The world is two years into the Covid-19 pandemic, and things have still not returned to normal. Or even some semblance of life before 2020. The availability of vaccines for younger generations is offering some measure of comfort and protection, sure. But as adults continually refuse to get inoculated (and as vaccine disparities worldwide persist), the coronavirus continues to linger and mutate, posing new threats even to those who are vaccinated. It’s a lot to think about and live with on a daily basis, especially while still navigating work, family, and the challenges of everyday life. Escapes feel mandatory, and yet they are nowhere. Bad news runs rampant with no relief in sight. That’s why 2021 is the year that broke me. That’s why this year was the one I finally went back to The Sims.
I’ve spent a decade avoiding this franchise. Not because it wasn't fun, but because it was, perhaps, too enthralling. I spent so much time playing The Sims 3 after it came out in 2009 that I had to step back from the game completely. I lost hours in its little world, finding comfort and enjoyment in being a tiny (benevolent) dictator over my Sims’ lives as they went to work, decorated their houses, and built their relationships. It was addictive, and I was ignoring everything in the real world to play in its virtual one. With The Sims, I had no self-control.
Now I’ve decided that I just don’t care. My internal argument against picking up The Sims 4 over the past couple of years was that I just didn’t have the time to sink into it that I’d had in the past. My time remains sacrosanct, but these days a lot of it is spent worrying, and the mind-numbing joy of The Sims can actually alleviate that—and these days I’m much better at restraint.
After I (impatiently) waited for the game to download and install, I spent a couple of four-hour-straight sessions playing as I recovered from the flu. Getting to know my Sim and figuring out what career I wanted for her (and learning the ins and outs of a new game and its expansion packs) were exactly what I needed to really heal. I was so afraid of The Sims for so long because I was worried it would take over my life; but what I didn’t realize is that to really turn my brain off and start feeling better about difficulties in my own life, I needed to surrender to its power.
The Sims not only helped me de-stress, it actually gave me room to think about some of the issues I’d been struggling with. As I contemplated my Sim’s career, based on her interests, the quiet pace of the game gave me time to think about my own. As my Sim navigated friendship difficulties, I thought about the friends I’d lost over the last year—something that has been weighing on me more than I’d like to admit. Playing a slower-paced but more immersive game, rather than the usual action-adventure RPG-style titles I usually do, actually created space for me to think through some of my own real-life problems.
Even better, after those first marathon playing spurts, my relationship to The Sims 4 is actually—dare I say it—healthy. I’ve played for an hour or two here and there before moving onto other things. I’m enjoying it, to be sure, but it doesn’t have the compulsive hold on me it used to. It turns out that the thing I’ve been avoiding for a decade because I was afraid it would ruin my life has actually made it qualitatively better. Turns out, living in a simulation isn’t a way to avoid reality—it’s a way to cope with it.
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