I have to admit that it was kind of strange for me when my seven year-old asked me if I wanted to see his wife. Her name, he told me, is Lucy, and he was saving up his money to buy her a bed. Unfortunately, he explained, he only had a twin in his house, so he’s sleeping on the couch. But, he was making $600 a week as a preschool teacher, so he figured he’d have enough money in about a month.
I was all, wha’ what? Until he showed me that this was all going on in the alternate, iPad app universe known as SIMS 3: Ambitions.
I had a vague idea of what this game was about, only because I had heard some of the boy moms in my daughter’s class talking about it once. Apparently, you create an avatar for yourself and then proceed to live an adult life in the game, complete with a job, a mortgage, a budget, chores, and, yes, a spouse. And if you are really family-oriented, you can even have a kid. I was sort of under the impression that if my kids were going to play video games, then learning how the world operates is probably more educational than planting zombie-killing cabbages or obliterating fruit with a ninja sword. That is, until my kids spent half of spring break living a second life on the iPad while real life passed them by.
I’d ask them what they were doing as they wildly moved their fingers across the screen, to which they would reply, I’m going to the market. Or, I’m fixing the refrigerator. Or, I’m harvesting my garden. Or, my personal favorite, I’m playing with my toddler. And I’d be like, well, how about coming to the real market with me? Or, if you’re enjoying chores so much, how about cleaning your room? Or, how about going outside and playing with me? But always, the answer was no, mom, I have to go to work in five minutes, or no, mom, I just need to make $300 more so that I can install a movie-theater in my house.
I tried to understand. I really did. I sat down and made them show me what was so exciting about a video game that requires you to do all of the things that I hate doing in real life on a daily basis. I mean, what is so great about going to the market, or fixing the refrigerator, or buying a home theater that you can’t actually watch anything in? It’s just fun, they said. We can’t explain it, it just is. But, I argued, wouldn’t it be more fun to actually do those things? Or, wouldn’t it be more fun to do real kid stuff, like play games or go to the park or have a friend come over? I can understand the appeal of a game like this for a grownup who has no friends or family and wants to live vicariously through an avatar, but for kids who could be doing a million other things that are infinitely more fun? I just don’t get it. And my kids, without even looking up from the screen, were like, uch, mo-oom, we don’t even know what vicariously means.
So I took the stupid game away and made them look up the word vicariously in the dictionary. My son cried. What about Lucy? he wanted to know. I told him to go to the fake courthouse and file for a fake divorce. She wasn’t that cute, anyway.