This weekend I was reacquainted with an old flame of mine. Although it has been awhile since we’ve been thrown together, it took mere minutes for me to remember why I fell in love in the first place. I was a little surprised by how quickly all of my feelings returned, especially since in the past it’s been easy for me to fall in and out of love. Once one passes out of my life, I’m rarely able to find space in my heart to revisit it. This time, though, I think it may be permanent.
I fell in love for the first time at a rather tender age. I was only seven. My step-father brought home this strange box and hooked it up to our TV. Atari. An odd name to say the least. At first I held my nose up because he interrupted my cartoons to plug it in. After five minutes of watching that little frog trying to cross the road, I was hooked. Yes, that’s right, my first love was Frogger.
In those days I was young and inexperienced. Looking back, I realize these first games: Frogger, Freeway, Break Out and Pit Fall were not true romances, but rather school yard crushes formed not based on actual connections, but rather on the newness of the sensation. I quickly lost interest in Frogger when I found Freeway, it’s lesser known, but infinitely more attractive younger brother which featured not a frog crossing a swamp, but a chicken actually trying to cross the road. The joke of it was so tempting that I forgot all about the poor frog, leaving him to be eaten by the alligator once again.
Two years later, I barely glanced at the Atari. We now had something even better, a Commodore 64 C. Gone were my days waiting for my parents to be done watching the news in order to get my fix. Instead, I could go into the den, grab a joystick and have hours of interrupted time with just me and my new love. As most young girls do, I spent my time flirting with several games. I didn’t understand real love yet. I only knew a world was opening up to me. I wasn’t ready to commit myself to any one game yet, so I tried them all. I found brief happiness with Spy Hunter and Burger Time. On a family vacation to Las Vegas, I experienced my first fling. While my folks were hitting the casinos, my little sister and I were left to play in the small arcade in the lobby. I wandered in to find a Tapper machine. Thanks to a bucket of quarters given in return for a promise to watch my sister, I got to spend most of the vacation with my new love. I’m not sure what my sister did on that floor while I caressed that deliciously phallic fake beer tap, and to this day I still don’t care. She played on the floor and I got to put my initials into the screen in the number 2 position. I was jealous I wasn’t number 1, but I kept telling myself I needed to play more to truly win Tapper’s affections. When we returned home, I begged my parents for Tapper so I could learn all it’s ins and outs. They obliged and before too long, I had mastered all of it’s secrets. That’s when I got bored and started looking for something else to fill the void.
Like all kids growing up in the late 80’s and early 90’s, that void was filled by Super Mario Brothers. I admit I was a bit of a late bloomer. I first noticed Mario in 5th grade, but I didn’t have the right parts yet, so I couldn’t learn to play. I had to wait until well after most of my friends had moved on to bigger and better things (like real boys) to fulfill my Mario fantasies. I didn’t get a Super Nintendo until I was in high school. An act of rebellion, moving in with my father, prompted the purchase. He needed something to keep me occupied while he was working late. My Super Nintendo offered me something no other gaming system had given me: privacy. Instead of courting my loves openly for all the family to see, I could steal away into my very own bedroom and devout as many hours as I wanted each and every night to conquering my video world. I was alone with my games and I liked it. It didn’t matter that it was two a.m., I turned my Nintendo on and took Mario on yet another adventure. Once I’d beaten the game, something most of my friends had already done a thousand times, I started trying all sorts of new things. First I tried to win without warping. Then I tried to win using the fewest lives. Then by getting the most points. This relationship lasted a long time. It seemed there were always new things to try to reach that gratifying end.
Like all the others before though, once I’d learned all of it’s intricacies, I got bored. I needed a challenge. I tried Tetris, but it only left me feeling cold. That damned music invaded my dreams and I found myself trying to stack my books in my locker in the most space efficient way. The game was turning me into someone I didn’t like, so I gave it up cold turkey and never looked back.
