My son was eight the first time he attended Fan Expo. It’s an event of magic and wonder held in a convention hall so large you can’t see the end of it, filled with rows and rows of comic books, board games, action figures, collectible toys, science fiction celebrities, and comic book artists signing their work. Those are just the vendors. Many of the attendees are in full force unabashed costume, Daleks, Storm Troopers, Klingons by the handful, cosplay girls in bizarre anime fairy warrior costumes, Dr. Whos, Spocks, Spiderman and Wonder Woman abound in various incarnations.
We walked hand in hand into the convention hall then he stopped, stock-still and slack-jawed, turned to me and said in a hushed voice, his eyes shining: “Mommy. These people are just like us.”
Welcome to the world of familial geekdom.
Although my friends and I were geeks who read comic books and sci-fi and played Dungeons and Dragons while reading the Klingon dictionary, I drew the line at video games. I was never really interested in them and, although my son started reading comic books and collecting action figures before he was potty trained, I was determined that he would never, ever play video games. They were inappropriate for me, as his mother, to play, and even more inappropriate for him. His time would be better spent on play dough, Lego and flashcards. Video games were violent, expensive time wasters that would rot his little brain into goo.
Then I discovered The Sims. My son was in the first grade; I was a working mom spending every second I wasn’t with my kid or asleep at a demanding job with long hours. My boss was a tyrannical monster and the clients I dealt with were her goblin army, created expressly to ensure that each day brought new adventures in misery. Needless to say, I was a bit stressed out.
While visiting a friend’s house, I noticed he was playing with what looked like an animated dollhouse on his computer. He created little digital people, dressed them in little digital clothes, built them tiny digital houses, and sent them to off-screen jobs. What intrigued me the most was that he could control almost every action of the tiny people, down to when and what they ate, who they did or didn’t talk to, when they slept and peed. It was fascinating to watch him create Sims and frustrating to watch him direct their actions in ways I never would have.
That weekend I splurged and bought my very first PC game. I felt guilty spending so much money on something so frivolous for myself that wouldn’t feed or clothe my child. I could easily justify spending that amount of cash on toys for my kid, but I had a hard time rationalizing the purchase for myself. I waited until he was asleep to install the game, a process that seemed to take hours. Then I sat down in front of the screen and began creating my tiny imaginary kingdom.
The next few months were a blur. A colleague had also bought the game and we would begin each work morning catching each other up on what our Sims had done the night before. Instead of saying good-bye at the end of the day we waved at each other and said: “dag dag” like our little people did. When no one was watching at work we trawled the internet for Sims cheats and screenshots, spent hours on the EA Game website reading guides and waiting breathlessly for the expansion packs to be released: Sims Pets, Sims Hot Date, Sims Vacation.
I had immediately created a little Sims community, populating it with colleagues, clients and my boss, then rewarding or punishing them as I saw fit. After a particularly long and challenging production cycle in which my boss punched a co-worker, threatened to fire the whole team, and insulted and degraded us one at a time, I decided to see how long it would take for a Sim to ‘die’ of neglect.
The Sim of my boss was an ugly little version of the woman who made my working life an emotional minefield. So far I had not paid much attention to her but this time I was out for blood. I stripped all the furniture from her little Sim house leaving just a fridge and sink. I deleted all the doors and windows so my Sim boss couldn’t escape. I let the money run out so the fridge was empty. Then I poured myself a glass of wine, let the game run and watched.
My Sim boss peed herself quite quickly. There were no actions for her to perform so she washed her hands over and over, health and happiness meters rapidly declining. There was nowhere for her to sit so she stood in one place or paced between the two appliances. It took about four solid hours of letting the game run before my Sim boss finally died of starvation. A miniature digital Grim Reaper appeared to carry off the corpse of my Sim boss and a tiny gravestone appeared outside her windowless, doorless house. Satisfied, I quit the game and went to sleep, in the morning feeling refreshed and invigorated. Apparently, virtual murder put a spring in my step and sunshine in my eyes.
As twisted as it sounds, knowing that I could at any time recreate my boss and kill her all over again from the comfort of my home computer made it that much easier to deal with her on a daily basis. It was therapeutic to deliberately slaughter her and made me rethink my attitude to video games and reconsider my blanket declaration that my kid would never be a virtual gun-toting killer. Researching age appropriate games for my son was simple considering that the job that led me to commit virtual homicide was working as a production artist for a video game magazine.
[author] [author_info]About the Author
Roxanna Bennett is a Toronto-based writer and artist educator who denies spending most of her free time in Second Life or obsessively playing games on her iPad. Read more of her at http://marvelist.wordpress.com/.