Everything you do when you're not on the job or in school is essentially self-medicating.
February 16, 2011 7:11 PM   Subscribe

Emily Short is an interactive fiction writer and general cool customer who has been featured numerous times before on the blue. She also writes the biweekly Homer in Silicon column at GameSetWatch, where she examines games as stories, looking at what they say as much as how they play. She is particularly fascinated by life simulation games and the often bizarre models of human experience that underly them. To date she has delved into the disturbing worlds of Kudos, Life Quest, and My Life Story.
posted by theodolite (15 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 
underly --> underlie
posted by theodolite at 7:17 PM on February 16, 2011


Life sims just depress me, because they make it painfully clear that I'm taking care of bits better than myself.
posted by mccarty.tim at 7:18 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


These are fantastic, thank you!
posted by nasreddin at 7:24 PM on February 16, 2011


Emily Short is completely awesome and I recommend her IF to anyone. She also hit on the reason why playing "Life Quest" was, for me, like some kind of horrible metacommentary on the death of hopes and dreams in suburbia. With furniture. "Screaming existential horror" is the only way to put it.
posted by monster truck weekend at 7:27 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'd love to play a life sim that had an actual character with an actual backstory that was very different from mine. Maybe set on a 1920s farm or in Japan or on a boat or written from a woman's point of view. Some kind of RPG with points and goals to check off sounds dreadfully like The Sims.
posted by miyabo at 7:54 PM on February 16, 2011


There was an early Sierra DOS game, Keeping Up With Jones, that hit on this from a slightly different angle. You were 'racing' the other players to reach your goals, but you set your own goals at the beginning of the game, allocating points between happiness, career success, education, and wealth. (Money was probably, overall, the hardest of the four goals.)

Each 'week' you received a number of time periods, during which you could work, study, rest, eat, buy things, look for new work, or go the combination bank/stockbroker. Typically, the things you bought would either streamline the rest of the game somewhat, or else increase happiness generated by resting at home. Much of the game was learning how to navigate through the career paths, trying to maximize your earnings. The more money you made, the less you needed to work to pay rent and buy food, leaving more time free for other things. But if you slacked off TOO much, your employer would get angry, and potentially fire you.

It had a nice balance to it... letting you set your own goals meant that there were multiple approaches to winning, and each player's "life" could go very differently from the other players'. I suspect Emily would probably enjoy it... I sure didn't see any nihilism to it. Work was a means to an end, unless you decided ahead of time that work WAS an end. Same with wealth. Your primary decision was "how do I use my time", rather than "how do I repair myself after making progress toward my goals", as in so many modern life sims.
posted by Malor at 8:15 PM on February 16, 2011


I'd love to play a life sim that had an actual character with an actual backstory that was very different from mine. Maybe set on a 1920s farm or in Japan or on a boat or written from a woman's point of view. Some kind of RPG with points and goals to check off sounds dreadfully like The Sims.

There's a fascinating "game" (actually a program meant for schools) called Real Lives that generates you as a statistically probable person anywhere in the world -- that is, 19/20 times you start as the son or daughter of a subsistence farmer in China or India or the Congo. You play the game one year at a time and your choices (like what job to take, whether to move out, whether to marry) are severely limited by your circumstances, and statistically generated random things (such as famines, wars, robberies, diseases) pop up to set you back. There's no stated object to the game, but you can mentally set goals for yourself, like "end up better than my parents" or "have grandchildren" or "move to a first-world country" and try to accomplish them. Sometimes you succeed, sometimes you die of typhus at 38. Unfortunately the 2010 edition of the game introduced a new interface that is absolutely unplayable -- you'll want to track down the 2007 version (called "Real Lives 2007").
posted by theodolite at 8:28 PM on February 16, 2011 [6 favorites]


I was just thinking about Ebert's games are not art assertion, and how the Dead Island preview trailer seems to refute that, but then a trailer is actually a film. When does the interactive element support the story, and when does it interfere with it?
posted by BrotherCaine at 8:37 PM on February 16, 2011


You might also appreciate Alter Ego, released by Activision in 1986 and adapted here for the web.
posted by waxpancake at 9:15 PM on February 16, 2011


There was an early Sierra DOS game, Keeping Up With Jones, that hit on this from a slightly different angle. You were 'racing' the other players to reach your goals, but you set your own goals at the beginning of the game, allocating points between happiness, career success, education, and wealth. (Money was probably, overall, the hardest of the four goals.)


You mean Jones in the Fast Lane! I loved that game. You can play it in Flash here.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 9:44 PM on February 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thanks a lot for this. I teach, and for a lot of kids the video game "style" is the primary narrative structure. This'll help a lot!
posted by kneecapped at 9:59 PM on February 16, 2011


Games make you want things. Or at any rate, if you play a game, you're kind of entering into a contract to give a damn about the arbitrary trophies it promises you. Playing World of Warcraft does not make sense if you don't somehow care about getting a stronger character.

An artful game ought to manipulate the player by holding those rewards just out of reach in order to make the player choose the things the designer wants them to choose. (Games that are artful in this sense are probably not very good for competitive play.) It should be a genuine choice, so as to give it meaning--there should be a way to continue with the game without taking any particular reward... although I suppose "not playing the game" is kind of a choice.
posted by LogicalDash at 2:31 AM on February 17, 2011


I have met Emily. You may touch the hem of my robe now.
posted by pharm at 3:24 AM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


There was an early Sierra DOS game, Keeping Up With Jones, that hit on this from a slightly different angle. You were 'racing' the other players to reach your goals, but you set your own goals at the beginning of the game, allocating points between happiness, career success, education, and wealth. (Money was probably, overall, the hardest of the four goals.)

This sounds a lot like an old board game called Careers.
posted by reductiondesign at 10:33 AM on February 17, 2011


Life's Lottery
posted by jcruelty at 11:50 PM on February 18, 2011


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