I used to play the Sims a lot. It’s a bit like a grown-up (though I use the term loosely) version of doll’s houses, and I played it in much the same way. When my husband and I had quite recently got together, I made a Him-Sim and a Me-Sim, put them in separate houses and made it a mission to get them to fall in love and eventually marry. It was quite stressful, because it never quite worked out: one time the Him-Sim proposed but the Me-Sim burst into tears and said: “How can you ask me that now, when I am so unhappy?” Honestly! Women! It was probably that time of the month.
Then when we were married and as yet childless, I made new versions of us and encouraged them to procreate. It was quite eye-opening. You can’t operate babies in the Sims, they operate themselves. They just cry and you have to tend to their needs. Once you have fed or changed them, your Sim just stands there holding the baby, awaiting further instructions. The thing that always got me was that, once you were holding the baby, you could right-click anywhere on the floor and get the option “put baby here”. If you did, they would simply lie there and other Sims and pets would walk round them as if they were just another piece of furniture. I usually solved the problem by putting a cot on every floor of the Sim-house, so that there was always somewhere safe to put an infant. I often thought of that later, when I had a real one. With my son and again with my daughter, I found that the lesson I had learned from the Sims was a valuable one: it pays to have somewhere for a newborn baby to sleep on every floor of your house.
My little daughter is seven months old now and basically sitting up. You’d think you could right click and “put baby here” at this point – but as soon as they master one skill they are no longer satisfied with it and go on a dangerous quest to advance to the next level. Now she will sit, walk her hands forwards to get something that is just out of reach and end up stuck on her tummy. Cue frustrated crying. She also still topples over – no “putting baby here” on the laminate. She also grabs and chews absolutely everything – no “putting baby here” near anything dangerous. If you were to see my house you would now come to the inevitable conclusion that there was but one place to put my baby: in a play pen on a soft mat. Which is where she spends quite a bit of time. I feel a little guilty, because it does kind of look like she’s in a cage. She loves it though, and so does the Toddler. He likes going to visit her in her little house and rings a pretend doorbell until I come to let him in, after which he takes away all her toys and gives her cuddles instead.
It is not going to get better for a while, I know that now. Once she can crawl, nothing will be safe from her chewing. Then she will start trying to pull herself up on everything including rickety chairs, toolboxes, lamp stands, the Toddler and the cats. Then she will walk and all will be lost.
The Toddler is nearing the end of the Sims-stage that always made me sweat with stress: when you’d have to teach your Sim-child to walk, talk and wee on the potty before their next birthday, otherwise they’d grow up wrong. It was worrying how much time it took out of each parent’s day to teach these three essential skills. I had to cheat and give us unlimited money so we could both be stay at home parents and devote all our time and attention to this mission.
I don’t play the Sims anymore. One day I was on the computer doing my pretend-washing up and feeding my Sim-cats, while downstairs my real washing up was growing exotic new species of mould and my real cats were trying desperately to attract my attention because it was way past dinnertime. I realised that I couldn’t spend any more time pretend-living until I was a bit better at living for real.
So what did I learn from my Sim-playing days?
1. Children need massive amounts of attention. To get it right, win the lottery or kill a rich relative, quit your jobs and devote yourselves to raising them full time.
2. You can put a baby down anywhere. It is just not advisable. Buy appropriate containers for them.
3. Don’t ask anyone to marry you when they’re feeling down – their response might not reflect their feelings in general.