I have never been a gamer. Back in high school, I would watch my friends play during our Saturday night hangouts but being the one behind the keyboard never was my cup of tea. Being passionate about art, I would occasionally try some incredibly beautiful games like Child of Light but I would easily get bored and go back to my usual drawings and walks. However, when my partner recently started to play the Sims 4, I found myself watching them the whole afternoon. When they got tired of having me by their side “suggesting” (understand: shouting directions at) what actions to make the characters do, they bought me the game so that they could play in peace.
I thought I would have fun for a few hours and then lose my interest as asual. But it’s been a month now and I’m still eager to play whenever I have the time. I found it to be a very useful life lesson and although it’s still fresh, I think my life truly changed for the better. So, how come a life simulation video game had such an impact on me?
I’m so much better at taking care of myself now that I picture myself as a Sim.
Remembering to fulfill your basic needs
If you’re not familiar of the game, in the Sims you’re supposed to manage characters throughout their day and make them either achieve their dreams … or make them miserable (or make them have an average life — who does that?). They have basic needs to be satisfied — hunger, sleep, hygiene, etc, which are pictured as gauges at the right bottom of the screen. If you don’t make them eat, sleep or take showers often enough, they’ll be miserable and things may even go terribly bad eventually.
As an autistic person, considering my basic needs as gauges filled to a certain level was a life changer. There are certain sensations that I don’t have (like hunger), and showering really is a daily struggle to me. After playing the Sims I realized that even if I can’t feel when some of my needs haven’t been satisfied in a while, I can estimate when I should do it next based on the last time I did it. By mentally picturing my basic needs as gauges, I’m more aware of them and therefore more likely to satisfy them on time.
Socializing is vital
Socialization is considered a basic need in the game. Your Sim will end up sad/tense/angry if you don’t regularly make them chat or hang out with people. I’m not good at texting/calling/inviting people over, and I would end up filling lonely and sad because I last met with my friends three weeks ago. Picturing my social life as a vital need gave me the strength to go out and meet with my friends more often. And I indeed feel better since I do.
Career isn’t only about your job
I come from a country where one of the first questions you’re asked when meeting someone is “what do you do for a living”, like if your job would be the main (if not only) thing that describes the person you are.
Every Sim has a major aspiration in life that would make you win loads of credits if you make them achieve their dreams. They can either be about professional growth — like becoming a great athlete or a talented physician, but they can also be to be a great parent or to master more than three skills. I come from a country where one of the first questions used for small talk is “what do you do for a living”, like if your job is the main (if not only) thing that describes the person you are. This doesn’t take into account the fact that you may doing a job you hate because it’s the only one you found when you had to put food on the table, or maybe you have an invisible disability that prevents you from working. Would that mean you’re worthless because you’re unemployed or have a shitty job? I don’t think so. Which is why it was great to see a game where your personal growth isn’t only about your job career.
Relationships have highs and lows
In the game, relationships between the characters is measured with gauges of good/bad interactions. It may happen that your Sim tells a bad joke and it worsens the relationship with a few bad points added. Or else maybe one Sim left their plate on the counter and another one throws a tamper tantrum for not cleaning after them. Luckily, you may play a couple of positive interactions that would strenghten the bond between the Sims and fill the gap. This was a major lesson to me: a single bad interaction with someone doesn’t mean the relationship is over. My mother won’t stop to love me because I forgot to call her on Sunday. I would profusely apologize and feel bad for days in this kind of situations, thinking I’m a terrible person. Now I’m able to simply say “I’m sorry I didn’t call you” and just store it somewhere in my mind to be less likely to forget the next time.
You need to relax even if you love your job
If your Sim has been giving their best at their job for a while, they will end up tense and ask for a day off — even if they’re doing the job of their dreams. Having been homeless for the first two years of my life, I grew up with the idea that working is everything, and so I learned to work until exhaustion. I would leave the house before 7AM, come back at 7:30PM, do the chores with my partner and then collapse on the bed. It was really hard on my relationship with my partner. I since decided to do shorter days at work and plan some time off to unwind and relax alone and with my partner. It was hard not to feel lazy but doing so made me become more efficient at work and improved my relationship too!
Clean environments make you happy
This one was tricky for me. Growing up, the family house was a mess and I learned to clean when I left for college and had a place on my own. My house has been clean since then but I still had a hard time keeping it tidy. Watching my Sims become angry in a dirty and/or messy environment was the red flag I needed to realize that maybe I could feel more relaxed in a tidy, organized space too.
While it has been proven before that video games can change the world for the better, I never expected such an innocent software to help me become better at taking care of myself. I used to think that playing was solely about relaxing but now I realize how leisure time is important for your wellbeing and how it can help you grow.