never enough simoleons

First things first, last week I put out some new tracks on a cassette called Hunger Detail. They're 3 audio collages and they're released on my label Dollhouse Lightning. Check it out:

Last weekend I played a show with the amazing MCTHEPROFESSOR.GOV and I am going to be doing it again on July 25th at The Riverwalk Cafe in Nashua, NH. THEN on July 28th my new duo (with my fiancé!) Smith and Jones will be performing at Coffee and Cotton in Lowell, MA. On August 11th Dérive will be performing at 4th River Fest in Pittsburgh, PA. I have some other shows and projects in the works that I'm really excited about but we'll get there when they're ready. 

The past few weeks I’ve been catching up on Westworld. I had never actually watched it before. For some reason I thought it was a joke? I don’t really know how to explain it. When so much of our exposure to pop culture is via facebook feeds it’s easy to misinterpret something. I guess a year ago everyone on my particular facebook feed was posting a lot of Westworld memes so I thought this must be something to make fun of. Well a few weeks ago my partner suggested we try watching it and I’m really hooked.

If you haven’t seen the show here’s the relatively spoiler free summary: There’s a theme park where rich people can go pretend they’re in the Wild West and the park is staffed by incredibly life like androids. So all these rich people can go kill and fuck these androids and never feel bad about it. Well these androids start to figure out what’s going on and they’re not happy about it. It’s also produced by J.J. Abrams (Lost) so you can be sure that a lot of confusing plotlines get thrown into the mix and half of every episode is just you saying, “I have no idea who this is and why they’re trying to do anything but I can’t look away.”

Anyway, there’s a lot of obvious philosophical discussions in the show about what makes something real and how we all perceive reality in different ways. Once these androids are sentient who’s to say they’re not real just because they were made in a lab instead of a uterus?

I don’t really want to have one of those philosophical discussions because what I really want to talk about is the Sims. If you’ve never played this game, all you do is lead a simulation of a life. Your character goes to work, watches TV, cooks dinner, and goes to sleep. Your job is to make sure they’re happy and going to the bathroom and whatever. A few weeks ago my partner and I bought a copy of this game. I had played it when I was maybe ten or eleven but not since. The thing about the Sims that kind of freaks me out is that it tends to disprove our assumptions about ourselves. In West World we watch these tourists make a game out of raping and murdering these androids. Most rational viewers are probably saying in time with the show, “I would never do something like that.” Enter The Sims. The first thing most people do when they play this game is look for a way to kill their character. Just to see what will happen. You can sell their refrigerator so they can’t eat or if you want to be particularly sadistic about it you can take away the doors in one of their rooms and trap them in there until (literally) the Grim Reaper comes to reap their soul.  

I’m actually having the opposite experience where I find myself caring almost too deeply about my sims. When my first character died of old age I felt genuinely sad for him and watching his daughter mourn affected me in a way I didn’t anticipate. I felt legitimately excited about watching a character get married (this might have more to do with the fact that I’m planning my own wedding right now) and watching my sims take care of their toddlers actually resulted in me thinking very seriously and tangibly about when I’d like to have kids of my own.

My first thought was, “This game shouldn’t be as fun as it is. I’m just acting out the things I do every day.” But the more I played the more I’ve come to feel that the Sims isn’t necessarily different from a lot of other games. So many video games are based on this idea of slowly building your characters skills so you can advance through the plotline. Some games aren’t even really based on skill building and are just based on mindlessly shooting your way through World War II. In some ways the Sims is more fluid and spontaneous.

My favorite game of all time is Final Fantasy VII. I’ve played through it probably 30-35 times. I can’t get enough of this game. I think everything about it is a perfect construction and a perfect piece of art. The storyline, the gameplay, the music all coalesce into something that legitimately leaves me feeling pretty inspired. But Final Fantasy VII is going to be the same game every time I play it. Cloud will always be a construction of Jenova cells. Aeris will always be murdered in the City of the Ancients. Sephiroth will always summon Meteor and the final shot of the game will always be Red XIII looking at an overgrown Midgar. (That is until the remake). But the Sims is always going to be different. Every time I play that game things are going to work out in a way that was different than the last time I played. This isn’t really an argument for why the sims is a great game - but I do want to argue about why the Sims is actually an advertisement for privilege based capitalism.

In the game the only way to really “win” (without using cheat codes) is fulfill all of your characters aspirations. Sometimes these are “write a best selling novel” or “raise three children” and other times they’re “own $1000 of electronics.” No matter what the aspiration is, it always boils down to having enough money to keep your Sim happy. The crux of the matter though, is that making money in the sims is a pretty slow process. So what you literally have to do is have your first character work hard and save their money so their kids can have a better life. The kids start with more money than their parents did. If you can get down to a fourth or fifth generation and you’ve had some high paying jobs along the way then you’re talking about starting a child with upwards of $100,000. So if the sims is there to teach us anything, it’s not something vaguely philosophical about the implications of playing a simulated life. It’s there to teach us that the only way to make it in life is to be born with a whole bunch of cash in your pocket.