THE SIMS: A FEMININE URGE TO CREATE AND DESTROY
Sul sul! Oh feeble lay!
The ritual began thusly: thin slivers were carved from a block of Kerrygold cheddar cheese and arranged on a plate beside a smattering of crackers, pitted olives, and a small tin of mackerel. Next, a bowl was filled with crisp baby carrots, accompanied by a container of plain hummus. Of course, some form of dessert was necessary too, a sweet treat to top it all off—for this, you chose a ramekin full of chocolate-covered almonds.
Once the feast was assembled, those various conveyances were carried gingerly, tucked under arms, and balanced precariously until they, and you, reached the sofa. There, surrounded by this secret feast of ingredients, you lifted the dusty screen of your ancient MacBook Pro to its full upright and locked position. It's not your working, surfing, everyday computer—this one’s a relic, made so by planned obsolescence and the unstoppable current of technological advancement. As it turned on, blinking sleepily back to life, it opened a portal to the past.
“EA Games: challenge everything” the oddly sensual voice whispered through the speakers as The Sims 2: Super Collection began to load, flashing through credit screens, and sample gameplay. You watched absently, your face illuminated by cool blue-green light as the familiar jaunty music played, punctuated only by the occasional satisfying crunch of a hummus-slathered carrot.
It was just a few hours earlier that it felt like your heart was breaking. Urged by some spark of intuition, a quick search of your ex’s Instagram handle yielded a shattering result: There, in that tiny square thumbnail you saw her. Before you even brushed the screen with a quavering finger to enlarge the photo, you knew it was his new girlfriend—casually posing, artfully disheveled, seated at a familiar dining table with her soft-featured face resting in her hand. The light caressing her skin through the open window was unmistakably a morning glow. You tried not to think about the night before the photo was taken—their evening spent sipping wine and sharing laughter at that same table before adjourning to the bedroom—to the bed you once shared with him.
You resisted the urge to look at her profile for eleven minutes and eight seconds before succumbing to morbid curiosity. Your stomach lurched as you sat on your bed, swiping delicately through her digital portfolio of people, places, and things—all intentionally unfiltered and of the moment. The hallmark of a person who captures with little thought to the audience, driven by an authentic urge to “document" and amass a personal archive of memories—for all the world to see. She’s a fake, you decided, bitterness roiling in your belly like a digestive maelstrom. She plays the role of the dutiful, even-tempered girlfriend better than you ever did—you were a mistake, poor casting, but what she may have in sugar and spice and everything nice, you make up for in spades with your wit and humor and outside-the-box thinking. You bet she’s dull. You bet she likes things that everyone else likes and announces that she likes them in a room full of people who also like those things and they all like them together and he loves her all the more because she’s so easy to get along with and she never cries and she wants for nothing and she’s seldom angry and when she is it’s entirely justified by anyone’s standards and she’s always soft and she’s always smiling and he always loves her.
You closed the app as hot, stinging tears began to roll down your face, the ache of pitiful, hopeless wanting rising like burning bile, ripping through your throat in choking, guttural sobs. You felt foolish as you called your mom and informed her that tragedy had struck. She let you scream-cry the way you did when you were sixteen, even when your banshee-like shrieking was directed at her in punishment for asking those “forbidden” questions.
“I understand, sweetheart—but this was bound to happen at some point. You knew this was going to happen eventually, didn’t you?”
Your mother’s simple, quasi-rhetorical query burned like a hot poker, sending your full-fledged adolescent tantrum into overdrive. She attempted to soothe you like a feral cat, her gentle voice coming through the receiver like a tentative hand reaching out to stroke your hackles.
“Honey, I think maybe you should make an appointment with your therapist—just call today to see if there’s a day this week you can have a session with her. I think you need an outlet, somewhere to process these emotions.”
You allowed yourself to be calmed, mumbling that you would call and you would make the appointment before hanging up the phone.
