The Curse of the Dragonborn

“Let’s play Skyrim” – by which I mean: “Let’s repeat the same sequence 7 times before we’re satisfied with the footage we recorded, then discover that the video and audio have become unsynchronized, so we have to do it again!” (I’m actually not exaggerating.) Then let’s do a great job editing the footage together and record some kick-ass post-commentary (which tends to also require several takes, and editing).

I’ve been working on this Let’s Play for a little over a week now; I’ve felt just about everything one could possibly feel about it:

I’m frustrated with how time-consuming and repetitive the process is. I’m angry at myself for how much time I’m putting into it, and feeling guilty about the things I’m not doing as a result. I’m thoroughly obsessed with it and gain a lot of satisfaction from thinking about it – but I would also like to occasionally not think about it. I’m devastated when I turn my back on it to spend time with Fox, but we’re both too exhausted to do anything. I feel better when we talk about Skyrim.

I’m proud of the work I’ve done so far and I want to share it. I’m concerned no one will watch it. I’m unsure whether I’ll be able to keep it up – and whether doing so is healthy. I feel very powerful when I play well. I feel very anxious when I’m unsure about a decision while recording. I want to show off my fantastic skills and wow viewers with my insightful commentary. I even like the way my voice sounds. I want to know what others think of it – mostly.

I think I should delete everything and start over. I think I should delete everything and stop playing Skyrim. I think I would be very sad if I deleted or otherwise lost my completed episodes, which are quite good – especially after putting so much time and energy into them.

I think it’s a fun hobby and good long-term project, assuming I can take breaks from it without abandoning it entirely. I want to join the Let’s Play community. I’m happy that so far I’ve prioritized opportunities to socialize in person and going to my therapy session over playing Skyrim. I’d much rather play Skyrim than do chores, apply for jobs and internships, run errands, exercise, do other leisure activities, etc. I really need to move forward with my life. I’m being creative, really!

My pet rats are adorable, make everything better, and are completely dependent on me. They are a million times more important than Skyrim.

… they also sleep a lot.

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Escape to Dragon Valley Pt. 2

I started out my The Sims 3 game with a recently-married young adult couple and their small dog. They initially moved into a small apartment in Bridgeport, the most city-like of the available worlds. It seemed the most thematically appropriate 1) for the careers I intended them to pursue (Music and Styling) and 2) because the low cost of the apartment enabled them to afford a better quality bed and a laptop. (I think on some level I wanted it to mirror my experience of sharing the equivalent of a one-bedroom apartment with Fox.)

At first I played my couple more as two individual sims than as a coherent family. They each had a career to pursue: Carina dove straight into the Music career track and Jason found his way into the Styling profession. Carina spent several hours most days per week at work, requiring minimal attention from me; she also spent a lot of her time home from work practicing violin and guitar. (The game requires guitar skill for both the rock and symphonic branches of the Music career, but I thought violin was more appropriate to the symphonic branch – which I was having Carina pursue. My solution was to have her improve both skills at the same slow pace.)

I thought I’d have fun controlling Jason during his work days as a stylist; I actually got to change the outfits and hairstyles of other sims in town! Unfortunately his clients kept missing appointments and I lost interest in giving makeovers to random sims. So, I had him decide to quit his job and try to find work in a more conventional career track. He tried Business first and quickly received an opportunity to pursue a career in Politics, so I had him change jobs, thinking it might be interesting. He sold his drafting table (required for the Stylist profession) and got an easel instead, which enabled him to paint many valuable works of art. I think he’s made more money selling paintings than going to work.

There was added pressure on Jason to work in a less-than-ideal career track because the couple desperately needed to save up money so they could afford a larger home. The apartment was too tiny and there was no door to the bedroom, so it was often impossible for Carina to practice her instruments without disturbing Jason. (In real life I go for long stretches of time without playing music because I don’t want to disturb Fox.) They had a short time when they weren’t getting along – and even spent Snowy Day apart from one another! – largely because Carina kept practicing when Jason was trying to sleep. The rush to move became even more urgent when Carina became pregnant with their first child; there was no way 3 people could live there comfortably! (In real life Fox and I will also need to find a larger home before we can start having children.)

Eventually they were able to move to Dragon Valley, the new world I’d acquired and was eager to explore. They received a grant to fix up and live in a fort that had been destroyed by dragons. (How wonderful would it be to receive a grant enabling one to buy a nice house in a good neighborhood?) It provided them a far more spacious home, where Carina could practice at any time of day or night and Jason could go in a different room (with a door he could close!) to sleep. Their baby, Aaron, even had his own bedroom.

