In 2008, right before my senior year of high school, my parents informed my sister and me that we would be moving in a month. Earlier that year, my father had lost his small plastics plant to the automotive crisis. I was old enough to know that moving under our circumstances was embarrassing and that it wasn't going to be the last shameful thing that the recession brought our way. I watched as relics of my childhood flew into Dumpsters or were sold off. By August our home was empty and we were driving away.
At my new high school, I ate lunch alone; I spoke to no one; I sat in the most inconspicuous seats during class; I made no friends. The only friend from home who made the time to visit me was my on-again, off-again boyfriend, DeAngilo. DeAngilo and I shared a group of friends, enjoyed the same type of humor, and both harbored a deep love for video games. He didn't like the Sims, though. He said it wasn't a real video game, and only losers with no friends played it. But I loved it, and, needing something to do with myself, I downloaded it at my new home. As the opening screen loaded, a wave of comfort overtook me. I pressed start.
Creation was my favorite part of playing the Sims. I was meticulous, taking hours to create my characters. I tweaked their appearance, dressing them in the whimsical yet sexy outfits I saw on Girlfriends and Sex and the City. I built them lofty homes and formulated their personalities so they were just right. Sims exist on a spectrum between placid obedience and something near autonomy, and, I always made my Sims defiant, like me. Comforted by their creation, I knew that even if my future seemed uncertain, my curation of their world was sound.
I intended this game to be a re-creation, a meditation of what I anticipated out of my nearing adulthood. I made DeAngilo's Sim first: Evan, a tall, skinny chef in dark jeans and layered shirts; he wore a single metal spiked bracelet. I found cooking to be a profession far more suitable than DeAngilo's real-life aspiration to become a horror-core rap artist.
A Sims version of myself was much more difficult. It had to represent the person I desired to be. Simone was a slender, messy-haired young adult whose only aspiration was to become a best-selling (or at least published) author — a dream we shared. Dressing Simone, I was reminded of my loneliness. What was it that DeAngilo had said? That only people with no friends played the Sims? I finished her up and watched as she and Evan danced around, smiling and hugging, excited to be alive.
I filled Simone and Evan's house with beautiful things — walls lined with bookshelves, state-of-the-art kitchenware, fish tanks, bizarre oblong furniture — and deposited the couple in their new home. Simone nestled into a corner with a book while Evan put out a fire in the kitchen after an attempt at making a pot of mac 'n' cheese.
Evan's kitchen fire was not an anomaly, even though I had created him as a chef. Sims are notoriously bad at cooking; they often burn even things like cereal or milk. Sometimes they accidentally light themselves on fire. As Evan patted down the flickering, pixelated flames, I realized it was late. After saving the game, I wandered back up the stairs of my new home to my new room and finally went to sleep.
I was deeply invested in Simone and Evan's life — after all, it represented my ideal future. But it wasn't any fun to play alone, so I introduced my younger sister, Felicia, to the game. She built her own home, just a few blocks away from Evan and Simone's, and populated it with Marissa, DaNaisha, and Marie, a group designed to mirror herself and her two best friends. Felicia played with her Sims sporadically, just enough to keep them happy and alive. She had other interests, while my life orbited around the Sim world, the avatars falling in and out of visibility like a moon.
The next time DeAngilo visited, I rushed him into the basement to show him Evan and Simone. He liked that his character was a chef, and he thought the spiked bracelet was a nice touch. I smiled like a proud parent as Simone hunched over her desk, furiously typing away at a computer while a knowledge gauge floated above her head, slowly filling to the brim, showing that she was learning.