Sitting there alone in the ringing silence, you tried not to see him there—a specter of the past, moving around your room and running his hands over everything. You tried not to imagine him lying beside you on the bed, making you laugh and gazing at you with want and affection. You tried, but when resistance proved futile, you decided the next best thing was to sleep.
You awoke to find yourself pleasantly numbed in the pitch darkness, happy to have evaded more than half the day. You were hesitant to check your phone, fearing your own abject lack of self-control, but you only returned to the girlfriend’s Instagram profile for a few minutes, this time from your burner account. A storied photo of her smiling revealed that she has crooked, uneven lower teeth like the metal prongs of a kalimba. This discovery felt like a victory, though it also reestablished the presence of a thick, snakelike knot in your gut.
You considered the therapist as you prepared your comfort tapas dinner. You thought of her all the way to the sofa and even as you turned on your dented, timeworn computer. You imagined what she would have said as the familiar sight of The Sims 2 neighborhood menu materialized on the screen.
“New information can feel—disruptive, it’s true, but it’s important to remember that you’re not moving backward. When it feels as if a re-triggering event is urging you toward a familiar tailspin, stop—take a deep breath and re-ground within your physical environment. You can acknowledge how you feel while also acknowledging that you don’t have to go back into that place. Remind yourself that you are safe, that however painful these new details may feel, you will be okay and—“
You became bored with your imagined therapist’s monologue, redirecting your attention to the more pressing matter of choosing a neighborhood to play. If this was your typical, creatively motivated Sims practice, which consists of building experimental homes inspired by your architectural Pinterest board, you would have chosen manicured, idyllic Riverblossom Hills, but this session was different. For this, you chose the barren desert of Strangetown.
You knew that if you put too much effort into creating avatars in the exact likeness of your ex and his girlfriend it would, in all likelihood, do far more harm than good. You didn’t need to closely examine the slope of her little nose or ponder whether her eyes were true blue or more of a far-off grey. Instead, you quickly ran through the character creation process, randomizing her pallid, wall-eyed face with razor-thin lips and a high forehead that would have been all the rage in Elizabethan times. For him, you customized angry, arched brows to give the cartoonish appearance of evil, a jutting jaw, and a long, thinly pointed nose like Cyrano or, more accurately, you thought to yourself, Pinocchio. For some reason, you decided to dress the pair of them as baristas.
You chose a large plot of land for the happy couple, pulling open your real-world tin of mackerel, and forking a thick filet onto a cracker as you waited for the digital lot to load. As the strong, fishy odor filled the room, you noticed that the knot in your stomach had lessened, unwound by the satiation of hunger and the impending satiation of your forbidden fantasies.
You decided that her Sim would starve and his would die of exhaustion. You made quick work of building a low hedge maze, complete with an eventual end that opened on a small pool. Once the simple setup was complete, you pressed play, ordering him to go swimming and her to simply enter the maze as you closed off the entrance.
It was only a matter of time before the girlfriend began complaining that she needed a toilet. You watched, eating olives, as she raised her arm, waving in distress, the glowing prism above her head changing from healthy emerald green to sickly yellow. Turning your attention to your long-nosed ex, you noticed with some irritation that he still seemed to be enjoying himself, even though you had removed the pool ladder, condemning him to swim indefinitely.
Watching him float on his back in a state of bliss as she stood knock-kneed, crying out for relief, you felt a twinge of guilt. What happened between you and your ex wasn’t her fault. She never saw him the way you did—she was never privy to your tears, his coldness, your hostility, his frustration, or the pain you shared equally. She didn’t win him in some game of betrayal, she found him in the wake of destruction—broken, ready to be remade. He wasn’t yours anymore, you weren’t his.
Having become momentarily lost in thought, you didn’t notice that the girlfriend’s Sim had pissed herself. By the time you returned to the task at hand, she was dutifully mopping up her own mess and had changed her complaint to one of hunger. You thought for a moment about feeding her, but somehow, the idea of keeping her alive and continuing to play with her virtually, like a cat batting at a dying mouse, felt unsavory. Instead, you put her out of sight and out of mind by building a small walled enclosure around her. For good measure you turned the sound off, silencing her desperate Simlish cries.
