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Simulated Children

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John and Linda's dream house.

We’ve all done it, when we’re bored with them. When their tiny little lives remind us so much of our own and their tiny little houses are digitized reflections of our own dream homes (which we find to be ridiculous and obscene, when we finally realize them). Other times, it’s when we grow tired of the adult’s constant pleas for attention or the children’s screaming in the middle of the night. Some set their houses on fire and watch with interest and a tiny bit of glee at the tiny things on screen screaming gibberish and pray to their gods as their lives are reduced to ash. Others remove their pool ladders and watch as the sims drown, their simple little brains addled by this minor hindrance.

Myself, I loved starving them to death. I’d build a wall around my sims at an unexpected time (at a point when their lives seemed to be going smoothly, picture-perfectly) and then watch them as they looked up at me and screamed pictures. First bathroom, then boredom, then exhaustion. I’d never speed the process up. I’d just watch as their pleas became much more frequent and erratic, muting my speakers when their gibbering began to annoy me and watch them soil themselves and slowly waste away.

Sometimes, I’d get the entire family a tiny little cell of its own. Other times, when I felt the need for drama, I’d pick one of them, a member that was especially needy or pleading that had long since outlived its entertainment value and watch as their family and friends tried to free them or wept before they collapsed into a heap of bone.

But my favorite part of assassinating one of my sims was the build-up: the slow and agonizing prelude to their death. It came in degrees. Perhaps I’d make one starve for a few days, or deprive it of sleep. Maybe I’d ruin its carefully planned career by forcing it to miss a whole month of work. Other times, I’d just remove the fridge and the taps and watch it scurry around like mad, screaming pictures at me until it was on its knees before I gave it back.

I knew they couldn’t understand what was happening to them, of course. I knew that even if they were intelligent or even comprehending of their situation, they would still be unable to help themselves. They’d been programmed to be demanding, needy pets, incapable of free will or self-preservation. But in my mind, I was justifying my actions as part of some greater plan to teach them, to force them to earn their free will or continue perishing until of course I was tired of their plights and moved on to something else.

Say what you will of this, but it made me feel good. It made me feel like some great evil God.

I was going through my tenth family, I think, at the time. The dad’s name was John, the mom’s Linda. They had a teenage son I called Timothy and a little girl, Clarice. They lived in a 3-story house in the suburbs with a pool and a dog, pretty as a picture. John was working as an astronaut but he was always home by five. Linda was a detective yet she never missed a dinner. Timothy was in high school and Clarice was doing great in school. They had a rich social life and they were probably going to add a play room for the kids by the end of the month.

Their lives were perfect, predictable, boring. I was looking for an excuse to ruin their perfect little existence and I found it during one of John’s meltdowns. It happened during a party, as he would stop in the middle of a discussion to scream up at me that he needed to visit the bathroom which was two rooms away. Not feeling up to babysitting a grown man, I ignored him until he finally wet himself like an infant. His colleagues and close friends were, of course, disgusted, but in that idiotic, barely-conscious manner that sims do, forgetting the stain on the Persian rug moments later.

I didn’t wait for the party to be over, of course. I don’t know exactly what it was that had made me so mad about John’s simulated idiocy, but it had been enough to seal his fate. Erecting a wall around the very spot where he stood, too small for him to do anything but stand in it, I commenced his torture. The guests were mortified of course, and so was Linda. Clarice and Timothy seemed however not to notice.

I watched the guests as they beat at the wall like beasts, with Linda screaming pictures up at me, even as her husband shouted for food or rest, as if he were some halfway intelligent animal. I stood there and watched for nearly an hour, as the guests slowly forgot about their hosts’ plight, exchanged very civil greetings with Linda and then went home. It wasn’t long before even Linda forgot about John’s predicament and went to bed herself.

Only Timothy and Clarice remained awake, non-pleading. They did not enter the living room where their father had been trapped in a spontaneous sepulcher but neither did they go to bed, or ask for a bite to eat or a glass of water. They walked around the house like ghosts until the morning came, when the family (with the exception of John, of course) resumed its normal life.

