Cara Ellison on: The Sims 4
The toilet-fixing days.
Somewhere down the line in my life I sat in a rented room in Kuala Lumpur watching a Sim approximation of the rapper Drake grumble and fix a broken toilet.
I made a Sims 4 neighbourhood from my Spotify playlists: Drake and Nicki Minaj in one house together, Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears and Andy Samberg in another house with my own Sim Cara.
Because Drake and Nicki create their own lyrical fanfic in which they 'ship' each other, I made both their Sims flirt over breakfast, over the grand piano I had only just managed to buy on Drake's terrible Amateur Entertainer job for $23 an hour (probably his Degrassi years) and on the red velvet couch I primarily bought because it belonged in a Cash Money video.
Drake would often come home, shake a drink from the oversized Tiki bar I had placed in the bedroom/living room where Nicki was sleeping, and start dancing to loud pop music, waking Nicki up and making her upset, grumpy and useless at her Jingle Jammer job. Later attempts to get them to really flirt with each other usually ended with Nicki needing the toilet and then promptly breaking it, a problem that Drake would then have to fix.
During the toilet-fixing days, I noticed that though Sim Drake and Sim Nicki were firm friends and both liked to jam, dance, and talk about music together, and their romantic progress bars were increasing steadily towards a kiss, neither would sleep together in the king size bed I'd bought for them both.
It was the only bed in the house. Perhaps I have been a Young Adult for ten years too long, but I'd share a giant king size bed with a platonic associate if the couch was the only other option. (I bought the bed and bankrupted the household merely because it looked like the sort of bed Nicki would sleep in.)
I bought a tiny single bed and put it next to Nicki's and made Drake sleepsob in it so that he could make more great hits about how women are much better than him.
Eventually, WooHoo happened by itself. I yelled I HAVE BESTED YOU, CASH MONEY RECORDS, IF ONLY IN FICTION.
Meanwhile in the Timberlake/Samberg/Spears/Ellison household, I'd struck up a serious bridge-building effort between Sim Britney and Sim JT. Justin permanently wore a tux in the house. We hosted a barbeque one night and invited Drake and Nicki over, but Britney had to extinguish a fire whilst Drake tried to hug me in the bathroom. I bought a computer and started blogging (in the game), ostensibly about socks, but my character would later graduate to writing about not socks.
Halfway through the Justin-Britney romance that was blooming in the house, I got bored. Romance was too much work. I made Justin flirt with Andy Samberg at the dinner table one night.
Britney Spears walked through the door and immediately saw them. Her heart broke.
For weeks Britney sobbed underneath the duvet, and finally, one night, I caught her blogging about her feelings on the internet, crying into her hand in a blue dress by the desk.
For whatever reason, this moment seemed the limit of the fantasy: perhaps Nicki would break toilets and Drake would fix them, it seemed acceptable goofiness for two people who in the media seem to have a sense of humour. But a famous person - the only thing they cannot do is be honest on the internet. Drake and Nicki invent their romance in their songs, probably partly as a shield against prying eyes, though both talk frankly about some parts of their lives in carefully chosen lyrics. But when something awful happens, there's an official line, and they stay within this private realm, this bubble. There's no Facebook status update with a raw cross-section of feelings, unless you want it leaked. The Sims 4 attempts to be a simulation of the private, of what we do not see. It is partly a document of private bodies on show for voyeuristic reasons.
Recently Leslie Bennetts tried to nail down why women are so obsessed with the sexist fantasies in Twilight and Fifty Shades Of Grey, and she concluded that it is not necessarily because 'liberated women' are tired of freedom, but that 'the real reasons for the persistent role of domination and submission in women's sexual imaginations, are rooted in what it actually means to live life in a female body'. These stories are popular because they speak to women about their own bodies in a way that has never been addressed before. Their desires are legitimised. The Sims series also allows us to create bodies that legitimise our desires too, in a very basic way. Most games only provide a certain body type and fantastical environment for this, but The Sims provides many kinds of bodies to become these vessels for our weird hopes about the world. It lays bare the decisions straight in front of your chosen body. It asks: what do you want for this body? What is important to it? It mixes in the difficulties, the randomness, the microaggressions of life.
But on that occasion it just so happened that I wanted Sim Britney to be with Sim Justin, and I had been dishonest with myself about how much I wanted the game to fulfil some sort of fanfiction narrative. I had hurt Sim Britney, and was assuming responsibility for it. Real life Drake and Nicki had created their own fictions that I had indulged. I wanted Britney to stay a fiction, but at that moment she wasn't one any more.
I wonder if we always felt this way if we would ever open a magazine again to peer into the private matters of someone who has desires just like us, who has a blog just like us, who sits in a blue dress at night and thinks about how what she wants is very close, and very visible, but somehow unreachable. Sim Britney really wanted Sim Justin because I chose it for her. It was my own selfishness that spoiled her world.