Night fell suddenly. At long last, your ex’s leisurely float had become punctuated with occasional pleas for sleep. You zoomed in then, studying his face, and wondering for a moment if you could see any real-world likeness. Instead, you saw only your bizarre creation staring back, the visual representation of a pathological inability to accept perceived abandonment. The mirror image of an ugly, clandestine longing for vengeance. No, not vengeance, justice, you thought to yourself. A leveling of scales—even if only within the confines of a digitally enhanced fantasy.
Despite those furtive attempts to convince yourself, a sickly feeling of embarrassment began to spread up from your belly and through the cavity of your chest. You imagined your therapist walking into the room and seeing you there amidst your amalgam dinner—skin mottled with salty tear streaks, eyes puffy and ringed with fatigue, illuminated only by the blue light of the screen.
“As I, uh, said—new information can feel disruptive, it’s true, but building a cyber death camp in The Sims 2 and imprisoning your ex and his new girlfriend as a way to circumnavigate actually dealing with the issue and instead living out some violent maladaptive daydream that gives you a fleeting hit of dopamine, might not be the best way to move forward.”
The lives of your surrogate Sims suddenly felt burdensome. The muddy anguish and longing from earlier had been replaced by a need for cleansing. You wanted to be rid of them—it was time for the main event.
Removing the walls around the girlfriend, you ordered her Sim to walk to the pool’s edge. With both of them visible, you set the clock to fast-forward, watching their arms flail in respective bids for attention as their “need meters” continued to dwindle.
At long last, in a flurry of bubbles, your ex’s Sim dipped below the water’s surface and sunk into oblivion. By then, the girlfriend had passed out from exhaustion and you decided not to tack on the added cruelty of waking her. Let her sleep through this tragedy, like Juliet, you thought to yourself, feeling merciful.
There, hovering in a cloud of black smoke, the Grim Reaper appeared swiftly, sighing and shrugging with comic exasperation, having been programmed to resemble a tired office grunt, fed up with the corporate structure of the death and dying industry.
You felt a small sense of relief when the hooded figure dematerialized, leaving only a mossy tombstone in its wake. You stared for a moment at the grave, an emblem of love lost—an opportunity, perhaps, to let go in some infinitesimal way.
It wasn’t long before the girlfriend went too, falling to her knees dramatically as she clutched at her stomach and died there on the dusty ground. With this final reaping, a message appeared on screen:
If the point of playing The Sims 2 was to kill off all of your Sims, then you would be the world champion! But, unfortunately, the way things stand now, The Sims 2 is still a LIFE simulator. You could actually exit the lot without saving and maybe try this household again. Or, if you were trying to kill your Sims, and we aren't saying that you were, then feel free to move another family into this lot.
A life simulator—a world in which unbridled fantasies of wealth and grandeur, love and family, death and destruction may be played out in accordance with the player’s need. A private place where the feminine urge for creation and destruction may be satisfied in equal measure. A way to regain control—if only for a moment.
You cleared the lot, destroying all evidence of the maze, the pool, and the tombstones, leaving only a blank expanse of waiting desert. Shoveling a handful of chocolate-covered almonds into your mouth, you picked up your phone and deleted the Instagram app, watching as the little pink and purple icon disappeared from view. You didn’t know how long it would last, but you allowed the rush of nerve to spur symbolic action.
Safe from temptation, you navigated over to the Pinterest app, searching for images of Kendrick Bangs Kellogg’s famous Doolittle House in Joshua Tree. With its organic, slab-like structure and unique shape, building anything inspired by its likeness would be a tall order, surely—perhaps Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West in Arizona would be a little more achievable. Either way, you wanted to make something beautiful.
Judith Beheading Holofernes - Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653)