So, as a university student that has several anxieties about my future, I am very familiar with a certain phrase that all successful adults in my life have given me: “don’t think, just do.”
Until I figure out how to cease all thought (or I come up with a good enough comeback) I will be busying myself with the world of video games, where life has easy-to-understand rules. Video games are what we turn to when those looming deadlines start to creep up on us, and they are infamous time wasters, second only to scrolling through YouTube shorts.
Personally, I believe the best time wasters are life simulators, which are games designed to simulate different lifestyles, whether it looks like the lives we lead or the life we want to achieve. In these games, problems magically disappear or become instantaneously solvable.
Obviously, video games can’t physically solve problems in the real world, so my question is; why do we prefer playing life simulations over life?
Life Isn’t About Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows...But My Virtual World Is
Simply put, life simulators are just preferable to dealing with society’s expectations of us. Most students can relate to the fact that we can be awarded for our academic achievements while also being berated for lacking the actual skills required for life. I still play Cooking Mama games because I can boast about scoring that perfect 100, while my actual cooking would cause Mama to have a mental breakdown. Life simulations offer us a different world where we can achieve whatever we want and even tailor it to our liking. Personally, I wish I was in Animal Crossing: New Horizons, just so that I can have a mermaid-themed bedroom. Really, the only thing stopping me is the fact that I do not earn enough to have lavish custom-made furniture and that it would be incredibly impractical for me to deforest my neighbourhood and scavenge for otters at Bondi.
Life simulations can also offer frighteningly accurate worlds almost identical to real life. Sims 4 recreates an overview of the human life cycle, with all the problems and excitements that we can find in key events of our lives. So, these games don't always depict a utopia, but with how easy it is to make money, find love, and excel in jobs and hobbies, it’s understandable why people are naturally more willing to devote hours to these virtual worlds. Within an hour of real-time, my sim can casually earn around $2,000/day in royalties after writing four or five children’s books, while I struggle to write out an essay paragraph in that same hour. Sim-1, Player-0.
This then brings me to my next realisation. There are no consequences on us, instead, they are shifted onto our avatars or characters. In these worlds, we are God...though this tends to bring out our most morbid curiosities…Sims 4 content creators are a great example of this.
The lack of consequences also explains the popularity of franchises like Grand Theft Auto, because people can be a menace to society without any of the consequences of crime affecting them in real life. This is only possible because the characters are pre-programmed with specific skills I wouldn’t dare try in real life, like kicking people out of their cars, stealing said car, and then smashing it immediately into the nearest pole. And no, I have not played any game from this franchise, but I have seen enough clips on YouTube to get the idea. We, as the players, need to know how to press the right buttons and we can achieve whatever comes to mind. Even if we press the wrong buttons and cause chaos, that chaos is always fixable.
Playing life simulators only requires us to have the desire to create or destroy, to satisfy our hidden god complexes. Unsurprisingly, we would prefer the virtual world then. Problems are solvable, we can make or break those problems as we so desire. This then brings us back to real-life problems and why we struggle to solve them in the first place.
Like most things, it takes time to do the work ourselves. We also feel down for not always having the motivation and drive to achieve our goals. After a nice gaming session, there is momentary relief from life’s stresses and problems tend to be less burdening than before.
Naturally, my uni assignments will always torment me, no matter how many times I pray they miraculously finish themselves, but playing The Sims 4 often reminds me of the goals I want to achieve and why I am studying in the first place. Though, this thought would be more comforting if my renewed view on life came from characters who wouldn’t complain about being surrounded by their own mess.
At the end of the day, it’s generally a good idea not to spend too much time immersed in any video game, as you can only avoid your problems for so long, and while life simulations are fun, most will agree that life offers us a lot more adventures than any video game can possibly provide.
Prudence Dodds is a third-year Arts student, majoring in Creative Writing. Her usual day will consist of playing video games, staring off into space and watching anime while eating snacks or fire noodle ramyun.