Simulated Life

Creating and controlling Sims is one of the most innocent thrills anyone can have in life. I create them in my image, albeit, within the presets Maxis has to offer. I carefully develop their lives as the pinnacle of simhood. Within the confines of that hard drive, I am god, and she’s driven by two things: the accumulation of wealth, and the fear that no one will turn up to my party.

Getting rich is easy, if you’re willing to cheat the system. I’m not ashamed to Rosebud and Motherlode by way out of financial despair. But the fear of a lonely party, of the immense sadness that will cause to Sim-Charlotte, that’s a much more difficult task to master. This metaphor extends into reality. Just as the revered 21st century philosopher Liz Lemon says ‘you know what I have? A Sims family that keeps getting murdered’, and I worry that nobody else is feeling the same.

Anxiety is being controlled as a Sim, and although I am Sim-Charlotte, the person with the mouse in their hand isn’t the benevolent god that I am. The options wheel isn’t filled with the capabilities of developing skills, having fun, entertaining or influencing. Granted, I can ‘Go Here’, but all the other options are a wheel of worry, constantly open and circling my head.

I worry about money, about university, my work and being unsuccessful.

I worry that I’m too gay, that I’m too straight, that I’m somewhere in between. Being queer is beautiful, but I’ve found it can be an isolating and lonely experience that isn’t helped by the worries about the fabric of my being. I worry my personality is shit, my appearance is shit, and that people think, know, these things about me. I worry I will never have a relationship of any meaning. The only other option available to me is to panic.

I’m controlled like a Sim by feelings of disassociation, and lack of control on my own life. My choices feel like they’re removed from myself. De-personalisation and the detachment from yourself that that can bring feels like playing a disastrous game of The Sims. I’m in the game, but also watching it acted out from behind the shoulder of the person controlling me; observing myself and my emotions from behind a pixelated screen. And a lot of the time my actions are contradictory and confused with no threads of reason tying them together. I’m being clicked around haphazardly, and it isn’t possible for me to fight my way over to the office chair, seize the mouse and regain control.

Mental illness is incapacitating. Shyness renders me mute. I can be charismatic! I have opinions! I know shit about shit! Fuck, I’m gonna go out on a limb and claim that sometimes, on occasion, I’m funny! And after being lonely for all my life, I’m finally able to summon the strength it takes to talk to people. I’m determined to meet people. I need to make a good go at gaining friends or else I’ll be alone at my party for the rest of my life. But I’ve known so few people for so long that most of the people I meet, I’ve never met before. I don’t have the flexibility that knowing someone offers you. Every time I speak, I’m making a first impression, therefore, I must be perfect at all times. To master this perfection, I rehearse every interaction I have. Long scripts are filed away in my mind, ready to read from when the situation aligns with my expectations. I’m getting better at speaking to people, at being more outgoing, at assimilating with social society, but it feels like I’m acting out the role that I ought to be playing, rather than acting naturally. Moreover, the situation is never like I imagined in rehearsals.

My body is acting how it’s programmed to react: look “normal”. But my actions are being controlled from behind pixels and glass, obfuscated by the shroud of constant environmental feedback, and are both contradictory and synthetic. Should I talk more, or talk less? Am I talking about the “right” things? Are they bored by what I’m saying? Do they agree with me? Have I offended them? Do they get my humour? Am I making the “right” jokes? Are they warming to me? Do they think I’m a bitch? I realise mid conversation I haven’t been listening to any of it. I’m completely lost in my own internal conversation.

On top of that, god forbid I’m attracted to the person I’m talking to. Do they think I’m gay? Do they think I’m straight? How can I bring up my sexuality without it being weird? Can they tell I’m flirting? Am I coming across creepy? Am I too forward?

If you’re out of the habit of having conversations, it’s difficult to know how they’re meant to flow. Is it my turn to talk? Is that cue to reply? Fuck, it wasn’t, I’ve just talked over them! I should nod. ‘Mm’. Laugh. Smile. Frown. Keep a straight face. Soften your face. Look any of the infinite ways a human can look. Look concerned. Look compassionate. Look entertained.

Look fucking normal.  

Liz Lemon hypothesises that ‘if I have learned anything from my Sims family’ it’s that under pressure your Sim’s ‘mood level will drop until he pees himself’. It’s a wonder that in social situations I’m not soaked in piss more often.

Being isolated by anxiety is a strange experience. I intellectualise all my emotions because there’s nothing else to do when you’re alone with yourself for most of the time. Intellectualising can give a new perspective on events, but it can make you second guess what’s happened. There’s the actual objective version of events, and the cadaver of events, given an exhaustive post mortem where I pick it apart under a halogen bulb with a scalpel and tweezers and magnifying glass, so I can understand what went wrong and why they don’t fucking like me.

How could they like me?! They’ve never met me. They’ve met Sim-Charlotte, and the anxiety that controls her. And unfortunately, anxiety doesn’t share the mouse, and never quits after too many hours of playing with blood shot eyes and little sunlight.

Words & Images: Charlotte