In college I had so many other things going on that I didn’t have time to seriously commit to any game, not like I had Mario. Instead, I thought it was best to play the field. After all, there were so many horizons opening up before me. I didn’t want to confine myself to one game. My affairs during these years were brief and I’ll admit, they left me feeling unsatisfied. Don’t get me wrong, they were fun while they lasted, but I always felt empty after a night of playing Zombies Ate My Neighbors. I had brief affair with Super Mario Kart, but unfortunately I could only play it when I went to visit my parents because I only had a Super Nintendo. I couldn’t afford the long distance relationship, so I had to say goodbye to it before it really had the chance to develop into something more serious.
It wasn’t until well after I left college that I found the game that would become my true love. The funny thing of it was that I didn’t go looking for love. I’d given up on gaming systems and had gone back to the simple joys of PC gaming. I was already in a pretty serious relationship with Rollercoaster Tycoon at the time. My sister was visiting me from out of state and I wanted to introduce her to my new game. I was particularly excited because there was a new expansion set coming out. I was so enamored with the original game and the first expansion set got me even more excited, so I had high hopes for the third one. I knew my sister would fall in love with it too. Unfortunately when we arrived at the store I realized I’d gotten my dates wrong. The new set didn’t come out until well after my sister would be back at home. While glancing the game isle at Wal-Mart, I saw it for the first time. I’ll admit Wal-Mart is not the place I expected to find lasting love. Heck, I didn’t even seriously consider buying it. I picked up the box on a whim and looked it up and down. It was only mildly interesting to me. My sister was way more hot to try it. Since it was the first time she’d ever visited and I really wanted her to have fun, I decided to take it home and give it a spin. If nothing else I figured I could send her home with it.
The first few minutes had me mesmerized. I knew after creating my very first Sim that I’d never be able to go back to Roller Coaster Tycoon. Sure, I spent a little more time with it, but it was obvious the passion was gone. After a few more weeks, I’d officially severed my ties and was utterly devoted to the Sims. For the past seven years, I have never strayed, even when my husband tried to tempt me away with a Buffy the Vampire Slayer game for PS2. I think I played it once to appease him, but I knew where my heart belonged. Sure, I’d watch him play Buffy, especially when he unlocked all it’s secrets and I got to see the real Spike’s recording sessions, but it was pure voyeurism. Nothing real there. For me, it was the Sims and nothing else.
I adored the Sims. I bought every expansion set. Once when the Sims Hot Date expansion was released, I actually delayed play rehearsal for thirty minutes just so I could go and buy it when one of my students told me it was out. I knew I wouldn’t be able to play it until after rehearsal and a 45 minute drive home, but just having it was enough. I admit I spent a good portion of the rehearsal reading the game play book rather than watching their actual scenes. The anticipation was excruciating and the actual game play, awesome.
When my son was born eight months ago, I had to say goodbye. Actually, I had to say goodbye about a month before he was born. Sitting for long periods of time was uncomfortable. Not to mention I had a pile of grading and lesson plans to get done in order for a sub to take over my classroom. As much as it broke my heart, I had to let go. For the past eight months I’ve thought about my Sims a lot, but never actually had the time to go back to them, apologize for my absence and try to start it over. Every other time I’ve tried to restart a love affair, it has ended badly. I’ve realized the spark is gone and given up after a few minutes.
This time though, it was different. I started playing on Wednesday night and have played every day since. Every time my son goes down for a nap, I jump on the computer. Last night I played from the moment his bath was finished (his dad was on bedtime watch) until after midnight. That might not seem like much to some of you, but it was four hours of play time. For a girl who is usually in bed by ten, even on the weekends, it was a real commitment.
Even though I’ve had to restart everything since my saved games were somehow lost in the last eight months, I didn’t care. It was so much fun to get back into a neighborhood, create a new Sim family and start studying to clean, forcing my Sims to make out and changing virtual diapers. It doesn’t matter that I do all of these things in real life (well, I don’t force other people to make out, but I do smooch on my hubby). Somehow in the Sim world, even changing diapers and getting up at 4 am to get the screaming baby out of bed is fun.
Now that the game is back in my life, I’m sure I’ll talk more about it. For now, I am wasting precious seconds I could be teaching a virtual child to walk or making sure I bring home enough Simoleons to buy that telescope my Sims have been whining about.