It was a slow process, but they were able to make the space their own. I had a lot of fun finding creative ways to keep the living-in-a-fort feel while also dividing up the space into usable rooms and making it a functional home. My favorite thing about it is the very open layout on the first floor, which makes taking pictures for memories easy from almost any angle – no walls in the way or awkwardly being able to see inside the bathroom. I’ve also enjoyed having the space change over time, documented in their memories. It gives me a sense of continuity and accomplishment: look how far they’ve come!

I’d wanted this to be a much more essential story element than it ended up being: Carina found dragon eggs in the basement of the fort-turned-home! Way before she (or I) expected, the eggs both hatched: the first into a green-thumbed treasure-seeking dragon I named Kes, and the other into a death-themed logic-oriented dragon I named T’Pol. (No, I’m not a Trekkie. What ever gave you that idea?) They’ve helped the family out a great deal – Kes by providing useful resources and T’Pol by equipping each family member with a death flower, which will save their lives once should a tragedy (fire, drowning, electrocution, being hit by a meteorite, etc.) occur. My sims love playing with the dragons, talking to them to learn gardening and logic, and carrying them around, but the dragons require a lot less maintenance than I’d expected. They’re more like other household objects than pets. It works well enough, I guess, but it’s a little bit disappointing. (That won’t keep me from trying to acquire and raise the other kinds, though!)

Having Aaron kind of forced me to play my sims more like a coherent family. Jason really loved teaching and playing with his son, but wasn’t really getting anywhere (or anything out of) his job. I was also struggling to come up with a career-related goal for him, but I loved watching him play with Aaron and wanted to give Aaron the best possible start. So I had Jason quit his job and become Aaron’s full-time caregiver, while Carina continued to advance in her career and make plenty of money for the family to live on (especially since they’d been responsible with the money from their grant). It was a little bit frustrating because I wanted Carina to be more involved with raising her son while also excelling in her career, but – as in real life – that’s extremely difficult to pull off in The Sims 3. Fortunately, I had a way to express that within the game memory system: Carina had a mid-life crisis! It was a wake-up call for her (and me) to become more involved (to involve her more) in Aaron’s life.

It was kind of rare for the whole family to experience things together, except that I had them attend each season’s festival. My primary purpose for doing so was to have them take a family picture, which I used to keep track of the family changing over time. They also got to have some season-related fun together and with other sims from town. As time has gone on I’ve had them spending more time together. The deaths of their two dogs were very sad, but were also shared experiences. Jason, Aaron, and Ryan shared the experience of sightseeing in Egypt, while Carina played guitar for tips. (I’m not crazy about her excluding herself from their adventures; I feel like I’m struggling to really integrate her into the family while also advancing her career.) Most recently, the family got to come together for 2 birthday parties!

When they’re not directly engaged in activities together, they’re each doing whatever is immediately necessary to keep the household running smoothly. Whoever has gotten the most sleep (or is closer) gets up to care for the crying baby. If there is no prepared food in the fridge, a hungry sim cooks a group meal so the others can also eat – possibly even together! Whoever is closest / in the best mood / is not immediately engaged in skill-building takes out the trash, helps the child with homework, reads a bedtime story, repairs the broken sink, etc. It’s tempting to have whichever sim is best at something (e.g. cooking or gardening) be solely responsible for that task, but I’ve found playing that way to be quite frustrating. This game has taught me that maybe it’s better not to have roles, but to have everyone equally responsible for everything – at least to some degree.

Jason has developed an interest in photography and decided to pursue that as a possible career – despite the fact that his paintings are currently worth a lot more than his photographs will be worth for quite some time. I finally decided to make it his goal to raise both the painting and photography skills to level 10. He just grew up into an elder, so his time is waning. He feels very accomplished to have raised his son, Aaron – now a young adult – and continues to be invested in his second son, Ryan’s, development. He hopes to have grandchildren to help raise as well.

Carina has achieved her lifelong dream of becoming a hit movie composer! She’s getting close to elder-hood, but still has plenty of time to enjoy the career / position / job that she worked so hard and sacrificed so much for. She is also very proud of her sons, especially Aaron who has graduated high school and become a young adult. Investing in businesses around town is a way to ensure future generations of her family will have income, and I’ve used a good chunk of Carina’s lifetime happiness points to acquire objects that any sim in the household can use even after she dies.

