The last month or so has been pretty tough, to say the least. Moving back in with my parents has been a struggle to readjust to, as I relinquish the comparative independence of my last three years at University. My girlfriend, who I'd been living with for the last two years, has also had to move back in with her parents, meaning we're not seeing much of each other at all at the moment. My hunt for a decent job has already seen countless rejections, not even entertaining the possibility of an interview. I'm exhausting so much of my time on said job-hunt that work on my first novel has drastically slowed. On top of all that, I also witnessed the death of my long-serving (if downright terrible) laptop. Yep, August was definitely not very kind to me.
Thankfully, it's not all been bad news. While progress on my book has been hindered, it hasn't stopped altogether, which is still something of an achievement for me. I was also able to pick up a brand new (not quite so terrible) laptop, thanks to our landlord releasing our deposit back to us. One of the big advantages of this zippier machine is that it's actually powerful enough to competently run some games, so I've spent a lot of time the past few days checking out some older titles that I bought on impulse (mostly in Steam sales) and wouldn't run on my old computer. The prospect of finally being able to play through titles like Far Cry, Psychonauts and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. is an exciting one, to say the least. I'm also very eager to return to The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind in the near future, perhaps even in the form of a serial feature here on my blog (although I have another serial feature to wrap up first, of course).
One game in particular has really got its claws into me at the moment, though, and that's The Sims 2. Like most PC games I own, I bought it on a whim a while back, only to discover that my decrepit system was incapable of handling it. Curiosity getting the better of me, I decided to install it on my new laptop and finally check it out. Almost instantly I was drawn into the game by its charming aesthetics and light-hearted attempt to emulate (and in some cases even parody) our own lives. At first I dipped my toes tentatively into the waters of a default game situation, but it wasn't long before I set about building my own custom neighbourhood and filling it with Sim versions of my family and friends.
At this point I wish to point out that The Sims 2 isn't the kind of game I'd ordinarily choose to play. The concept of life simulation usually holds little-to-no appeal to me, but right now it's something that I find almost irresistible. Part of me wonders if it's because of the real-life situation I presently find myself in, and the comparative lack of control I have over it. At present my life feels like a derailed train, and while I'm doing everything in my power to re-route it, there's still no sign on the horizon of that next set of tracks for me to follow. In The Sims 2, on the other hand, almost nothing is beyond my control. If I want the Sim version of me to get a better job, or visit the Sim version of my girlfriend, or move into a new house, it's in my power to do that. The control bestowed upon me by my mouse and keyboard is almost compensatory for the lack of control I currently have over my own existence, and being able to act out my desires vicariously through this computerised neighbourhood is giving me fresh hope where it doesn't currently exist in real life.
The last game I played that I suppose could be considered a 'life simulation' style of game was Animal Crossing: Wild World on the DS, way back in late 2006. Like The Sims 2, that game really got a hold on me, and for a few months solid I was practically obsessed with paying off my debt to Tom Nook, collecting fossils for the Danville Museum and filling my ever-expanding house with weird and wonderful decorations. Thinking back to it, my obsession with Animal Crossing began not long after a very difficult break-up with an ex-girlfriend. I guess in a way, being able to manipulate the life of my in-game avatar was a distraction from the real-life difficulties I was experiencing. Whenever I escaped into the town contained on that small cartridge, I was able to forget about my own problems for a while and focus on building that other life. When that in-game life had come full-circle, I was feeling confident enough in myself to begin rebuilding my real life. I took up new activities, began playing drums and darts, and was able to finally let the past go in pursuit of a better future. As crazy as it probably sounds, I'm not sure I would have been able to do that without the optimism and escapism bestowed on me by Animal Crossing.
There definitely seems to be something about games like The Sims and Animal Crossing that draws me towards them in times of personal struggle. Having even the slightest degree of control over my surroundings plays a big part in maintaining who I am, and it's a great comfort being able to exercise that control in a digital realm when it doesn't exist in the physical one. Hopefully in the coming weeks and months my situation will improve. Eventually someone is bound to employ me, I can start earning and saving towards a new place with my girlfriend, and I can begin to wrestle some of that control back from the cruel mistress that is Fate. Until then, it's nice to know I can rely on the inhabitants of Trivenhoe (a much better name for a fictional place than Danville, if I do say so myself) to provide me with an influential grasp on something. Thanks very much for reading, guys. I'll see you around.
Currently playing - The Sims 2 (PC)