My sim’s life is complicated. This isn’t to say his world is; in fact, it’s simple in the extreme. His world exists in my flip phone. I find it through a Motorola Games menu from a larger menu, Applications, which I open with the big OK button at the crest of my keypad. My sim’s universe is a footnote at the end of a draft in a manila folder in the back of a second to bottom file cabinet drawer in the office of my phone. I do not know when I will shred it to make room for something else. But my sim doesn’t think about this. I don’t think he’s even aware that his house doesn’t have walls or a roof. It doesn’t occur to him because the rest of the world is a vacuum.
The house is open to me so I can know what to control. I force my sim to sleep when he’s tired, eat when he’s hungry, shit when he’s full, and work to afford these simple pleasures. I decide when he needs to watch TV and when he’s watched enough. If he could have a name, I’d name him, but he can’t. He is my sim, not Rob, Bob, Jerome, Kwame, Nebuchadnezzar or Benedict V. He is my sim, a sim, any sim who happens to be mine. I chose his gender from two options.
His friends have names: John and Sue. Whenever my sim isn’t eating, sleeping, working, shitting, showering, or watching TV, I make him invite one of them over. He’ll get lonely if I don’t. He’ll get depressed. He’ll walk around his four-room house with one wall, sulking, sobbing, his cartoon thought bubbles a series of frowny-faces and hearts cracked down the middle.
“Your sim wants to quit work.” A dialogue box informs me of this as if I should tell him to leave behind his career the same way I turn off a faucet when someone tells me the water’s running. But I send him to work most days anyway, making him make money so he can eat and sleep and shower and shit and watch TV. I let the water run.
I don’t know what my sim’s job is. He got it when I made him read the newspaper and Find Work. Every day, he walks out the white door in his one wall, disappearing into the vacuum for three minutes—eight hours, according to the clock built into the display of my sim’s vitals, the indicators of when I need to make him eat, sleep, shower, work, shit, watch TV. I don’t know where he goes. I don’t know if he knows where he goes. I only know he goes and doesn’t like it.
When he comes home to his wall and four rooms, he’s exhausted. He needs to eat and sleep and shower and shit and watch TV. I make him call John, and they stand in the middle of the house talking for a minute. John leaves and then my sim goes to bed for three minutes. He wakes up and doesn’t want to go to work. Feeling sympathetic, I let him stay home today.
By the time my sim has taken his third shit of the day and eaten his first meal, he is two and a half minutes late for work. His boss comes to his house to scold him. His boss is Sue. I didn’t know that. Sue comes in through the white door in the wall without permission. She begins to berate my sim, who is suddenly distressed on the first day off of his life. Talk to Sue I select, Tell Joke. He does and does. They both start laughing. New options appear: Hug Sue, Embrace Sue, Kiss Sue. I hatch a plan. My sim is not going to lose his job.
Sue is reluctant in the face of my sim’s advances at first, but after several tries of Hug Sue and Flirt With Sue, she welcomes a kiss. Then there is a new option: Woohoo. I don’t know what this means, but it is marked by gold stars, which gives me a hint. I select it.
My sim is officially off the hook. A new plan hatches as Sue begins to leave. On a whim, I select Propose to Sue. If she agrees, my sim can quit. Sue makes more money, anyway. My sim will have a wife and a house and a beige wall with a white door and all the time in the world to eat, sleep, shower, shit, watch TV. A talk bubble appears over my sim with two interlocked rings. A dialogue box appears.
“Your sim is married.”
Sue moves in—that is: she stays. I don’t know if she even has possessions or a house with a wall and a door. I think she only exists here, in my sim’s house. When she leaves, she becomes one with the vacuum, an idea.
My sim quits his job. Sue makes enough money for the both of them, yet though he can eat sleep shower shit watch TV whenever he wants, my sim is still not happy when Sue’s away.
I make him invite John over. The two talk as they usually do, white bubbles of smiley-faces and musical notes and their own faces floating above them like conversational courses on ceramic plates. John leaves and Sue returns. Woohoo.
This is life for my sim for a few days: countless minutes of eat sleep shower shit TV interjected by visits from John and woohoo with Sue. The food is just food, the TV is just TV, and my sim wears the same red shirt and blue pants every day. He has no favorites and dislikes nothing.
“Your sim is depressed.”
He and Sue grow distant—as distant as they can from each other when they never speak real words or go beyond their wall with the door. Sue wants to quit work. My sim wants to divorce Sue. The woohoo stops. My sim continues to eat, sleep, and shit in the shower with the TV.
I open my phone one day, rifle through the files in that second-to-bottom cabinet drawer: Menu, Applications, Games. I expose my sim’s world to my screen, open his tiny, simple universe of four rooms and one wall with a door, and there he is with John. Woohoo.
I am stunned, amused, and a little annoyed that he’s gone against my orders.
“Your sim wants to marry John.” The dialogue box is ever informative, ever apathetic. I decide there must be divorce, but there is a problem.
“John doesn’t have a job,” the dialogue box explains when I select Talk About Work. I devise a plan for my unfaithful sim: Ask to Move In. John stays.
I don’t know what Sue thinks about John, why she thinks he now lives with them. Perhaps she believes it’s something to do with his unemployment. She must reason something, because she doesn’t object.
There is one bed in the four-room house with one wall, and it is against the laws of physics for more than two people to share it. John, Sue, and my sim sleep in shifts, occasionally becoming annoyed at a spot being taken, and often napping on the couch. It is against the laws of physics for them to sleep on the couch for more than a minute.
“Your sim wants a divorce.”
“Your sim wants to marry John.”
Sue quits work. She is home for a lack of place to be during the day. Everyone in the world is in a house with four beige rooms, one wall and door. It is the only house in the universe. Sue eats her sleeping shower and shits TV. John and my sim woohoo in the bedroom, invisible to Sue, behind a wall which doesn’t exist, in one quarter of all the rooms in the universe. I do not stop them. They woohoo again. I don’t know if they want to be found. It doesn’t matter. They are. Sue cries. John and my sim woohoo.
“Your sim is divorced.”
“Sue is pregnant.”
Sue won’t move out. She and John begin to hate each other, arguing whenever they pass. My sim argues with them too, taking both their sides. They are all miserable and jobless. Find Work doesn’t help—my sim is too upset to work, anyway. John makes fun of Sue, my sim argues with John. Sue makes fun of John, my sim argues with Sue. John moves out. My sim eats shit showers, and sleeps in TV. A cracked heart hangs in a thought cloud over his head.
“The baby is coming!” The dialogue box thrusts into the screen, surprising me with its suddenly exuberant punctuation. Sue leaves, probably to a notional hospital beside her old office, floating empty in the void. John sleeps eats showers shits TVs. My sim stands in the middle of his universe, his beige house with four rooms and one wall with a white door. He doesn’t move. I don’t tell him to. He needs to eatsleepshowserhitTV, but I don’t make him. He stares at nothing with an expression of nothing and his arms at his sides.
“Your sim has no money and cannot afford their house.”
One option remains: Return to menu.
Jonathan Howard Sonnenberg is a young writer whose poetry and prose investigate the historical and the absurd. His writing has appeared in Gravitas, the Longridge Review, and in New York University’s publications, Confluence and Compass.