When I was a kid, I used to play at being an adult (as most kids do). My friends and I set up imaginary grocery stores where we’d pretend to check items out. We’d dress up like doctors and nurses. We’d chide our “disobedient children” as we pulled sweaters over our dolls’ heads. And we’d stage elaborate games that included everything from love to war.
However, one of the most vivid ways that we imagined adulthood came in the form of the Sims computer game. If you haven’t played it, you design a character–everything from how they look to their personality traits–and then build them a house (my favorite part), and play them as they get jobs, find love, get married and have kids. Throughout, you have to balance their physical and emotional needs.
These needs are represented as glowing bars on the side of the screen, and they all feed into one bar above your Sim’s head, which represents their overall well-being. The tasks that your Sims have to do are realistic and mundane: everything from taking out the trash to showering to paying bills.
As a kid, there was something so satisfying about playing with these limits. Just as often as we’d carefully tend to our Sims, making sure that each bar stayed green throughout the day, we also experimented in the other direction: seeing what happened when you forced a Sim to not shower for two weeks. Or what happened when you put them in a room and took away the door, so that they couldn’t access food or water (hint: they die. It’s kinda gruesome).
But even when you’re doing your best not to kill them, it can be hard to keep up with all those needs. They go down so quickly. And so many things need to get done for the house to not have flies buzzing around it and your Sim to be fulfilled and also honing their skills and interests (in which progress is tracked–again–with a floating bar).
I can’t remember the last time I played. Probably at some point during high school. But somehow, even after all these years, the game has embedded itself in my psyche.
I get home from work and I’m simultaneously exhausted and hungry and really-really need to pee, and the dishes also need to get done and the dogs need to go out. And in the back of my mind, there’s a bar floating above my head, bright red and urgent. “This girl has needs!” it screams.
I go to the bathroom, the dogs dancing at the door as they wait, tails awag. I imagine my bathroom bar restoring itself, becoming green. Meanwhile, my overall wellbeing upgrades to somewhere between yellow and red. I take the dogs outside and their bars upgrade to yellow. They still need dinner and a jog before they’ll be content.
That balancing act of taking care of my own needs and my surroundings continues through the night. My energy dips so low several times that I have to sit down while helping Jordan with the chickpea dish he’s concocted–so that I don’t pass out before I can eat (being pregnant is hard). I feel bad because I know Jordan’s energy bar is red too, and he’s also exhausted and hungry.
But then we eat, and our hunger bars slowly refill. Suddenly I’m just sleepy-tired instead of I-might-die tired. As we eat, Jordan and I talk about our house renovations and marvel over how delicious food tastes after a day of work. Green plus signs float above us–it’s a positive interaction, building our relationship.
While I feed the animals, Jordan tinkers with something under the sink to get it to drain properly, and I imagine his plumbing skills bar slowly growing. Too bad he doesn’t want to be a plumber. At this rate he has to be at least at level two.
We do the dishes together once the sink is draining, and both our hygiene bars restore slightly once they’re clean and put away. As he washes and I dry, I regale him with more baby middle name ideas. A green plus sign floats above me (I love discussing this), but he’s bored and tired. A red minus floats into the air above him. I’m similarly unimpressed when he brings up his plans for designing his new arrows.
There’s another uptick in hygiene when I sweep the dog hair out from under the kitchen table. We brush our teeth and wash our faces, and now we’re back in the green, hygiene-wise at least.
And then we collapse into bed and snuggle up, the cats curled in balls by our feet, and at last, our sleep bars are restored to glorious, glowing green.
Though of course, the cycle starts all over again when we wake up hungry, needing the bathroom, and desperate for a shower. Being an adult was more fun as a kid playing a video game (though I promise I’m never tempted to shut Jordan in a room and take away the door…).