Sims and SimEarth in Gamer Theory

While reading GAM3R 7H30RY 1.1, I identified most with The Sims and SimEarth chapters, possibly because I am not a gamer and could not fully conceptualize the other games that McKenzie Wark alluded to. Both of these chapters focused on the game as an allegory for real life – The Sims as a parody for everyday life in ‘consumer society’ and SimEarth as an allegory for the imperfect balance of human life and the ecosystem.

Wark tells us that The Sims turn to the gamer as God while the gamer turns to the game to reverse time; the game can work as a critique of the unreality of the stakes of the game (35/42). While you are playing this game, you are entering in a God position where you can buy into the premise- play by the rules of “life” and consumer culture. Or, you can go against the rules, play the role of an evil manipulator and see what happens to your characters when you don’t follow the rules. If you play the game right, you really are doing nothing but “work.” There is no break from the grind of your real life and the grind of the Sim life. So what’s the point? Why is the game so addictive with so many characters? I think the game is similar to other simulation games, such a “playing house.” By entering into this pseudo reality game, the gamer has complete control. They are God. While we may live our own lives with a sense of losing control, we can regain that control and “win” in the game; something we may never do in real life.

SimEarth is a game that models the entire world ecosystem. As God you can control agricultural output and resource allocation to determine how your population will thrive or die. Wark talks about how the gamer can set the preferences and then leave the house for their own life, coming home to see how their simulation life “fared” at the end of the day. When this simulation life fails, the gamer is perplexed, “[the gamer] had always thought that if the economy in the real world cranked along at max efficiency, then the technology world would also bobble along at a rate sufficient to deal with the little problems that occur along the way” (210). Yet, technology cannot solve our problems. In the game though, if you are frustrated that your simulations only kill off the population, you can just uninstall and never play the game. Wark compares this to an allegory of the entire game world working in a quasi-Darwinian fashion. If games fail the “fantasy principle,” they are unfit for gamespace and cease to be played. We are constantly in search of newer, better, and more interesting games to quench our boredom and to transport us into a pseudo reality.

A couple questions that I walked away with after reading this piece: How did Gamer Theory actually function as a game? By going from each chapter (nicely organized with an exact number of paragraphs and certain color) I felt like I was checking off a new level that I “had” to get to. Also when reading the comments it seemed that other readers felt they were entering into this “comment” game. Another question I had was, what was the difference between “game” and “gamespace”? I felt that these were two important terms of the piece, but I did not feel that Wark accurately defined the terms that he wanted to dissect.

One response to “Sims and SimEarth in Gamer Theory

  1. Was Gamer Theory supposed to function as a game? (Did I miss something, or are you asking rhetorically?) I like the idea of chapters as ‘levels’, although it didn’t register with me that was as I was reading. Phrasing it that way brings me back to older questions about text adventures, the notion of ‘interactivity,’ and whether every text is a ‘game’ in some sense. I suppose Gamer Theory is (or used to be) interactive in that you can post comments and, over time, alter the course of the main text. However, it’s interactive in a very different sense than a text adventure–the results of interaction aren’t pre-programmed, there’s human involvement on both sides. (Unless McKenzie Wark is a robot.)

    I think the definitions of ‘game’ and ‘gamespace’ were deliberately left a bit fuzzy, since Wark is arguing that the two have become largely inseparable in our everyday lives. In general, though, I think ‘game’ refers to simulation-type games (computer games, video games, and so forth) while ‘gamespace’ refers specifically to our game-inflected reality.