I guess, due to the nature of her main goal, Carina has been more focused on her own individual advancement and career success than on being part of the family as a whole. She’s still contributed in her own way by carrying, giving birth to, and financially supporting her sons, even if she’s been less involved in raising them (and it’s not like she hasn’t been involved at all, just less than Jason). Her success has paved the way for them and future generations to have a much easier time in life. And dude, being a hit movie composer who can play guitar and violin in her sleep and whom everyone trips over themselves to photograph is quite the accomplishment! I’d say she has a great deal to be proud of.

For the record, she has NOT given in to demands that she exercise in order to shape her body into what people think a celebrity should look like. She’s an older woman and a mom and an extremely successful musician; people can accept her as she is or go harass someone else, thank-you-very-much.

Aaron has picked up the torch as my new young adult, with all the excitement and opportunity that suggests. His lifetime goal is to be a Renaissance sim – to raise 3 skills to level 10. He’s well on his way to that with painting. I haven’t really decided on a career for him yet and I kind of have notions that he and his brother might open some kind of shop (toy or otherwise; this possibility was unlocked by a recent purchase, so I’m eager to enjoy what I paid for). I’m getting frustrated with failed attempts to make his imaginary friend real (the game didn’t register the first step I took toward the relevant Opportunity). It seems most likely I’ll have him marry and raise a family with his high school sweetheart.

Finally, Ryan has decided he wants to become a world-renowned surgeon. That should be a fun and interesting career track to pursue; I’m not sure I’ve had a sim complete it yet. I’m also thinking of having him be a chess prodigy. For some reason I’m loving the idea of having the youngest member of the family be a genius and quite unlike the rest of the family, yet still a loved, respected, and integral part of it. I like that it’s safe for him to express himself freely and pursue his dreams, even if he doesn’t fit in – no, especially because he doesn’t fit in.

Groundhog Day

You fool!
What is with you and that game?!
You play and play for hours on end
And every day is
Identical.

You think I am old and blind,
But I know:
You watch an image of a human
Play with her image of a pet
Images are all you see!

What about ME!?
I’m here!
Flesh and blood and FUR
And so much more
I need your love!

You’ve talked about walking
Walk with me!
I love to get out
Smell the world
And know you are right beside me.

But you sit and you stare and complain.
I know that you’re hurting
Your arm, every day
With that mouse.
Get out of the house!

They do the same thing every day,
And we repeat the same harmony.
I bark. You groan
And thrash like the dead
And shamble around reluctantly.

Blind
To the warmth of the sun on your face
A cool breeze to play
All these wonderful smells –
I could wallow in them all day.

I just need you.

You know how it feels
To be abandoned.

Don’t feed that fear!

Walk with me.

Being Carrie Marin

Meet Carrie Marin, my newest sim:

TS3W 2013-03-23 22-04-13-11Carrie is an adventurous bookworm who loves to travel and write about her experiences. Her goal in life is to reach the highest possible Visa level (3) for all three countries featured in The Sims 3: World Adventures. So far, she’s doing great! – she has attained Visa Level 1 in Egypt and is currently completing quests to try and do the same in China.

Carrie achieves Visa Level 1 in Egypt

Carrie achieves Visa Level 1 in Egypt

I created Carrie because I was getting frustrated with the family I had been playing in The Sims 3. It is currently comprised of 3 adults, 2 teenagers, a child, and 3 horses – quite the headache! One of the adults has been ignoring his life goal of completely exploring 6 tombs in each of the 3 World Adventure destinations; I’m concerned he’s going to be unable to achieve it. Another adult randomly had her progress toward her life goal reset, which makes me question whether it’s worth the effort to bother with that goal at all.

(The Jockey: my sim still has her levels in the Riding skill, but lost the progress she’d made toward winning/earning $40,000 with her horses. I’m disinclined to try and get it back because I’m frustrated with how the game handles equestrian competitions and don’t find them particularly fun, anyway.)

And I’m saddened because one of the teenagers has been neglecting the horse she adopted as a child, to the point where they have lost their friendship. There just isn’t really much room for the horses in any of the sims’ lives anymore. I find myself too caught up in keeping the sims’ needs met and getting them to school/work on time and perhaps occasionally fulfilling a wish or two to play that game the way I’d like to. I’m not having fun with it anymore. There’s just too much going on at once: too many different goals and needs and relationships, etc. to juggle. It’s very disjointed!

So, I’ve gone to the complete opposite extreme: one young-adult sim with no children and no pets. The pro is that there’s a lot less to juggle, less risk of something like an important relationship slipping through the cracks. The con is that I spend most of my time playing the game on fast-forward, often waiting for her to finish sleeping or to get out of work.

