehe. Baby steps, friends, baby steps.

09 November 2010

Okay, okay, I'm niwang.

"You're niwang. You're even scrawnier than I saw you last."

This is what my brother said to me just this evening over Taco Bell. This is what everyone in my family says whenever they see me after n weeks or months, but all the same, I'm dreading my brother's report home. Sometimes I feel like my status as oldest sibling doesn't really count because I'm a girl, and the only girl at that.

But let's not get into that.

Martin (who just moved to this address) and I've made a pact since his discharge that whenever we eat out, we'll eat healthy. He wants to lose weight, and I want to gain, but I want to gain on good food.

I've actually wanted to do this for some time, but my problem is that I'm also stingy. Up until this point, whenever I went to the grocery, my desire to save money would almost always win over my desire to eat healthy. This is how I've been able to put up with the same toast and palaman for breakfast and pasta, premade sauce, and canned tuna for dinner every day for months on end. (Lunch is whatever looks healthiest and, if possible, the least oily at the office canteen.)

I justified this awful diet to naysayers by pointing out that whenever Martin and I go out on weekends, we splurge on restaurants, books, and movies. When I account for these "luxuries," the groceries that get me through the rest of the week, my monthly rent, my phone bill, and my commuting fares, I have about a tenth of my salary left over. That's pretty decent. I don't want to cut into my savings by buying stuff I can do without.

The thing is, staying in a hospital for nearly a week, even if you're not actually the patient, can get you thinking, 'I need to change something so that I don't end up back here again.' I can't do without proper nutrition. Plus I felt kind of guilty, because if I weren't 20 pounds underweight, I could have given Martin some blood, and we wouldn't have had to hit up our friends to donate instead. If I weren't underweight, I could give blood, period.

Also, I did an article at around this time last year on studies that showed how underweight people are actually more prone to early deaths than even the overweight and the so-called obese, that even heavy folks tend to have healthier hearts than the unnecessarily skinny.

So I'll admit here and now that I need to be more creative with my food, for my sake and I guess for my mother and grandmothers' sanity. There has to be some way to eat both well and cheaply. (Also low- or no-cook, because all I have is a toaster oven and microwave, and leftovers have to keep well. Clearly there is much Googling to be done.)

Wish me luck, and send in your recipes.

08 November 2010

Why Myself

Sometime in high school, one of my teachers asked me outright, "Katrina, why don't you have any friends?"

At the time, my diary entries often featured this mopey, pathetic scene: me, sitting or lying in my dark bedroom and listening to the laughter of my classmates, hanging out at someone's house just down the road. If I was sitting, I could actually see the house and maybe guess whose shadow was breaking the light that came through the bushes and the windows. I'd be wishing I was there and knowing I wouldn't have any fun if I was.

I couldn't help rehashing my bitter memories of high school after seeing two movies about unpopular people last week, "You Again" and "The Social Network." The comedy had nerdy Marni, who still held resentment for her old tormentor nearly ten years on. The drama had self-absorbed Zuckerberg, whose cockiness barely masked his insecurity. Somehow, I could relate to both these characters. Afterward, it was as though I was back in DPS, cross-legged in my checkered uniform, spacing out on a concrete bench, and getting interrupted by Mr. P.

How would I answer that question today?

A. "When I was ten years old and a new kid, I was either picked on or excluded or both. The people who did this were, unfortunately, the same people I would see nearly every day for the next six or seven years, all the way to our high school graduation. While they may have forgotten along the way, I never did. I didn't want to have anything to do with them, which meant staying away from pretty much all social stuff."

B. "English was my first language. Sure, I went to school with these kids for a while, but then my family went to the States. When we came back, I was picked on for my accent and my cluelessness, so I holed up in the library. That place was filled with great books, but these were mostly American, so I'd say that my comforts only helped to further distance me from my classmates. The things I liked, the way I thought--no one else seemed interested."

C. "People did ask me to come to parties. But whenever I went, I usually ended up sitting to one side and watching everyone have a conversation I couldn't understand, not for lack of language but for lack of relatability. Sure, I wanted to be at these parties. I wanted to have a good time with people my age. But I couldn't find any talking points, so I figured, why bother?"

D. "I was often told--once by one of my actual bullies--'They pick on you because they're jealous; you're so smart.' I think I latched on to that. Somewhere along the way, I must have decided that as long as I proved myself better than my peers, I could reassure myself that their friendship and their interests just weren't worth my time.* Naturally, this made me kind of a snob. I didn't like popular things or the popular people. By way of association--it was a really small school, okay?--even the perfectly decent, average and likeable people got my indifference."

E. "I didn't know how to be friendly. Being an outsider--more often voluntarily, as the years passed--showed me how superficial some friendships could be. On some level, I came to equate friendliness with superficiality. I didn't want to be friendly if it meant being fake."

Unfortunately, I didn't think of any of those answers until now, so all I did that afternoon was shrug, go home, write some more in my diary, and cry.

I don't know whether I've just explained or merely excused my dismal high school years, my thick introversion, and my lack of social skills today. Ever since I was ten, I've wanted to know why myself. Why are you like this, Kat? Why don't you have many friends? Why do you turn cold to the few you have?

Today, I'll say that it comes down to wanting to be liked, wanting to be liked by the right people, and not knowing who or where the right people are. Could they have been right in front of me back then? Maybe. Is there no such thing as the right people, just people? Probably. Was there something I could have done better? Why bother asking? Does all this mean I can't get over high school? Who knows?

(Who knows is probably the right person for me to be friends with.)

*I did have one close friend in my class, someone whom I still respect and admire, initially because she was nice to me, smart, and read thicker books than I; now just because she is a good person. Somehow she managed to excel in school without alienating people, and to this day my batch often looks to her to help plan get-togethers and stuff like that. I wish it had occured to me to maybe try and follow her example. Oh, well.