Friday, 22 March 2013

Losing the plot

A few years ago when my OH and I managed to be simultaneously unemployed for the second time in our marital life (please, don't let third be a charm) we became hooked on a Facebook farming game.*

There were two of these; Farmtown and Farmville. Farmville was inexplicably more popular even though it was far more cartoony. I played both but preferred my Farmtown pastoral idyll with plentiful crops, a little log cabin, white picket fences - you don't need to be a psychologist to see why this was comforting to someone who thought they might have their home repossessed. Ironically you could spend your time waiting in the market place to be hired and earn more coins that way, you could also visit friends' farms. It was nice to look up from watering plants and see that your friend (or indeed your OH, also tired of application forms and recruitment consultants' promises) had popped over to say 'hello'.

If I could have moved there I think I would have.

Admit it, it has a certain charm. You'd move here, right?
Then the real world intervened, we got jobs and closed down our farms. For good.

This year my daughter got a tablet for Christmas and the two of us have been bonding over the SIMS freestyle game. There are remarkable similarities with Farmtown (although no touting for business in the market place), mainly in the massive timesuck it can be and through the growing of crops for money. If gardening was this lucrative, allotment owners would be buying up Greek islands. The game involves building houses, furnishing them, moving in a person, getting them a job, a partner, kids.

It's Suburbia. There are even dogs you can run with.**

The game gives you goals which translates into points which allows you to do more. In my case design cool, beach side houses, in my daughters case neglect her Sims needs but make sure they have tattoos and dress like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman before Richard Gere picks her up, only more so.

Then yesterday the game told me to make my SIMS divorce. What??? My married couples all have children. What would happen to them? I don't want a divorce in my perfect piece of Suburbia where everyone works or earns money gardening 24 hours a day, the kids study and do hobbies, the pets are loved, the cars neglected for healthy environmental purposes.

And then I realised. NOTHING HAPPENS. My poor Sims live the dullest lives possible. They probably all have stashes of Sims Valium and Sims gin hidden from view just to get through the tedium that is their of their existence. I am supposed to be a writer. Plot, drama, adventure, intrigue, CONFLICT. These are the hallmarks of my calling, not the exact positioning of a new swimming pool or upgrading the kitchen cabinets (although the retro green does look cool in the open plan Beach House). If I must waste the precious time I have on this (although usually I play whilst watching TV or tweeting both of which are essential pastimes) surely I could use the time to plot?

What I won't do, though, is mirror the terrifying woman who is mimicking her own life through the Sims game. That is plain wrong. Although at least it probably has some drama...

*Warning Rant: There will be those who point out that if we were unemployed we shouldn't have had either internet or the time to play Facebook games. Some of those will be in the present Cabinet and will hopefully experience unemployment themselves one day. For those people may I gently point out that it's impossible to find/apply for a job without the internet nowadays and, as every job has a different, time consuming application form to fill in that can take three hours to complete properly sometimes you need a break. Also you need the internet to sell your favourite and only Patrick Cox lace up the back knee length boots so that you can buy food. Thanks.

** Not that your Sims can run, this is just a bad pet Shop Boys reference

Friday, 15 March 2013

Out of the mouths of babes

My 9yo has reached the age where she wants answers. Answers to burning philosophical debates such as 'If there were no other clothes in the world, which would you buy me. Little Mix or One Direction pyjamas?' Apparently 'a sack with a hole cut in it' was an unacceptable riposte. 'Does kissing boys really make you lose a tooth?' No, but you will lose several brain cells. 'What is tofu?' Errmm...

Other questions take me longer to answer. What is the worst book I ever read? There are books I didn't finish, books that made me feel sick, books I tossed across the room in disbelief, books I went back to as an adult only to realise I still hated them (looking at you Tale of Two Cities). But the worst book I ever read? I am still thinking whilst she has happily moved on to the next question.

'Who is your hero?'

Blankness. Does she mean literary? Historical? Contemporary? Mythological? Someone we know? Am I supposed to say Katniss, this year's character of choice for World Book Day?

'JK Rowling?' suggests 9yo, bored of my silence.

JK Rowling? A storyteller who single handedly turned a generation of kids onto reading? An astute business woman who kept control of her characters' brands and imagery and amassed a huge fortune by doing so. A philanthropist who quietly, without fanfare or fuss, has given so much of that fortune to charity that she has spent herself off the Forbes Rich list (*glares at every idiot oligarch/footballer/hedgefund manager with an oversized yacht, private jet and gold-plated anything). A woman who is proud not to use a single tax evasion scheme, however legal, because she believes in  giving back to the country that provided her with education, health care and a home when she had nothing.

Is that the kind of woman I want my daughter to consider a hero? Absolutely.