Carrie's workplace.

Carrie’s workplace.

Pretty much everything Carrie does is focused on achieving her life goal. She works in the Journalism career, currently as a Professional Blogger (level 4). She has 3 close friends, all of whom she met and maintains a relationship with at work. She also writes novels for extra income. Her home is small and simple, her meals light and inexpensive, and she rides a bike instead of spending money on a car. If something in her house breaks she fixes it herself, simultaneously saving money on the repair and improving the Handiness skill she’ll need to disarm traps and complete future quests successfully. You can bet that as soon as she’s saved enough money to go on vacation, she’ll be on the next plane abroad!

Carrie's simple yet cozy home in Riverview.

Carrie’s simple yet cozy home in Riverview.

And once she arrives, Carrie hits the ground running by taking whatever work is available. She easily befriends the locals, making much-needed connections and learning the information she needs to complete quests. She’s never lonely because she feels comfortable talking to pretty much anyone. She doesn’t have a significant other, children, etc., so she can make her own choices – including when and with whom and how she wants  to socialize.

I wish I could say I play this game because it’s fun, but at best that’s only part of it. My “reason” for playing Carrie the way I am is because I actually want to play World Adventures, including all the built-in quests and tomb exploration and so on – it’s a nice touch, different from my typical experience playing The Sims 3 (and 2, and the original).

But it’s also an escape: when I’m playing The Sims 3 I don’t feel. I’m caught up in what’s going on for my sims, and I can ignore reality: the fact that after over a month I’m still not fully unpacked and I’ve been neglecting things I once considered my biggest passions in life (e.g. music) and I have to medicate my rats even though all three of us hate it, etc. etc. etc. Like the game I abandoned (temporarily, or so I’d like to claim) my life feels too disjointed, too many different interests and goals and relationships to juggle them all. Something ALWAYS falls through the cracks. I feel completely unmotivated to try to do any of it – either my heart isn’t in it, or I can’t imagine myself being successful. The weight of my anxiety about not doing schoolwork and my depression from doubting whether I’ll ever achieve my life goals and feeling isolated is unbearable.

So, I play The Sims 3 instead.

And what am I playing? A single sim who focuses her energy on one thing, and uses her different interests to support each other. Her job funds her travel. Her travel gives her something to write about. Reading is fun, relaxing, and educational – and relatively inexpensive (as long as she doesn’t decide to buy the book). Reading also helps her be better prepared to travel, better able to make connections with others, and a better writer. Forming interpersonal connections meets her need for socialization and supports her goal of gaining Visa levels – essentially, being accepted into diverse communities. Add a knack for photography and martial arts (two skills one can and kind of needs to learn while in Egypt and China, respectively) and Carrie Marin is unstoppable!

Carrie enjoys some delicious falafel.

Carrie enjoys some delicious falafel.

Carrie swims in the public pool with several other sims from her neighborhood.

Carrie swims in the public pool with several other sims from her neighborhood.

Carrie spends the afternoon reading at the library.

Carrie spends the afternoon reading at the library.

Var and the Vikings

There’s this really awesome project on Kickstarter that I’d like to encourage everyone to support: a game that is a lot of fun and enables the player to learn AI (artificial intelligence). It’s called Var and the Vikings. I played the demo (in Chrome) and in just 10  simple levels felt like I had learned quite a bit about AI, while having fun and feeling a sense of accomplishment. From my experience, I believe it has the potential to be an extremely enjoyable, engaging, and educational game.

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I’m one of 324 backers who have already pledged a total of $8,481 to the project.

The thing is, the project has only 18 days to receive an additional $22,519 in pledges. Pledging doesn’t cost anything unless the project reaches its funding goal. So, if you think this is worth getting behind, you can show your support (for as little as $1) completely risk-free!

It costs just $10 to receive the game for Mac or PC, and all future updates (once the project is fully funded, then completed). Any backing of $20 or more gets you additional awesome rewards, which may (depending on how much you contribute) include:

  • the digital art pack
  • the opportunity to create custom message(s) other players will see in the game
  • opportunities to interact with developers
  • the soundtrack
  • the opportunity to name an enemy – possibly even a boss!
  • existing in the game as a viking spirit or statue that helps players for a short time while shouting your custom battle cry
  • be a character in the game!

You can also pledge to receive a classroom or school license for the game.

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But don’t take my word for it. Visit Var and the Vikings on Kickstarter today!

