Mel's note: After the epic review which was ComradeJim270's Oblivion, I decided to opt for a less shallower (but no less informative) entry by Hey Joe for those newly-found fans of 3scapism which are not quite used to our longer material yet. Enjoy.
It feels weird to pick up The Sims 2 again after all this time. After spending time playing manly games like Halo 3, Gears of War and Barbie's Pony Adventure. I say manly, because the neurotic nerd in me feels as if playing The Sims 2 is like a glorified session of playing dollhouse with distinct Cartesian undertones.
Yet, like a man in some sort of weird virtual sado-masochistic relationship, I return to my master and surrender my will, my time and ultimately my sanity.
As I fire up the game, I'm greeted with some sort of weird blue, cubed loading screen and music that will make your ears bleed, but something about it draws me ever closer like the Sirens near the rocks of my self-respect. I cycle through the neighbourhoods that I have made, and am surprised to see a few games still going. Man, those little Sims must be really pissed off at me after all this time.
I point my cursor over a particular Sim I was quite fond of, Mr Queegle Zomarian, and yes, his place was quite space-aged. I couldn't really remember in what state I left my Sim, so I decided to check it out. As it happens, he was eating spaghetti. I should have had dinner an hour ago, but I'm way too drawn in now. I hit the play button. One eating animation and I was in love again.
He was a slob, and he was eating like one. Bits of virtual food flew through the air in a ballet of sloppiness. Heck, he reminds myself of me, I like this little guy. Once he was done licking his plate (who among us has never done this?), he just stood there. Oh God. He was waiting for me to tell him what to do. This is dangerous territory for me, as all my obsessive-compulsive tendencies take over, and pretty soon it'll be 4AM and I'll still be gunning for Queegle's promotion.
Tentatively, I look down at his vitals. It would seem that he was quite bored with life. So, I decide like the benevolent player that I am that it would be a good idea for him to play on his brand-spanking new computer. As he does, I can't help but to notice the irony inherent in this situation, and wonder if Queegle is playing some sort of people simulator too.
I'm shocked out of my musings when I notice that his bladder 'need' is dangerously low. How did I let it come to that!? I used to be good at this game, I feel shame and regret. I whisper "Sorry Queegle," to my computer screen and send him on his way to bladder relief. I start to reflect on my own bladder when I notice he's done. All of his vitals are green, and there's nothing he needs to do, so he just stands around.
Oh crap. He can't just sit there and do nothing. He's got a career to worry about! Once he gets up in the world he's got to meet a nice girl or possibly be abducted by aliens, he's got to start a family. He's a family oriented sim after all. I glance over to his skills page, and notice that he could stand to get a few more cooking skill points, so I plonk his virtual arse in front of the television and make him watch a virtual Martha Stewart make a deal with a virtual Beelzebub.
Once he gets a point of cooking I look at his career page. He needs three more friends to get a promotion. He needs three more friends!? What kind of sick world is this where how many friends you have determines how successful you are in life? Upon reflection, I bet Alan Greenspan didn't have too many friends either...
He needs to get on that telephone pronto! He's got to chat like he's never chatted before! I'm on the verge of a nervous breakdown thinking about the possibility of him being passed over again because some whore of a Sim slept her way up the ladder. He chats with one person for a while and gets his friendship bar just over 50, first goal accomplished. But now his social bar is full, and he doesn't feel like chatting for more than 4 virtual minutes.
"You stupid, stupid Queegle!" I yell furiously at the screen. "You're useless without me... useless!". After this, my mind goes into a dark place where all Sims players go sometimes. The place of the dark room.
I want to lure him on a vacant place on the lot and wall him in. No windows, no light, no doors, only the suffering of a Sim who could not follow orders. So in my malevolent rage, I tell him to go sit on the grass. Then, I wall him in.
"Take that!" I scream. "You don't follow orders, you get 10 hours in the box!" The first hour he's okay, I don't think Queegle knows he's trapped. Then, it begins. He starts to panic when he can't control his bladder, his vitals go down to red, he looks about frantically, wondering if he's doomed to this box for the rest of time. Then, something happens that reminds me why I love this game so much.
I swear to Will Wright, the Sim looks straight at me. I pause the game. I study the face for a while, I zoom in on it. It's pleading with me to stop toying with its existence, it's burning right into my soul. I can't possibly continue this, it's to scarring. I let him out, and I get his vitals back and hope to Will Wright that Queegle will ever be able to forgive me. Then, the true genius of this game hits me.
It's not about what happens in the game world, but rather what happens in front of screen, in the player's mind. The Sims 2 provides not just a peepshow of virtual beings, but into the very fabric of our morality.
Once you place the omnipotent power of complete control into a player's hands, there is no going back. You will be sent on a journey of self-discovery through your actions toward these virtual beings, and that, is where the final irony lies.
I thought I was controlling my Sims, but they were controlling me. Any game that makes you question the very essence of your soul is one worth a mere portion of your cash.
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