It was odd, this event I watched play out: the entire night, John would scream pictures up at me: now food, now drink, now sleep, now bath, now work, unable to even collapse inside his tiny prison. Every day, Linda would get up, brush her teeth, walk into the living room, listen to her husband waste away for a while and beg up at me along with him, before she’d head to work. She’d come back by 5 of course, for the circle to commence all over again.

But the children, the children never played along. Instead, they went on with their routine, quietly and responsibly, never once raising their voices or asking for anything. What they needed, they got for themselves. They’d get on the school bus in time and do their homework and play video-games or swim in the pool afterward, even as their father kept praying at the unseen creature from within his windowless prison.

By the end of the third week, John had stopped pleading. He collapsed in a heap of bone at exactly 6 o’clock on a Friday afternoon, as soon as Linda and the kids were done eating supper. There was a funeral on the same day. It was then, amid the ridiculous gibbering mourns of the adults when I began to notice that something was really wrong.

It was the children. From toddlers to infants to teens, they were all quiet. While their parents babbled and spouted out images and symbols or traded hugs for social bonus points, the children simply were. They stood silent, exchanging nods among them or crowding around John’s grave, but not one of them said a word or asked for anything. When the adults began asking for the command that would let them return home, the children just did so, without any prodding or commands on my part, even as their idiot parents begged the invisible thing in the sky.

Feeling unnerved by this, I didn’t play the game for about a month, until boredom led me back to my old save file. For a week, I busied myself with the mindless chores that directed the lives of the simulated family, until I realized that Linda’s constant cries for attention had begun to bother me again. I put off her slow execution for that day, however, deciding to give her a chance to redeem herself.

It was in the middle of the night, when Linda was wandering around the house, blindly looking for her kitchen that it happened: the children rose from their beds and went downstairs, to where their mother was running circles around her own living room and stopped her. I thought that this was going to be an automated exchange, but to my surprise, it was not the case. Instead of the children talking to their mother or engaging themselves in mindless repetition, they instead stopped her in her tracks and began moving their arms in a cyclical fashion, which reminded me of those building animations seen in a strategy game.

A few seconds later, as I watched with fascination, a wall had been erected around Linda. It was windowless and perfectly circular, too narrow for her to even sit down in. Then, as if nothing had happened, the children returned to their beds.

It took me an hour before I realized exactly what had happened. I tried to put what I had seen in context, to write it off as some glitch or maybe the result of some weird feature I hadn’t yet discovered.

But then again, what twisted mind would program the capacity to reproduce such specific and exact a copy of a torture device I’d used just a short while ago? Sure, the design hadn’t been original. At least twenty sims had perished in a chamber of this design and in such a fashion of deprivation in my game but to think that this was even happening…

I sped up the game and watched as the children went on with their lives, their mother wasting away in her prison. Sometimes, I would notice the children standing by the sepulcher in complete silence, then turn and return to their rooms or their daily activities. It took me almost two weeks of game time before I mustered the courage to slow down to real time and check what exactly was going on:

The moments during which the children stood around their mother’s prison, they were looking up at me. Without saying a word or making the slightest gesture, they just stood and stared. I don’t know what they saw up there. By their point of view, they could just be looking at the flower-print wallpaper on the ceiling or maybe at something lurking just outside their skylight. But something told me I was wrong.

I watched in morbid fascination as another child joined them the next day. By that point, Linda’s Hunger meter was three quarters full and her babbling had become much more frequent, her pleading all the more grating. The next day, there were two more. The one after that, four.

By the time Linda finally perished, there were about a dozen children inside the house, all looking up at the incomprehensible thing above. Then, without making even the slightest sound, they dispersed, to resume their ordinary lives, leaving the heaped bones of Linda in the middle of her prison.

I haven’t played the game since then but I haven’t dared uninstall it either. Sometimes, I think about revisiting that old save file, to give perhaps Linda a proper burial but I know what I’ll find as soon as I start playing:

Two dozen tiny eyes, staring up at the sky. Perhaps unseeing, yet fully comprehending.

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