I awaken, confused but well rested with my head face down on a gray fleece blanket and a splotch of dampness nearby where I have inevitably drooled. Ahh, sweet sleep. Such an enjoyable experience in general, but there is something truly magical about midday naps. You don’t really know where the time goes, but you wake up feeling brand new. I become aware of the hollow sensation in my stomach and as if my intestines could read my mind, they emphasize my hunger with a bizarre gurgle. Curiously, the scent of scrambled eggs wafts through the crack underneath my door even though my bedside clock reads 4:13 in the afternoon. That’s just fine, because eggs are probably my favorite food ever and nothing sounds better than a breakfast burrito right now.
“I really need to start doing yoga, I’m too young to feel this stiff,” I scold myself as I disjointedly push myself off of the bed. I probably fell asleep in the wrong position and didn’t shift around at all during my slumber, stressing my neck and joints. Other than that, I feel like I’ve been reborn.
I’m just about to amble down the stairs, stretching my arms up and over my head contentedly, when I hear the voice of my mother strained in fear.
“Don’t come down, Zach! Listen to me – DO NOT COME DOWN HERE!” I stall.
My heart seems to fall into my stomach and a panicked dread as cold the Atlantic expands throughout my chest. My mind races to all possibilities. Is there an intruder? Is mom being held hostage?! Have I done something illegal and the cops are here to take me away? Even though hot fear pulses through my veins, I observe my right foot descend onto the next step.
I stand there in this position, frozen for another moment, my thought process glitching. My mind is urging me to listen to my mother and stay put, but my body is tugging me forward as if attracted by a ten ton magnet.
“Oh, come on, MOVE!” a booming voice stems from all around me and echoes within my mind, “I’ve been trying to wake you for days, but you just kept sleeping even though your sleep bar says that you are clearly well-rested! I’ve been dragging your hunger bar down to wake you up. Who knew all it took was forcing your mother to make you breakfast? You couldn’t resist the smell of scrambled eggs, could you?” The voice sneered sinisterly.
None of this is making any sense to me and my sense of panic increases. Am I on drugs? Am I dreaming, or is this sleep paralysis? I find myself unable to move despite any intention I set for myself and resolve that I must somehow get myself in front of a mirror to get a sense of reality. With every grain of mental and physical strength I possess, I drop to the floor and claw at the carpet, dragging myself to the mirror in the hallway. I grunt as I attempt to regain my footing, an invisible force crushing down upon me as if I am Atlas holding up the world. Before I’m even able to get a full glimpse of myself, I see a neon green diamond hovering above my head in the reflection. I reach up to grab the floating gem, but my hand passes right through it.
Great. So, this is my life. I’m a fucking SIM?!
AUTHOR COMMENTARY: This short story is a product of a creative writing course I took at the University of Lisbon this past fall semester, months before COVID-19 even entered our peripheral vision.
The Sims and all of its versions were definitely a cherished part of my childhood; I look back fondly on the weekends that I would wake up at the crack of dawn and go start up the family PC for endless hours of creating beautiful sims with care, planting them on my favorite lots, and having an interior decorating extravaganza (I’m a proponent of mother lode), before enjoying game play, which was often having my Sims live out a fulfilling life; but I won’t lie and act like I haven’t murdered my Sims in the past.
My story touches on the notion of free will; the internal and physical struggle that the protagonist faces eerily reminds me of both governmental and social control we are facing during COVID-19. Like Michel Foucault’s panopticon, we are under constant surveillance; not only must we stay at home by law, but it is a social expectation. We monitor our behavior and mold to the new norm not only out of solidarity and caution, but because we know on a subconscious level that denying this social imperative would affect our standing in society; this is not to say that I don’t believe in the severity of COVID-19 or condone going against StayAtHome orders, I just find it interesting to observe the power dynamics present between government and society and the individual vs society.
This realization for me is equivalent to the moment the protagonist looks himself in the mirror and realizes his lack of free will due to being controlled by external factors. Due to lockdown, I have spent some time playing Sims 4, and at this point I think it’s pretty hilarious that I’m simulating life right now through a video game at this moment in time. Gameplay in Sims 4 has its limitations, but at least I can create all my fellow English Studies comrades and we can throw a house party to celebrate the completion of our Bachelors thesis.
~Sheena Shah (English Studies colleague)
FLAME: Great. So this is our lives now, we are Sims.