Monday, September 5, 2011

Sims Social Addiction

Hello, my name is Andy, and I'm a Sims Social Addict.

 "Hello, Andy."

It all started so innocently. When a good friend of mine who works on The Sims stopped by, my son asked him about the new Facebook game Sims Social and if it was in Beta. "Sure, give it a try." I told myself I, too, should check it out. It's my friend's game, and I've never played The Sims.

In fact, I've never really played computer games. Decades ago, I did play my share of RPGs when they were only paper, dice and manuals. I'm a software developer and have plenty of time in front of the computer. I don't need any more. They've never really been able to attract me for very long.

I jump on facebook, find Sims Social and run the application. I've never even run a Facebook application before! Suddenly, I'm opening boxes, visiting my neighbor Bella Goth (more about her later), finding my Facebook friends who play Sims Social and asking to be their Sims Social neighbor. Wow, this is fun!

I'm harvesting my garden, cooking, keeping my Sim happy, visiting friends, buying furniture, re-arranging my house, and buying a new room for my stuff. Everything is going great! Then, wa-wa-wa, I'm out of energy or, fzzzzt, something breaks. So, I wait to recharge, five minutes, ten minutes... one hour goes by. What happened to the time?

Full screen mode really knocks me out. Everything is so much bigger and easier to manage; yet, in that mode I don't even know I’m on the computer, anymore. I lose track of time with no clock at the edge of the screen telling me to move on with my (real) life.

No matter. Go run an errand or attend a meeting. 90 minutes later I'm fully recharged and ready to go. I start working on musicianship, cooking skills, writing skills, artistry. Got to clear that lawn and build my house.

After a while, game strategies emerge. I'm not sure if gardening helps because energy may have more value than the simoleons harvested. Still, I plan my plantings around when I think I will be returning to the game. One hour? Four hours? Eight? One day? Got to pick them when they’re fresh!

Whenever I return to Sim Social, I need to work on my mood. Better use those simoleons to buy things to make me (my Sim) feel better: a telescope and a stereo that lets me dance and exercise. Attend to the basic needs, have fun, beat back the boredom, visit a friend and then... Inspiration!

Doing stuff when I’m inspired nets more simoleons. It also seems to make me more attractive socially. Which is great because some of the objects I buy for my house or levels I achieve require Hearts (love). Inspiration makes neighbor Sims more receptive, makes it easy for me to get some love.

This is when things began to go off the rails.

I need to take a moment to tell you about my neighbors in this game. They consist of four real people (their Sims, actually) and Bella Goth, everybody's friend. The four real people behind the Sims are my son, my friend who works on the game, his wife and a distant Facebook acquaintance who happens to be a gay man. So, that's my neighborhood - three males, two females. My son, my best friend since elementary school, his wife, a dude who could almost be complete stranger 'cause I couldn't pick him out of a line up, and a fake, totally made up woman.

To achieve certain goals in the game, I need to make some romance. When I visit a neighbor and click on the Sim to interact, one of the choices is Flirt. But, with whom? There’s the rub. The object of my (male) Sims attention needs to be female, or it just won't work for me. The game doesn’t care, my Sim doesn’t care, but it needs to work for me. Flirting with my best friend's wife's Sim? NO! WRONG! Flirting with a gay man’s Sim? Nope, don’t care how open minded I am and that it’s all a fiction. It ain’t me. What if the real guy found out, I wouldn't want to lead him on. So, the only choice for me was Bella Goth.

Probably, no one would ever know, by the way. Well, almost no one. My eight-year-old daughter starts to sit next to me and watch me play. She begs me to let her play or get her a Facebook account so she can play herself. She talks about what she would do with her Sim, that she can't wait for the time when she has a Sim Social and buys it things and arranges the house and has neighbor Sim Socials. She begs me to buy a Pink Bathroom.

The thing is, I can't have her next to me when I flirt with Bella! I can't let her watch her dad (whoops, my Sim) flirt with and romantically kiss a woman not my wife/her mother. I especially can't let her watch me give Bella Goth a massage on that couch. No one should watch that with another person in the room, let alone one's daughter (no matter what age she is).

Guilt and embarrassment start to set in. I begin hiding my playing time. I turn the sound down on my computer. I try turning it off, but I need to hear the sounds coming from Sims Social, I need to know what's happening in the game. I play at wonky hours. I plan strafe runs at the game. Quick in, full energy burns, then out. Don't give anyone a chance to see me. I do late night sessions after everyone's in bed so I can really focus on my crafts, skills, levels, house. Am I about to jump up a skill level? Make sure I use most of my energy 'cause I’ll get a full boost at skill jump. Plan when and how.

The thing is, I can't get anywhere with Bella, not anywhere real, anyway. I need to find a woman neighbor on facebook, if this is going to work for me. At this point, my wife is clear that I am in full-blown addiction, and she wants no part of the game. Plus, being married - I'm not going to recruit a single woman on facebook to be my neighbor for Sims Social so I can try that relationship thing. I’d feel like I’m cheating.

Also, I need non-romantic help with my Sim, but I’m embarrassed to recruit new players to be neighbors. In the past, I successfully staved off the fire hose of Facebook requests to help people grow carrots, raise pigs and never, ever participated in an assassination. I can’t bear to be that guy begging his (real) Facebook friends for help in his (fake) Sim world. This is getting to be too much.

Then, it all changed. It’s last night:

I really need some help. I need someone I can count on, someone who would be there for me, to visit when I call, to repair my broken easel or clean my dirty toilet whenever I need it and without asking.

Unbidden, a thought occurs to me, the answer stares me in the face, a little bit of my own human inspiration. I need a sockpuppet - my own neighbor Sim! I do it in a flash. Clickity-clack, I make a Facebook sockpuppet - a new account that I control, a fake person that I friend. Of course, he is male, a married man can't have too many single female friends. I friend him. Clickity-clack, he creates a female Sims Social sockpuppet. Two different browsers with two Sims, one of them me and one of them some other not quite unreal, not quite female, not quite me.

This is fantastic. It works so well. She sends me things I need. No more wasting energy cleaning puddles from the bathroom floor or fixing that busted stereo. She makes my bed. We giggle, we flirt, we become lovers, we date. We build a two-person bed together. She cares for me, she is my Muse. I can clear my land of mushrooms. I gain skills without the drudgery and annoyances that hold back those Sims who lack that all giving partner. Ahhh, perfection - bliss.

My two Sims, one real, one fake, both empty of all of their energy, I exit the game, satisfied with my brilliant new move. Then, I glance at the clock. I told my wife I'd be up in a minute, it is now 1:30am.

This is very wrong, I have traded my life with some strange electronic version of Dorian Gray's picture, and it’s not going to end well.

Hello, my name is Andy, and I'm a Sims Social addict.

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