Gamers are not always good Gods. It’s such a temptation to set up a Sim to suffer. Deprive them of a knowledge of cooking and pretty soon they set fire to themselves. Build a house without doors or windows and they starve. Watch as the algorithm works itself out to its terminal state, the bar graphs sliding down to nothing. This violence is not ‘real’. Sims are not people. They are images. They are images in a world which appears as a vast accumulation of images. Hence the pleasure in destroying images, to demonstrate again and again their worthlessness. They can mean anything and nothing. They have no saving power. But even though the images are meaningless, the algorithm still functions. It assigns, if not meaning, if not veracity, if not necessity, then at least a score to representations.* In The Sims the world of gamespace is redeemed by providing for its myriad things the algorithm that they lack to form consistent relations.
The Sim who suffers turns to face its gamer, looking out toward an absent sky, appealing directly, beyond the frame of the game itself. The gamer may not answer, or may not be able to answer. The gamer as God suffers from an apparently similar algorithmic logic as the Sim. The Sims comes with theological options. Turn on ‘free will’ and Sims stray from the powers of their maker. Turn it off and their actions are predestined, but even so, the gamer-god quickly finds that the algorithm is a higher power that the power one commands. Should the game be going badly for the Sim, it turns to face the gamer; should the game be going badly for the gamer, there is no one for the gamer to turn away and face. The Sim who addresses a helpless, hopeless or lost God lives out the allegory of gamespace itself. At least the Sim has someone to turn to. Who can the gamer turn to? Perhaps you can see now the reason for the popularity, among those troubled by gamespace but lacking a concept to account for it, of a personal God who can perform miracles, who can break the rules of His own algorithm.
As a gamer you can have no sense of worth and no faith in salvation other than through your own efforts. But those efforts are fraught, and you are soon lost in the maze of the game. The gamer achieves worth through victories of character; but that character inevitably faces defeat in turn. Or worse. The only thing worse than being defeated is being undefeated. For then there is nothing against which to secure the worth of the gamer other than to find another game. One game leads to the next. It’s the same for Benjamin. After Theorist comes Mad Scientist and after that — nothing. Start over. Pick a new career. Get an expansion pack. Try some new lives. Start as a Playground Monitor, become a Teacher, a Professor, get tenure, rise to Dean, the finally, Minister of Education. Start as a Nobody, working for tips. Become an Insider, a Name Dropper, a Sell Out, a Player, a Celebrity, then finally, a Superstar. But these are just arbitrary names for series of levels. Any qualitative difference between levels is just an effect of an underlying quantity. A higher level is essentially more than a lower level. And so there’s nowhere to go but to more, and more, until there is no more, and the gamer, like the character, is left with nothing. The fruit of the digital is the expulsion of quality from the world. That’s gamespace. The consolation of the game is that at least this expulsion is absolute.
Original Sims can be any mix of two genders and three colors. In The Sims 2 you start with preset templates (Caucasian, African American, Chinese, Persian — and Elf) alterable via a lot of sub-sliders. You choose gender, age, color, hair style and color, eye color, weight, height, glasses, hats, accessories, clothes, and so on, but these external attributes are merely a skin. They do not really affect the game. The sliding variables of character, however, do program in advance what careers a Sim can excel at, and which past times restore faculties. In Sims 2, they may be straight or gay. Again, it makes no difference. Either way their offspring mix the ‘genetic’ character qualities of their parents. The external representations are of no account; the internal variables determine potential. The ‘skin’ is arbitrary, a difference without a distinction, mere decoration. Underneath it lies a code which is all. The Sims 2 is committed both to a genetic view of intrinsic nature and a liberal view of the equality, and hence indifference, of extrinsic appearances.
In The Sims, things proliferate. Or rather, the skins of things. You can have many different kinds of sofa, or coffee table, or lamp shade, but the meter is running, so to speak. You have to make more money to buy more things. But some gamers who play The Sims trifle with the game rather than play it. These gamers are not interested in ‘winning’ the game, they are interested in details, in furniture, or telling stories, or creating interesting worlds. If a cheat is someone who ignores the space of a game to cut straight to its objective, then the trifler is someone who ignores the objective to linger within its space. Bernard Suits: “Triflers recognize rules but not goals, cheats recognize goals but not rules.” The Sims lends itself to play that transforms it from a world of number back to a world of meaning. Algorithm becomes a more stable platform than the vicissitudes of gamespace for creating a suburban world of pretty things. But in trifling with the game, the gamer struggles to escape boredom and produce difference — and finds that this too has limits. Steven Poole: “You must learn the sequences the programmers have built in to the game — and, okay, there are hundreds of them, but that does not constitute freedom.” Games redeem gamespace by offering a perfect unfreedom, a consistent set of constraints.*