Taking Care Of My Sim Self Helped Me Take Better Care Of My Real Self
The green plumbob sparkles as it spins and fades into yellow, then to red. My Sim’s been playing chess for so long that his bladder has reached capacity—no more focus! Must. Go. Now! I sip my real-life peppermint tea and realize that my bladder, too, has reached capacity. I pause the game and stretch my legs.
I rejoined the world of The Sims last year, after being away from the game for more than a decade. When I was sixteen, I’d spend long afternoons buried in building and copy-pasting the “motherlode” cheat to make my Sims fabulously wealthy. (Do you know how much 50,000 Simoleons can get you?) For someone who often felt out of control of her own emotions and self, The Sims gave me a chance to dictate everything, down to the doorknob. I was safe, and everything was predictable. Except for fires. 😳
The first thing I did when I booted up The Sims 4, a major upgrade from my Sims 2 of yesteryear, was create a Sim who more or less…was me. I think most people would inherently do that, unless I’m more self-absorbed than the average person. Her name was Norah Starr, thanks to the random name generator. (Hey, I’m not going to fully name her after myself, am I? …should I have?)
Suddenly, I found my Sim-self immersed in a world I was having trouble creating for myself: in a small, tidy home, writing every spare moment she had, and trying not to burn down the place with poorly-made fish tacos. I kept her active and clean, dyed her hair pink, and only added the basic necessities to the home as I had the budget to. It was simple and calming.
My real world was much more chaotic, with less writing, fewer showers, and more clutter than there was budget to spare. I felt increasingly uncertain about myself; I didn’t feel clarity about who I was or where I was going. My “needs bars,” to put it in a Sims context, were in a perpetual state of depletion and my moodlets were almost always in the red.
But with Norah, I had control. I had a way to visualize the life I’d been pining for, and access to quick answers to the biggest questions I was facing. From rags to riches, things began to change for Norah, for the better. And for me, too.
As my Sims whirred by at triple-speed, I realized that it wasn’t the hours of writing or coding or chess-playing that mattered. It was the minutiae of daily life that supported it all; a morning shower, a reading break, a midnight snack. Without those things, the story couldn’t continue. There was a cap on productivity, because Sims, like humans, have needs that require nurturing. Sims shut down when their needs are not met. We do, too, if we pay close enough attention. (And it’s always a pain to have to mop the floor if you don’t make it to the toilet in time—in The Sims, of course).
As nerdy as it might sound, the structure in The Sims was teaching me to have a checklist to go by when I felt out of sorts. By looking at my real-life needs like they were Sims’ depleting “needs bars,” I could orient myself: Am I having fun? Am I socialized? Have I eaten? Am I bathed? As it turned out, once I took care of those things, I could begin to invest myself in deeper ways, to explore productivity and creativity. I realized that the self-care we so often fail to do in real life is the very thing that prevents Sims from proceeding further in their careers, relationships, and little digital lives overall. I needed to take note.
As Norah’s family grew and I created a web of boundary-less relationships (how can someone be their half-sister’s stepson?), I began to create more boundaries in my own life. I dedicated certain days to catching up with friends and other days to taking care of my creative needs. I plotted out my gaming hours as an offering to my mental health: Here, have this judgment-free time to just enjoy what you enjoy.
Eventually, I stopped buying Norah potions of youth and allowed her to slip into ghosthood. I’ve moved beyond the story of my self-Sim and into the stories of Sims who are not like me. And guess what? I’m caring for them too, building them vibrant and happy lives that they deserve (I’m a benevolent Sims-player, for the most part). I have a whole world of storytelling wrapped up in this save game, and it only adds to the richness of my real world.
Gaming is now fully integrated with my self-care routine, and in 2020, it’s a lifeline. Gaming offers a space for me to do nothing other than enjoy myself and practice creative problem-solving, while much of the world around me spins outside of my control. Plugging in also allows me to restore and re-energize myself for the real-world work that needs to be done.
The Sims is my sandbox: I hit a flow state when I’m balancing the needs of a virtual person with the storyline I’m concurrently writing in my head. It begs me to create something completely from scratch, and then invites me to step back and ask, “wait, why?” After all, my creations are a barometer of how I’m feeling: a luxurious, detailed house means I’m feeling abundant; a sparse drywall-cube of a house means maybe I could use a little sunshine and a cup of coffee.
Nowadays, the Starr grandchildren include Babyoda Starr, Babyuda Starr, and Babyima Starr, among other less creative randomly generated names (two cousins named Atticus—oops). As Norah’s son, Hollywood Starr, drinks his own potion of youth, I think about how I’m aging, too. So much has changed in the 20 years since I started playing the game, and so much will change in the next 20 if I’m gifted them.
But one thing’s for certain: There are no cheats to a happy life. Start where you’re at, do what you can, and take care of yourself as you build your own.
In what other unexpected ways have you been reminded to prioritize your self-care?
Emily Torres is the Managing Editor at The Good Trade. She’s a Los Angeles transplant who was born and raised in Indiana, where she studied Creative Writing and Business at Indiana University. You can usually find her reading or writing, caring for her rabbits, or practicing at the yoga studio. Say hi on Instagram!