Playing in the game of life

By Chelsea Fiddyment

Aside from writing a column once a week and finishing course work, I somehow find time to solve murder cases, run an imported fruit-and-fossil black market, manage my many mayoral duties, and make sure the kids catch the school bus on time. As anyone could see from this abbreviated list of my accomplishments, I enjoy spending my free time playing video games like Phoenix Wright, Animal Crossing, Sim City, and The Sims (among others).

I’m not the only one to whom these games have appealed in recent years, and certainly many other titles exist that mimic reality as a central objective: Cooking Mama, Trauma Center, Guitar Hero and Wii Sports, to name a few, have been quite commercially and critically successful.

Indeed, the sheer number of reality-based games released signifies gamers’ increasing obsession with the imitation of life.

A pertinent question arises from such an infatuation, however. Do we sacrifice opportunities to actually accomplish these kinds of activities by spending our time doing them virtually? Or does the potential for personal benefit exist in realistic video games?

Take, for example, Animal Crossing. Essentially, players create characters who move into a town filled with animal neighbors, and the game focuses on the player character’s interactions with the residents of the village. As in reality, neighbors can move away to different villages, players can send and receive letters from them, and the player can even request to run errands for the various inhabitants of the town.

For younger audiences, though, it appears that a fanciful romp through a land of talking animals could (that is, with necessary adult discussion and reinforcement) present positive ideas about community involvement, environmental awareness and even financial responsibility. Upon the player’s arrival in the village, a local store owner supplies the new resident with a house, which the player cannot immediately afford. Instead, the player takes out a loan with the store owner and spends the first portion of the game working a part-time job in the store to help pay off the loan. Eventually, once all the owner’s errands have been completed, the player is discharged from the job.

However, he or she is still expected to fully pay off the remaining balance. Money can then be obtained by doing odd jobs around the town. As this then becomes a central objective for the game, a young player may begin to develop some sense of financial obligation or responsibility.

And let’s not forget the many other “side-quests” Animal Crossing has to offer: donating to your local museum, dropping any garbage at the local dump instead of littering, volunteering to assist the mayor … parents of gamers should be chomping at the bit to put this disc in their children’s hands! This game contains all the rules of good character that your elementary school tried to teach you, plus cute critters with creepy-sounding game voices! You couldn’t ask for anything more!

On the other hand, what about games like The Sims? The game focuses entirely on the menial, everyday tasks of a created person or family unit. This literally means eating, sleeping and using the bathroom, as well as finding a job, improving job-related skills, getting promoted, making friends and forming romantic relationships.

In the time it takes me to form enough friendships and increase my Sim’s skills in order to obtain a job promotion, I could be out looking for a job myself.

If I’m concerned my Sim overeats or doesn’t exercise enough while I sit my lazy butt on the couch and eat peanut butter M&Ms; for hours on end, maybe I need to prioritize a little better.

And what about all of these expansion discs? Sims with pets?

I don’t think my Fido will be any less hungry if I attempt to console him with the observation that I was considerate enough to treat his pixilated counterpart to some Ol’ Roy last night.

No matter how I characterize them, any of these virtual-life games may still seem to be an enormous waste of time and energy.

If the game itself focuses on living, then what on earth is the point in playing it when we have our own lives to lead?

What difference does it make if I am planting flowers to beautify my quaint, animal-populated village or voyeuristically watching my Sim’s blurry censor bar while they bathe?

After all, reality television does nothing to better me as a person.

Maybe reality-based video games, in general, are the same. Or maybe someday, all these years of game-playing will pay off and render me, upon graduation, a financially responsible, environmentally conscious, selfless, hard-working, and well-adjusted individual.

Wouldn’t Jack Thompson be tickled pink?

Chelsea is a junior in English and music and will take down anyone at Katamari Damacy.