Ending a Life

I was starting to get tired of the patriarch of my The Sims 3 family, so I ended his life. He was an elder, a grandfather, he’d already accomplished his lifelong goal, and he wasn’t playing a useful role in my game anymore. It was simply time for him to go. All I had to do was use the “testingcheatsenabled true” cheat code, shift-click on him, and select “trigger age transition” to make him die of old age (earlier than he would have if I’d left it up to the game).

He went peacefully. He greeted, shook hands with, and even smiled at Death – literally. This sim was as ready to go as I was to get rid of him.

Alexander III greets Death happily, ready to move on, while his wife Elaine watches.

Alexander III greets Death happily, ready to move on, while his wife Elaine watches.

I could have moved on to the vacation I’ve been planning for rest of the family, if it were not for their (entirely understandable and quite realistic) reaction to the patriarch’s passing. The look on Elaine’s face in the above picture says it all. She is so hurt and terrified as she gazes at Death – and at her own future. Not only will she have to spend the rest of her life without her lifelong partner, but she will probably follow in his footsteps soon.

The elder couple’s adult son and daughter-in-law, both of whom were at work when Alexander III died, came home as soon as they found out, too distraught to be much use. Considering he is a substitute teacher and she is a medical intern, it makes a lot of sense for them to take off from work and avoid having a negative impact on their vulnerable students and patients, respectively. (Not to mention, you know, tending to their own and Elaine’s emotional needs. I almost left that part out!)

The two children in the household, however, remained in school and even attended their after-school activities, both oblivious to the patriarch’s death until they arrived home at the normal time. I’m not sure whether this is how most families would handle the situation, or whether it is truly congruent with my own experience. Maybe it’s what I wish I could have done or tried to do: postpone dealing with the truth and my emotions for as long as possible by focusing on school. Somehow I have the perception that adults – at least in the Sims 3 universe – think this is how best to help children cope with death. All the surviving adults have an automatic memory: “Alexander III Died” – but the children never received it.

Elaine spent the next day sleeping, while her son (Alexander IV – creative, I know!) and daughter-in-law (Li-Ying) took off from work. The children had to go to school because there is no option to call out sick or otherwise get permission to take off, and the grade consequence for missing a day is fairly dire.

They had a funeral that evening. It was as simple a gathering as one can have when a good portion of the first floor of one’s house is a giant banquet hall; Elaine served absolutely fantastic spaghetti and tomato sauce (and, in the process of making it, reached the maximum skill level in Cooking). Originally I was just going to post a couple of pictures to give a basic idea of what the funeral looked like, but then I realized something:

Every sim’s reaction to the patriarch’s death, as I chose to represent it, is an aspect of my own reaction to the deaths in my family – particularly the death of my father.

Alexander IV cries on Li-Ying's shoulder, mourning his father.

Alexander IV cries on Li-Ying’s shoulder, mourning his father.

First, you have the obvious: the Mourning Son, who cries on his wife’s shoulder. What do we have, if we can’t lean on the people we love, and who love us?

Typically, in Western culture (and perhaps others), it is expected that a man will be stoic, that he will not cry. If he does cry, either he is weak, or something truly horrible has happened. This sim has the Disciplined personality trait, suggesting that he usually has good control over his emotions. For him to cry … Clearly, he is in a lot of pain.

I think, in my own life, it has generally been my role to be the eye of the storm – the semblance of calm sanity in the midst of chaos.

In my darkest hour, I couldn’t cry. When I’m feeling the most vulnerable, I do everything in my power to keep from feeling and expressing my emotions. So, I see crying as a sign of great strength. Something horrible has happened, and this sim has the strength and courage to be completely honest about it – with himself, and with his wife.

He is also in a place where it is safe for him to cry. That’s something I don’t always feel I have; I wonder whether / to what degree men (and women, and folk who don’t identify as either) can relate?

Li-Ying comforts her husband; though sad herself, she thinks she can only imagine what he must be feeling.

Li-Ying comforts her husband; though sad herself, she thinks she can only imagine what he must be feeling.

At the funeral, Li-Ying is finally able to cry on the shoulder of someone who does not need her support: a friend from work.

At the funeral, Li-Ying is finally able to cry on the shoulder of someone who does not need her support: a friend from work.

Next, there is the Comforter: the person whose shoulder is cried on. Whatever she may be feeling, whatever she may need, whatever support she may (hope to?) receive later, in this moment, her role is to support someone else. She sets her needs aside and holds the other person – whose need to cry she perceives as greater and/or more important than her own.

