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Location: California

I love paper. Books printed on acid-free paper and bound in cloth turn me on. I'm crazy about bookmarks, and I buy too many stickers. I could spend hours in the build-your-own-greeting card section of my neighborhood craft store. My favorite thing to eat is bread, and my second favorite is fruit. (Mm, pineapple.) I read too much and too fast, and I watch too many food shows (two ways of looking at gluttony). Gloomy, rainy weather calms me and so I can't wait to move out of California, which will happen, sadly, too many years from now to count. I'm vegan, though I haven't managed to eliminate honey from my diet yet. I practice yoga; it's the only way I can keep fit. I have a better life than I ever imagined I would (or deserve to) have, but I do my best to enjoy it rather than feel guilty about it. That's my daily struggle -- and also to be thoughtful and observant and honest with myself.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Gods and Sims

I hadn't meant it to happen that way. Ezra and Webb were raising a daughter together -- Webb stayed at home with the little girl and cooked delicious dinners in his pink kitchen; Ezra focused on his career. I wanted the two of them to fall in love and get married; I wanted them to adopt another baby. But Webb fell in love with Rhona the overachiever from across the street and asked her to move in. I don't like Rhona very much; she's partial to red tailor suits and aspires to marry rich. I don't like that Webb has fallen for her. But that's what happens when you let your Sims have free will: they ruin your plans. They also make the game tons of fun to play. Or I should say, to watch -- I prefer to let my Sims do their own thing, see what they come up with. I bought The Sims 2 a few weeks ago and have not tired of watching the characters I made up manage and mess up their lives. Rhona the overachiever lost her daughter to social services; my gay couple disbanded; Max the computer game addict loves the green diamond-patterned wallpaper I put in his hexagonal room and has made a bunch of friends. Go figure.

You wouldn't think computer games could start philosophical discussions. But I ended up having a long conversation with Husband about freewill and determinism, and about the kind of God that can exist within the parameters of this very old dilemma. H.'s position is that you still have free will even if God (if God exists) knows what you are going to do; the only thing that matters, and what gives you your freedom, is that you don't know what you're going to do. I struggled to articulate my position and failed; I realized, with dismay but also with relief, that I don't have a position.

The idea of a God (major or minor, well-intentioned or malicious) interested in my life, in the ephemeral thread woven by my specific moral decisions, is becoming more and more implausible to me. Why should this God care to map out a life for me before I've lived it, thus predetermining all my decisions? Why should I care one way or the other -- if this same God were granting me free will and watching me to find out what I'm going to do with it, the way I watch the Sims?

I love playing the Sims because they don't know that I'm there. My existence has no relevance to them. Once in a while when their social or hygiene needs get really low they turn to face my computer screen and raise their fists at me to do something about their predicament. Often I give in and intervene; I like an orderly and happy universe. I have only a few Sims to watch over, a little over a handful, and it gives me pleasure to see their lives humming along nicely. But in some ways my pleasure and my good intentions are detrimental to them, oversimplify their lives, shift the focus from what really matters to them to what matters to me. For me, this is a good reason not to trouble myself with the question of God's existence, or whether I have free will or not. I want my life to stay complicated, even though sometimes that is too much to bear. I want to be in charge of the creative act of giving meaning to my life, though this is an excrutiating process and one that often fails.

This is the kind of stuff that playing The Sims makes me think -- sometimes obsess -- about. And it's the reason why I cannot scoff as I used to at people who play videogames. These games don't serve up only junk food for thought. I know that it's not entirely logical to extrapolate what God is like from what I'm like when I play The Sims. The Sims, after all, is just a game. But I think that a God whose qualities cannot be connected in any way to what it means to be human does not deserve to be a God for/of/to human beings. And I also think -- passionately -- that a really good game is never just a game.


Blogger Michelle Fry said...

Wow, I had no idea what the SIMS game was and it sounds really interesting now. I love the paralells you draw between the game and life. I actually could see this as an essay in a gaming magazine or another magazine.

August 12, 2006  

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