Simulation video games have often made me fearful of myself.
My political views are left-wing, so I believe in equality and democracy and all of that good stuff, but when put in control of a world (or a portion of it) in a simulation game, I always become a ruthless dictator. This in and of itself wouldn't be so worrying if I predetermined my becoming of a ruthless dictator in order to enhance my enjoyment of a game, but I don't. The process of me enforcing my dictatorship is always a slow-burning one, with me initially attempting to be a 'Man of the People', only to find myself later setting the houses of said people on fire because one of them gave me some sass. I've recently been digging into my collection of simulation games again, and the results have been predictably sociopathic.
I would assume/hope that most people choose to be evil in simulation games because they find it more fun to break stuff than they do to build it, but not me. I become evil out of what I believe at the time to be a necessity. For example, last week I was playing a game of SimCity 4 (not the new SimCity, because even ruthless dictators such as myself don't support always-on DRM). After growing impatient while waiting to build all the cool stuff that your city can only afford once it's financially stable, I decided that a logical solution to this problem would be to raise the taxes of the population of my city. If I wanted to look at pretty stuff, then why shouldn't the taxpayer fund it? I live in the UK, after all, where those whose lives were ruined by Margaret Thatcher's decisions as Prime Minister were still forced to pay for her funeral, so I've become accustomed to power figures' flippancy when it comes to democracy. I wanted the Empire State Building in the centre of my city, so I bloody well put it there.
The thrill of having the Empire State Building in the centre of my city (which, considering the size of it compared to the houses it towered over, essentially made it a huge phallic symbol, a fact that probably didn't go unnoticed by my angry citizens) didn't last for very long, and the next thing I knew I was demolishing houses in order to make way for a Pyramid. My citizens weren't best pleased about this new addition either, nor were they pleased when I cut funding from education and hospitals in order to bring a slice of Egypt to their city. Pretty soon there were strikes and people began leaving, so I did what any sane leader would do – I rained a fiery apocalypse down upon them.
Houses burned to the ground. Hospitals crumbled. People screamed. I sat at my desk, laughing maniacally whilst simultaneously stroking my dog on my lap (I do not own a cat). If they would not abide by my rules as their leader, they should pay the price, I reasoned with myself, before pouring myself a bath of melted gold and childrens' tears.
But while the SimCity series has always been quite a stressful way of assuming the role of God, full of responsibilities and challenges, The Sims series is the opposite. The Sims puts you in control of a group of individuals who do not have a sense of their own agency. They act as you want them to, performing very few tasks of their own volition, only occasionally exhibiting awareness when, say, you tell them to cook some food when they actually want to go to the toilet.
The Sims 3 is quite cathartic in that it allows you to replicate the mundanities of life as much as it allows you to replicate the exciting bits. However, for impatient blokes such as myself, this peacefulness often makes way for wanton destruction, as was the case when I recently created Sims of myself, my girlfriend and my aforementioned dog.
Life started out well for my fledgling Sim-family. Everybody enjoyed their fictional new surroundings. They settled into jobs, they bought furniture, the dog ran around the garden barking at inanimate objects. It was a happy time. However, mine and my girlfriend's Sims (from here on out let's just refer to them as 'Paul' and 'Soph', because those are our names) began arguing. Soph was working late. Paul was inviting the whole town into their house before flirting with their neighbours. Their relationship was becoming a sham. Eventually, each day would consist of Soph returning home, complaining about the noise from one of Paul's (fantastic) parties before going to bed. Paul would continue to drink his problems away. Aside from them earning six-figure salaries and living in a house that was four-stories high, their life was becoming a living hell.
So I put Soph in a box. She was watering the flowers outside, I built four walls around her and I boxed her in. I kept her in that box until Death inevitably reared his hooded head. I'm not proud of it, but you've all gleefully murdered prostitutes in GTA, haven't you? Where do you suggest that we draw the moral line here?
Following Soph's untimely demise, things grew a bit dull. I added another story onto the house, but didn't put anything in it. Paul spent a lot of his time just staring into nothingness. Without the ongoing challenge that his relationship with Soph presented him, he was but an empty husk of a man.
So I put the dog in a box. My reasoning behind doing this was a little more vague than my reasoning behind putting Soph in a box, but regardless I trapped that dog inside a box that it was incapable of escaping from. I then put Paul in a box. There was nothing left to lose anymore, I had become drunk with power.
In conclusion, my time spent revisiting a few old simulation games has taught me two things about myself:
1: It is fortunate for the general public that I will likely never be elected into a position of political power, and
2: It is fortunate for my girlfriend and my dog that I have never been good at D.I.Y.
Paul Tamburro is the UK Editor of Crave Online. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTamburro.