Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Success, Assurance, and the Sims Social

I've recently discovered the Sims Social on Facebook. It's hardly the first game, even on Facebook, that "simulates" a virtual world, but it certainly seems to be one of the more popular. Although this may seem like an obvious statement to some, it's perhaps an ironic one to others: a game that explicitly attempts to resemble (parts of) real life gets me thinking about real life in ways that I might not have thought about it without the simulation.

Now, I know that there are folks out there concerned about the moral issues that arise out of games like this. For example, the fact that you can "WooHoo" (Sims' euphemism for having sexual intercourse) with random people you don't know (let's face it, everyone knows that many Facebook "friends" playing these games are just strangers who asked each other to "add me plz" on some message board) is disturbing to many. I don't wish to dismiss those concerns too glibly. I mean, yes, it is "just a game," but that isn't enough in my mind to say that these things don't matter. Even so, I'm happy to let other people fight those battles.

For those who aren't familiar with the Sims in general, or with the Facebook version more specifically, you should know that you create an avatar that is given his or her own place to live, complete with various necessities such as a bed, a refrigerator, a bathroom, etc. You can earn coins and experience points by interacting with your environment, both in terms of the objects around you and other "Sims" (that is, the avatars of other people playing the game).

The thing that I've been observing most recently regards the "quests" that the game regularly invites the character to undertake. You might be asked to build a new room, or to collect a certain number of "art" icons by doing artistic tasks, or so on. Undoubtedly, these quests are intended both to introduce the player to all of the various options of the game, as well as to keep the player engaged and interested in continuing to play.

I find myself appreciating the explicit directions. With apologies to Amway, in real life it is seldom so simple as to be able to say, "if you want to earn $100, talk to 5 neighbors." In the Sims Social, I am assured that if I "talk to 5 neighbors," I will get my $100. Without fail. Generally, success in real life is less straight-forward. There may well be general guidelines and rules of wisdom to follow, but seldom is there an exact one-to-one correspondence of "do this, and this will happen." Such wisdom makes for a good fortune cookie, but it's usually pretty easy to point to exceptions to such rules.

While I wouldn't want my real life to be anywhere near as limited as the world of the Sims Social, there's something about that assurance that I have to admit I find appealing. If I could know that I could achieve success by following a few simple rules, I'd be much more likely to follow them. Even if those rules involved some measure of sacrifice (as the real-world equivalents often do), I expect that the guarantee of success would be a powerful motivator. As it is, I hear stories all the time that sound something like "I followed all the rules, and I still can't make it," and I find that responses that nonetheless try to respond by saying "you must have done something wrong" not only fail to understand the situation, but are actively heartless and hurtful.

Calling them "heartless" notwithstanding, I'm not so different from those respondents. I deeply want life to follow the rules. If something goes wrong, it's strangely comforting to be able to point to some cause that I might control to make things right again, or at least have the assurance that things went wrong for a reason. Unfortunately, life simply isn't like that. Sometimes, all one can do is say "Yeah, that's awful," and give a person a shoulder to cry on.

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