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.

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