There is definitely a sense of hierarchy in this role, and of being at or near the bottom of the totem pole. The daughter-in-law is in a particularly difficult position. She was close enough with the patriarch to feel a great deal of pain at his passing, but her relationship with him was not as significant as the relationship between father and son. It would not be appropriate for her to lean on her husband, who has enough pain of his own, or on her child, whom she feels obligated to protect. Even though she has known the patriarch longer, she feels her child has even more of a right to mourn than she herself does – after all, it was the child’s grandfather who died!

The comforter may not receive support until there is someone present with less of a relationship to the deceased than herself: in this case, one of her friends from work who came to the funeral to support her emotionally. At the funeral, the appropriate behavior is to be sad and to cry. The comforter is finally free to be comforted by the guests who came to give the whole family their condolences.

Surrounded by the guests at the funeral, Elaine is completely unable to connect with them. All she can feel or think about is her sorrow.

Surrounded by the guests at the funeral, Elaine is completely unable to connect with them. All she can feel or think about is her sorrow.

The Ghost: Elaine stands in the middle of the party, surrounded by everyone she invited to celebrate her husband’s life and mourn his passing. People are enjoying the delicious food she cooked. They are talking. They are even dancing! The whole room around her is so full of life …

But she sees, hears, and feels none of it. All she knows is the pain she feels; how much she misses him; how devastated she is to have to go on without him. She feels like her life is over; none of this has any meaning for her anymore.

And worst, they seem oblivious to her plight, almost as though she is invisible. She can imagine them walking right through her. Clearly, they can go on living their lives without her. She can just fade away into the shadows. “From dust, to dust you shall return.” Their lives will go on; you will not be missed.

I was thinking of having her be the next to die, through the same means as the patriarch. This is intended to be a kid-friendly game, so we’ll say she died of a combination of old age and “heartache.”

This is the part of myself I have to fight, more frequently than I care to admit, to stay alive.

Ruth pours drinks for the guests to enjoy, feeling detached from "their" sorrow.

Ruth pours drinks for the guests to enjoy, feeling detached from “their” sorrow.

The Servant: So far, I have gone out of my way to avoid mentioning this character. But then I thought: “she is my voice in this narrative.”

Ruth – the resident “cleaning specialist” – is the one who feels sad because the people around her are hurting, but is not particularly sad about the patriarch’s departure herself. (She is my voice in the narrative because I chose to end the patriarch’s life, but am saddened by the realistic – if exaggerated – expressions of sorrow by the sims.)

She would not even be at the funeral – or involved with the family at all – if it were not her job. She goes through the motions out of respect – and fear – but she finds no meaning in them.

The secret she holds near to her heart, and will never admit to anyone, is that she is actually happy that the patriarch – her employer – has “moved on.” She is now free from his authority. When the Servant looks at her future following the patriarch’s death, she sees less constraint in every aspect of her life. She sees herself able to let her guard down a bit, able to be more spontaneous, possibly even able to prioritize her own wants, needs, and values.

The Servant is the part of me that believes the deaths that have occurred in my family – particularly the death of my father – have actually had a positive effect on my life. I don’t know what kind of person I’d be if he were still alive to influence and possibly constrain my decisions. But I do know that I’ve been able to determine my own beliefs and values – and live by them more genuinely – since he died; his death caused my links to members of that family, as well as to traditional patriarchal religion, to be severed.

It is important to note that Ruth is a Black woman of lower socioeconomic status than the wealthy, predominantly White family she serves. This observation is not meant to cast judgment upon any individuals or groups, but to reflect the intersecting systems of racism, sexism, and class-ism that still:

  • privilege white people, while oppressing people of color
  • privilege cis men, while oppressing trans men, cis women, trans women, and people who don’t fit into any of these categories
  • privilege the wealthy, while oppressing those who are impoverished by the former’s wealth

and so on … to do justice to this topic would go very far beyond the scope of this post. I’ll just ask this one question: Why should the needs, wants, and values of wealthy white male society take precedence over the needs, wants, and values anyone else might have?

It’s so tempting to just end the post here, but I … I need to say this:

Brandi enjoys the delicious food served at the funeral, paying little attention to what is going on around her.

Brandi enjoys the delicious food served at the funeral, paying little attention to what is going on around her.

Sometimes, “I’m just here for the food” – or, rather, I (frequently) use food to manage difficult emotions.

