The Meaning of the Game

How The Sims made me rethink the Book of Job


Job takes a look in the mirror. He brushes his teeth and slaps his face, trying to wake up for his first day on the job as a maintenance man at the local zoo. Staring back at him is a man with a blonde mullet and a face full of stubble, a beer gut contained only by a stained white tank top and sweatpants.

He lives in a one-bedroom home. His moods determine the wallpaper, decorations and furniture in the house. Something seems to be missing; he can’t get his comfort level back into the green.

He is lonely because he has no friends. He cries upward, out beyond his world, for assistance, for a salvation that never comes. He feels abandoned by his creator, his father, his God.

In the computer game, The Sims, you create a man or a woman, then monitor your creation through various meters that dictate the amount of assistance needed to help the virtual being live a digital life — with dangers and comforts found in reality, including death. I made Job. I helped him through the tough times by forcing him to read books and watch TV. But it wasn’t enough. His happiness plummeted after about two months of living alone. So I created a family and moved them into a home I built next door. Their last name was Beelzebub.

When I ordered Job to start playing chess with Lucifer, his oldest son, he began to find happiness through this new relationship, but his health dropped because he had troubles in the kitchen, always burning his food and starting grease fires. He could use the microwave successfully, but his energy level was not augmented by the microwave meals. He had to learn to prepare something more substantial, so I bought him a cookbook and he finally got the hang of things.

I kept him in shape by adding an indoor gym to the home. I also had him find a job in the newspaper as a zoo maintenance man. He read mechanics and physics books to further his knowledge of the job and improve his income . He got a raise after a few months; I was so proud.

I had the power to help him, but instead, I sat on my couch and shook my head, appalled at my apathy, but sickened by his weakness.

I watched his meters — one for bladder capacity, one for hunger, one for comfort, and so on. I did all the right things to keep these meters in the green, to keep Job happy. I became so involved with Jobs’ life that soon I was seeing those green bars in my own. A full bladder would flash a red bar in front of my eyes. I walked like a robot to the bathroom. When I felt out of place, my comfort bar would flash violently and I would put on music or take a nap to get my levels back in check. But, sadly, harmonizing my life within the guidelines of The Sims could only work up to a point.

Job seemed to have his life together. I didn’t have to direct him to the bathroom any longer; he started to do it on his own, like a toddler who had been potty-trained. His artificial intelligence was at its highest level and he lived without any assistance; soon it became an effortless bore to keep his bars in the green. I began to let Job go. Though I left The Sims on, I ignored Job. Busy with other things, I listened as he screamed when a thief took all of his belongings. When he missed work because his alarm clock had been stolen, and was consequently fired, his crying increased. He ran out of money, and then food. I had the power to help him, but instead, I sat on my couch and shook my head, appalled at my apathy, but sickened by his weakness.

Watching him squirm

I began to take a sadistic pleasure in watching him squirm. I enjoyed the fact that he realized he needed my help. I had the power to change things, but I no longer wanted to change them for the better. Rather, I began to take an active role in making his life miserable. I switched all the wallpaper in the house to children’s patterns, causing his comfort level to drop further. I walled up the doors to the bedroom and bathroom, watching him whimper and hold his crotch in front of what was the bathroom door, now only a repetitive clown pattern — one of the cheapest wallpapers I could find. In desperation, Job found a way to get his bladder back to the green: he wet himself, sending his comfort meter violently into the red. Embarrassed, he hung his head and scuffed his feet, then burst into tears. After a few minutes of crying he made his way to the only refuge that remained, the pool.

While he swam, Lucifer came over and I added some food to the home. But Lucifer’s cooking ability was terrible and flames destroyed the kitchen and consumed him as well. Feeling some sympathy as I watched Lucifer’s tombstone being placed by the home, I decided to allow Job an escape from the purgatory I had constructed for him. I took away the ladder in the pool. He waded in the water as long as he could until finally his energy gave out and another tombstone appeared in front of the now empty and burning home.

Of course, in The Sims a burning home is easily fixed — a new one built in its place with little more than a click of a button. With fresh walls and a new kitchen of updated appliances, a new Job could live to old age blessed with prosperity, companionship and purpose. There was a strange sort of comfort in that; my computer offered me a fantastic landscape in which a second life is only a death away.