If you knew me in high school, you might know that playing The Sims used to be what I did in my free time. In case you are unfamiliar with The Sims, it is a computer game where the user gets to create a character and then build them a house, get a job, get married…essentially control their lives. I built starter homes (and didn’t cheat), built massive mansions (thanks, rosebud and motherlode), threw parties, and went on vacation. Once The Sims 2 came out, I created virtual versions of my favorite book characters and of course, of myself. My sister made a picture on Microsoft Paint for me in which my Sims came out of the computer and killed me, spilling my ever-present bowl of popcorn onto the floor as they continued their rampage into the real world.
Since I am a Grown Up now, and have to juggle things like my full time job, my family, going to school, and volunteering, I don’t get to play as much as I used to. Which was all the time. However, I learned several things from spending most of my teenage years playing The Sims that I think are beneficial in real life.
- Sim-Meter. This is the little box in the corner that tells you how your Sim is doing. It shows if they are tired, hungry, happy, getting enough socialization, having enough fun, if they consider themselves clean at the moment, have to go to the bathroom, etc. Kids have this box too, but they don’t know how to tell you about it. When Little Miss Minion was a couple weeks old, I took a class at the NICU about how to take care of a preemie. Preemies have different needs and reactions than full-term babies, so the NICU hosted classes to teach parents how to interact with their babies. One of the things they taught us was that preemies usually have a specific reason for crying and it is just a matter of figuring out what it is. We had to become experts at “reading the Sim-meter” for LMM. Was she hungry? Tired? Was there too much stimulation? Too much noise? Too much movement? Unlike full term babies, who usually love being rocked, preemies (especially micropreemies) DON’T handle rocking well. We got to be pretty good at reading LMM and figuring out what she wanted so that she could rest and grow stronger. Now that she’s a rambunctious 4 year old, its a little easier to read her meter because she will mostly tell us what she feels. Due to her shunt, she has an extra line on the meter, and she isn’t great at reading that one yet. Since we can’t see it, we aren’t always sure whether we are reading it right either. For example, yesterday we went to see a movie in the theatre for the first time with Little Miss Minion. It was a lot of sitting and she was late for her nap and lunch by the time we got home. She said her head hurt and she felt “yucky.” This causes instant alarms to go off because of her hydrocephalus, but since we don’t have a personal MRI in the basement (anyone know where to buy one?) we have to guess. She woke up from her nap and said she felt better, her head didn’t hurt anymore, and she didn’t feel yucky, so we are hoping it was just from being overtired. But since we can’t see the Shunt Line on her Sim-meter, we were deciding what the plan would be if we needed to take her to the hospital.
- Free Will. There is an option on The Sims to turn off Free Will. This means that your Sim will do whatever you tell it to do without stopping, unless the Sim-Meter drops to red in too many categories and they have a breakdown. In real life, there is no such option. You can tell your kid to put their shoes on for three hours straight, but whether or not they actually do it is up in the air. Hopefully, your kid listens on the first try, but usually it takes a couple of reminders and maybe a time out for them to finally do it. We are pretty lucky in that LMM usually pays attention to what we tell her to do, but if she doesn’t want to do it, good luck.
- Fun. Your Sim-meter will tell you if your Sim is having enough fun (or at least, doesn’t hate what they are doing). Things that bring down the Fun-Meter include practicing speeches for Charisma points, doing homework, watching something boring on TV, and doing anything that they don’t want to do. While you would think that this would translate well to real life, it is surprisingly difficult to pinpoint. This weekend, LMM was all energy and bouncing around. She was also really annoying, yelling gibberish songs and not listening to us. It wasn’t until late Saturday that we realized what was wrong. Since it is SO HOT outside, she hasn’t been spending as much time playing outdoors as she usually does. She was literally running in circles Saturday afternoon, which I think was the last puzzle piece. She wasn’t miserable, but she wasn’t having FUN, which for her is getting outside or running around and playing. We set up a little splash pool in the backyard and let her play in that for a while, then chased her around the house once it got too unbearable to be outside. Her mood improved and she paid more attention to us.
- Building skills. Your Sim needs to build their Skills to progress in their job and in their status. Little kids have to be taught to walk, use the potty, etc. Adults have to practice speeches to boost Charisma, work out to build Fitness points, etc. The same holds true in real life. You have to build skills and improve on them to succeed in most aspects of life. For LMM, we are focusing on fine motor skills that will improve her writing later on. We try to blend this with the Fun category so she enjoys it, such as painting a picture or coloring nicely. Coloring inside the lines may sound like a cliché, but it helps fine motor skills to grow as the child controls the movement of the crayon with more precision.
- The last thing is the timed Life Stages aspect of The Sims 2. If you know how to do it, you can hack into the coding of the program and pause your Sim in any Life Stage so that you have time to get them where you want them. For example, you might have a Baby Sim and in 4 days, the baby will turn into a Toddler Sim. A week later, the Toddler will be a Child, then a Teen, then an Adult, etc. Certain people like myself might want to freeze time so they can perfect their Sim and max out all their Skills before they move on. This doesn’t happen in real life. You have to work with the time you have.
The Sims is a fantastic computer game and I don’t even know many hundreds or thousands of hours I spent in the glow of the screen as I shepherded countless Sims to glory (or death, because I wanted to have ghosts in my fancy mansion). And even though it is just a game and all of my points above are also common sense, I’m a visual person and I thought the parallels to gameplay and real life were interesting. I hope this has been amusing and entertaining for you. And maybe, if you find yourself feeling “yucky” one day and you can’t pinpoint WHY, go through your Sim-Meter and see what is low.