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Computer games

Su Lum

My granddaughter Riley and I have wearied of her Zoo Tycoon computer game, wherein you build a zoo and then try to keep all the animals and visitors content while raising enough grant money to keep the operation afloat.

Riley suggested a wonderful game called “The Sims,” which we ordered, and came over this weekend to check it out.

The Sims is a lot like Zoo Tycoon, but instead of building a zoo you build a house and put people in it.

I was uneasy when the game began downloading its program: “Inverting career ladder, normalizing social network, adjusting emotional weights, inserting CHAOS generator.”

Riley put four people in her house, all adults, named Riley, Su, Skye and Steve (her parents). You name them, pick their heads, body types, apparel and skin colors and rate their personalities. On a scale of 1-10, are they neat or messy? active or couch potatoes? sweet or grouchy? playful or dour?

Then you landscape your lot and build and furnish your house, which itself can take the better part of an evening, then you put your people in and the game begins. All I can say is that we’ve come a long way, baby, from Parcheesi.

Four adults in the house and they all have to be assigned jobs, and since they aren’t allowed to have cars (I guess it’s a Green Game) they all are picked up at different times by car pools. Miss the car and they’re fired, so you have to keep a constant eye on the clock lest someone oversleeps or is in the shower when the car arrives, but that’s not the half of it.

You also have to keep track of their contentment, their fun, their hunger, their bladders, their energy, their money, their love life and their socialization with others in the neighborhood. It you screw up, the Sims may die.

“Yes,” says the instruction manual, “your Sims can die. They can die by accident, they can die from neglect, but if they die it’s your responsibility alone. Sims can die by being burned up in a fire, by electrocution and by starvation.” Zut alors: YOUR responsibility ALONE!

No longer a simple matter of keeping the tigers from eating the monkeys, this game is full of nuance. When furnishing your house, you might think it’s a good idea to put in a lot of aquariums, but if the fish die the sweet people in your house will be very SAD and that will lower their happiness level. On the other hand, the grouches might not care if the fish die, so the happiness level won’t take as big a hit.

And they have their own autonomy: If you ask a messy person to clean up, the instruction may be ignored!

Riley’s Sims family ran amok immediately. Riley missed her car pool and was out of work, Skye didn’t get to the bathroom in time and peed on the floor (“Wipe it up!” came on the screen – “The first thing to do is get a MAID,” said the manual!!), Skye and Steve didn’t know they were married so Skye couldn’t get in his bed and wandered aimlessly, waving her arms in some kind of fit and finally collapsed, twitching, on the floor (out of energy).

I watched over Riley’s shoulder for hours that night, part aghast, part enthralled and part bored but mainly aghast. We packed it in about 11 p.m., or I thought we had, but Riley went back to the game and ran in to my bedroom at midnight, teary-eyed, to report that I had set the kitchen on fire and she had DIED. Like, GADS.

Su Lum is a longtime local who thinks we’re not in Kansas anymore. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times.


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