For example, when I finish typing this sentence, I’m going to go grab myself a snack …

Sometimes the difficult emotions come from within me: just now, I needed something to distract from the anxiety I feel about revealing these deep, inner, hidden parts of myself – coherently, in writing! Not only do I have to look at them a lot more closely than I’d like, but I also have to show them to you. I’m afraid of what you might think about them, and what the consequences will be for me. I can’t even be sure I’m portraying them accurately.

I often overeat at social events in my efforts to manage my anxiety about interacting with multiple people, many of whom I might not know well.

Other times, the difficult emotions (at least seem to) come from other people. It might be from the general chaos of multiple conversations going on at once, or it might be more sinister.

Funerals are particularly difficult because everyone is (probably) struggling with much if not all of the range of responses I’ve been describing, plus others: anger, guilt, sadness, feeling abandoned, denial, etc. After a while – sometimes sooner than others – it becomes too much. Like Brandi (Ruth’s daughter) I just need to focus on an extremely satisfying sensory experience and block everything else out.

Yuan cannot even bear to be present at her grandfather's funeral. She escapes to the kitchen and plays with her imaginary friend instead.

Yuan cannot even bear to be present at her grandfather’s funeral. She escapes to the kitchen and plays with her imaginary friend instead.

Last, but not least, there is the Deserter.

(not to be confused with the desserter – that’s Brandi)

I’m inclined to argue that this is the least healthy part of myself – even more dangerous than the Ghost.

So far, I have been dealing with the Ghost effectively. It hasn’t always been easy – often, I’ve felt unsuccessful – but I have been able to do it.

My proof? I’m still here.

The Deserter, in contrast, regularly wins our confrontations and has the potential to destroy my life. It operates on so many levels, where do I even begin?

The Deserter is when I spend multiple entire days playing The Sims 3. It is escapism. The danger? I neglect everything else: all my other obligations, even important aspects of my physical and especially mental health.

But it goes deeper than that: It tries to sabotage my interpersonal relationships. It tests people, tries to push them away by making my behavior unbearable. It breaks promises. It shows up late – or not at all.

It convinces me that I am not like them; I cannot trust them; I don’t deserve them.

But it goes deeper than that: It severs me from myself.

I feel detached from my emotions. I have loud, verbally abusive arguments with myself (in my mind). I question myself, criticize myself harshly.

I have trouble perceiving and accepting that I am a person: a unique, individual, embodied being in this world that others can perceive, interact with, respond to, and maybe even like. I don’t know what I think I am … maybe that’s the problem.

Maybe I think I’m not.

Sometimes reality is so painful that I don’t want to be real. I’d rather write stories about one or more fictional characters, or play out a story someone else has written. I can’t identify with or even see (accurately) the person everyone else around me is interacting with, and through which I’m trying to have some connection with the outside world …

Speaking of stories, there is hope for Elaine. As I said, I was planning to “trigger age transition” to make her die of old age early, too. But then, something remarkable happened:

I had her bring her husband’s remains to the graveyard, where she found a nice open area for him. After she had mourned him, she got a new Wish: to learn the Writing skill.

She could write about her experiences and emotions and possibly influence other sims. There was still room for her to learn new things and to grow; she had not stagnated.

Elaine begins writing her first book, a reflection on her recent experiences titled: "To Lose the One You Love."

Elaine begins work on her first book – a reflection on her recent experiences titled: “To Lose the One You Love.”

She can leave her own unique legacy through her words.

Semi-Collaborative “Ticket to Ride”: An Unexpected Consequence

“Ticket to Ride” is a very fun, challenging, competitive board game by Days of Wonder. Each player has 45 plastic train cars to lay along tracks connecting different cities in a country, such as the United States, or a continent (Europe, Asia, Africa). In order to lay cars on a track, the player must collect and discard the right number of cards that are the same color as the track. The goal is to complete as many routes connecting distant cities (e.g. Los Angeles to New York) and score as many points as possible. If a player is unable to complete a route, ze loses the amount of points it would have been worth.

Fox and I have been playing this game like crazy: first with Banji and her dad; then against each other with our own, newly-purchased set; and this past weekend with Fox’s immediate family. We’ve had a lot of fun and gotten quite good at it.

5-player game with Fox (green), his mother (red), his sister (yellow), his dad (black) and myself (blue).

5-player game with Fox (green), his mother (red), his sister (yellow), his dad (black) and myself (blue).

Tonight, we decided to take on a new challenge: The two of us played a 3-player game. We each played for ourselves – Fox as black and myself as red – and we collaborated on the moves for a third, disembodied player who was Green. We looked at Green’s cards together, discussed what the best course of action would be, and cooperated to complete Green’s turn.

