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.

Gender Bender January 2013: Challenging the Gender Binary

genbenjanDuring the Fall 2012 semester I took two very eye-opening courses: “Introduction to Women’s & Gender Studies” and “Introduction to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, & Queer (LGBTQ) Studies.” Between these two courses, I became much more aware of assumptions that are generally taken for granted in American (and other) culture(s):

  • There are two biological sexes, male (penis) and female (vagina). All humans fit into one of these two categories.
  • Social roles and behaviors, attributes and capabilities, interests, etc. are determined or at least heavily influenced by biological sex. In other words, males naturally adhere to a set of norms considered “masculine” and females to a set of norms considered “feminine.”
  • Masculinity is inherently better than femininity. It is acceptable and even necessary for a woman or girl to exhibit some masculinity, as long as she ultimately remains “in her place” as a proper female (sex object and caregiver). Men and boys are severely limited in the amount of femininity they may exhibit; an effeminate male is the greatest offense against mankind.
  • Males must be sexually attracted to females and vice-verse. It is very important for a man to be successful sexually (as well as in other areas) and for a woman to be in a long-term monogamous relationship with a man. Pursuit of these goals is a key factor in social interactions, especially between the sexes.

These assumptions are central to how people raise their children; they influence parents’ plans and expectations before the mother even becomes pregnant! They shape our interactions in school, the workplace, at home, and in everyday life. They’re in every form of media – from movies and TV, to music, to video games, to social networking that require one to select “male” or “female” on a form in order to register, and beyond.

Advertising. Clothes and hygiene products. Housing in institutionalized settings (e.g. colleges, prisons). Public restrooms. Employment. Healthcare. Laws and social institutions. All aspects of our lives are at least partially governed by assumptions about sex, gender, and sexuality.

On the surface, the gender binary seems to work for most people. They are heterosexual and/or identify as the sex and gender they were assigned at birth. They believe that the assumptions listed above are true, at least to some degree. Most probably don’t even realize they’re being influenced by those assumptions.

But it doesn’t work for everyone.

I’ve always felt like there was something not quite right about the gender binary. I’ve never understood why there is one set of expectations for boys and a different one for girls. I’ve never taken kindly to the idea that I should like certain things because of the gender I was raised, nor that I should not be interested in something because it is intended for the other gender. My interests and activities are representative of both genders. I believe people of all ages can be fully equal friends regardless of gender. I am attracted to both men and women.

For years I have felt my sense of my own gender change throughout a given day, depending on my current situation. Sometimes, such as while writing, I don’t really have a sense of myself as either gender. I tend to feel very feminine when engaged in or talking about more creative pursuits, especially coordinating visual elements. I feel more masculine when engaged in analytical tasks and problem solving, especially if I am directing other people. I think these “feelings” about my gender are a reflection of cultural understandings of masculinity and femininity that I have internalized.

Similarly, when I am alone I usually do not identify with a gender. In social situations I might adopt the gender role and expression most appropriate to fit in, though I find that difficult and uncomfortable when taken to either extreme. Alternatively, I might take on the gender role needed to balance what everyone else is doing: if the people around me are being very feminine I’ll feel and possibly act more masculine, but if they’re being masculine I might feel and act more feminine.

I am uncomfortable being referred to as the gender I was assigned at birth and that people still assign to me based on physical appearance, especially when that influences my behavior and/or how they treat me. It can have a negative effect on our ability to experience a genuine human connection as equals. I am also annoyed with having to disclose my “sex” in order to do register for services online or send emails to representatives in government. Why should I have to disclose information about my anatomy in order to express my opinions or use services on a website? (or do pretty much anything else?)

For the longest time I thought my experience was unique, until I learned the terms “gender queer” and “gender fluid.” The very existence of those terms means that I am not alone!

Writing for Change

I’m still processing what I learned about gender, society, and myself through the courses that I took this past semester. I hope that by focusing on gender during the month of January, I can solidify my understanding of the issues surrounding gender and my own gender identity. This includes how my gendered upbringing affects my ability to cope with difficult situations, express my emotions, and solve interpersonal problems. It also includes working through my emotional responses to cultural messages about the gender binary, now that I am more aware of them and even less willing to accept them.

Reader, I also hope you will contribute your knowledge, ideas, and experience to an informative discussion about gender and associated issues by commenting. All genders, etc. welcome. The more different perspectives can be included, the better understanding can be gained by all.

Come back later for my next post, Challenging Cultural Assumptions About Sex and Gender, in which I’ll share information that refutes some of the assumptions listed near the beginning of this post. I’ll have a few days each week of January that are dedicated to the gender bender theme: Feminine Fridays will start on January 4th, followed by Masculine Mondays on January 7th and Transgender Tuesdays on January 8th. I might post about my experiences living with depression (or whatever else meets my fancy) on other days of the week.

Happy New Year! and happy bending …