At the beginning of the game, I selected 3 routes that seemed to connect in a challenging and slightly crazy, but certainly doable way: San Francisco – El Paso – Santa Fe – Duluth – Winnepeg – Atlanta. After I had done that, Fox and I looked at routes for Green, one of which included a stop in Santa Fe. I was trying to keep my routes secret, so I agreed to attempt all 5 of Green’s routes (including the one through Santa Fe). Unfortunately, the most sensible track for Green to use was the same one I needed to connect Santa Fe to Duluth. I decided to take the more circuitous route through Phoenix in an attempt to use longer tracks (worth more points) and maintain one continuous line (also worth more points: 10 to the player with the longest one).

I (red) gave up the track that would have made the most sense to take, in an attempt to create the best route for Green and avoid disclosing my plans.

I (red) gave up the track that would have made the most sense to take, in an attempt to create the best route for Green and avoid disclosing my plans.

Now that I’m removed from the situation, I can see alternatives to my course of action. I could have used 4 less cars – cars I desperately needed, but did not have, at the end of the game – by connecting El Paso to Oklahoma City along the yellow track, then continuing Oklahoma City – Kansas City – Omaha. Or, I could have taken the track connecting Santa Fe directly to Denver and allowed Green to take the more circuitous route, saving myself 6 cars! Green had little to no chance of having the longest continuous line, so branching off to Santa Fe wouldn’t have hurt it, and it certainly had the 2 extra cars it would have needed to take the red track from Denver to Oklahoma City.

Previous image altered to show what I wish I had done: red takes a more direct route, while green only has to go a little bit out of its way.

Previous image altered to show what I wish I had done: red takes a more direct route, while green only has to go a little bit out of its way.

This was the only place I really compromised during the game, but it cost me dearly. I had bad luck when I tried to pick up more routes later in the game. Usually I can get at least one additional route I’ve already completed or can complete very easily, but this time all my options were unattainable. I got stuck with 2 routes that I could not complete because I was one car short for each of them!

Fox had also made compromises for the benefit of Green throughout the game. As a result, he almost got stuck with a route he couldn’t complete because he was also one car short. We agreed to both add one of the extra cars to our individual pools (my red one and his black). This enabled him to complete all of his routes and me to complete all but one of mine, only losing 7 points instead of 15 (23 if you count the 8 points I gained from the extra route I completed).

3-player game between Fox and Ziya: end game. Green (played collaboratively) blew us both out of the water with 10 routes completed and 172 points. Fox (black) completed 7 routes and scored 136 points. I only completed 4 routes and scored 122 points.

3-player game between Fox and Ziya: end game. Green (played collaboratively) blew us both out of the water with 10 routes completed and 172 points. Fox (black) completed 7 routes and scored 136 points. I (red) completed 4 out of 5 routes, had the longest continuous line, and scored 122 points.

So what was the unexpected consequence? Well, for one thing, each of us was hurt in our individual game by the compromises we made for the benefit of the third player, whom we played collaboratively. Looking at the situation metaphorically, I wonder what compromises we make in our relationship that hurt us as individuals – particularly as a result of withholding information or otherwise not talking a situation through. I also find it interesting that I was the one hurt more by the sacrifices I voluntarily made. That fits in with a pattern I’ve already noticed in my life and am working to remedy.

Another significant consequence is that we were both very mad at Green for winning, especially by such a huge margin! In other words, we were angry with ourselves for playing so well as a team that we did not stand a chance at winning as individuals. We each still wanted to win as an individual; we related to our collaboration as a “third player” that was separate from ourselves and our relationship. We ended up feeling like we both had lost (to ourselves!) rather than celebrating our collective achievement.

Neither of us was happy with the outcome of the game. We felt disappointed and turned to sharing chocolate for mutual comfort. Part of playing games is learning not to allow the outcomes to affect one’s relationship with others; we both have enough experience with this not to hold a grudge after a game has ended. But I still want to express my happiness that, as annoyed as we both were with the result of our attempt at partial collaboration within a competitive game, we did not take our anger out on each other. We remained united, expressing positive regard toward one another, sharing each other’s victories and defeats – even as we competed against each other (and against our collaborative effort!) for individual success.

There’s still a place for playing this game competitively, as it was intended. But if we want to “break the mold” again, we’ll play a fully collaborative game. I imagine that will feel completely different from the one we played tonight. Without striving to win as individuals, we’ll be better able to appreciate the awesome things we can achieve when we work together!