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Archive for June, 2012

In Simmary #1

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

After 10 entries, 5 for Amy and 5 for Ted, I feel like it would be a good opportunity to sum up what’s happened so far on the journey. More like SIM up, amirite?! No? I’ll show myself out.

In simmary, how are these little balls of AI doing?

The two Sims are very different, despite being given the exact same characteristics and being put in exactly the same home (I’m running them each on a different machine). I put this down to there being some randomisation in terms of exactly how they “come out”, there still seems to be differing personality types within the designated traits. It’s most likely a spectrum, like real life, right?

Ted is actually not all that fun. He doesn’t like to look after his basic needs (despite being a neat freak) and doesn’t seem to take pleasure in things very much. Amy on the other hand laughs at bins and bathroom rugs. She spontaneously giggles and becomes intrigued with daily minutiae. I find this difference in them really odd and a little unsettling when I sit down and try and think about it. Surely it’s random and not some weird creative decision about women “being nicer” because that’s what the player would want. She sings in the shower. She thinks of something funny then laughs at it. She’s fucking delightful!

At the risk of sounding like I’m pushing some kind of feminist agenda (of which I was accused of via email, in response to this post) there’s a cynical side of me that thinks the fact Amy is “nicer” and “cuter” is a creative decision based entirely on her gender. It may just seem striking (and therefore noticeable) in comparison to Ted’s beige-ality but she seems almost overly pleasant. Even when she’s upset she quickly comes out of it juuuuust as she’s approaching the threshold between cute and shrill. I want to see some shrill. I’ve seen Ted lose it and be morose afterward. She seems a little more manic after she’s been upset. She bounces right back up again into Stepford territory. This could be part of her personality and where she sits on the spectrum, or it could be a gendered thing. Only time and a larger sample size will tell, I think.

Their pain isn’t the same. Amy may have an outburst but then she’s right back on the horse. Ted stands there looking sullen, and things appear to get to him more. Is she the Angry But Never Too Angry™ approachable woman, and he’s the Sensitive New Aged Guy™? Is this just a random roll on the AI flow chart or was this a creative decision based on what I the player might want? And why do I want those things?

They’ve had very similar things happen to them in these first few entries and that was something I guided on purpose. I wanted them both to have as much in common as possible, so I made sure they both had access to televisions, computers, and eventually chose a job for each of them (once they’d run out of money or were dangerously close to doing so). This was to try and compare them fairly, but I think it’s getting to the point now where a different approach for each Sim is needed, given the fact they’re so utterly different.

One thing they have both experienced though is the sudden realisation that Relationship Status means a LOT in the Sim world. Whenever they make a new friend online or in real life, the first thing they learn about that person seems to be their relationship status. It’s like it’s the most interesting thing about anyone. At one point Ted thought about marriage and cried, and at another Amy thought about holding hands with someone. I think they want to be in relationships.

I’m curious to see whether this yearning gathers strength in the upcoming entries, and whether its strength is increased in one gender over another. Amy has dreamed about babies twice already, and Ted hasn’t at all. Jobs and money seemed to dominate the first 10 entries, and I think I see it leaning toward the direction of relationships for the next lot.

Lastly I’d like to take this opportunity to thank people for the emails they’re sending in about their personal journeys in both The Sims and in their own mental health. You’ve shared some amazing insights and had some thought-provoking questions for me and it’s been great. I feel lucky to hear your stories, and proud that you feel like I’m someone you can safely talk about it with. :) While Sim, Interrupted is definitely a light-hearted look at depression, rest assured I take it very seriously and this is not to be looked at as a digital freak show or The Festival For Pointing And Laughing but rather an exploration of the AI and creative decisions made when trying to simulate the human condition. Which is appearing less and less like an easy job as the entries go on.

Thanks! Remember you can always email your thoughts to siminterrupted (at) grassisleena.com, or send a tweet (or DM) to @SimInterrupted. :)

Amy #5

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

It’s Wednesday, Amy wakes up at 7:30am and jumps straight in the shower. There’s §84 in her account. Bills cost about that much. If she can’t pay her bills a debt collector will come, probably going straight for her shiny new computer. A notification pops up “Uh oh, there’s only one day left to pay the bill in the amount of §84”, with an option to ignore or pay the bill now. I choose pay bill now. The bank account is at §0. Pretty sure there’s another bill in the letterbox waiting to be paid, too. The time of waiting for the perfect writing job is over. It’s “take whatever you can get” time now.

She goes to her computer to chat online, presumably a little bummed about the lack of funds. I suggest she start her job search when she’s finished. She cancels the chat and goes straight to the job search. I felt like she knew it was a better use of her time.

Medical Career – Organ Donor
Organs are kinda cool though… §22 per hour. Her organs are definitely worth more than that.
9am – 3pm MTWTF__

Culinary Career – Kitchen Scullion
Shitty hours, shitty pay, no chance of writing, no leisurely weekends. §25 p/h.
3pm – 9pm MT__FSS

Law Enforcement Career – Snitch
It’s not writing but could make for good inspiration later? §40 p/h.
9am – 3pm MTWTF__

Science Career – Test Subject
I heard once this guy took this job, and then he got attacked by lab monkeys. True story. §44 per hour.
9am – 2:30pm MTWTF__

Music Career – Fan
Perhaps a career in music journalism? Does Rolling Stone have room for rug-gigglers, window-gazers and bin-laughers? §21 p/h.
3pm – 9pm MT_TFS_

I’m thinking Amy would like the danger involved with being a snitch. She’s very bright (a Genius actually) and it’s hard to make her feel like the world is on top of her. Perhaps law enforcement will give her some good material for her novel when she’s finally a professional author? Getting down in the nitty gritty world of the mafia, or busting a huge drug cartel or whistleblowing on some massive conglomerate. It seems the most exciting for sure. She’ll have to spy on people.

Out windows?

Could this be? Could Amy turn her love for staring wistfully out windows into a career?!


Amy takes the role of “Snitch” in a Law Enforcement career, and starts work tomorrow. But for now, it’s time for some online chatting.

She makes a new friend, Pauline, and learns that she’s in a relationship with Hank. Relationship status seems to be the only thing she’s learning about people. Is it because she’s scoping for singles, or is it that it’s the first thing everyone puts out there? At 11:30 am she turns the computer off. It seemed quite sudden. She learned Pauline was in a relationship and then lost interest in being on the computer?

Amy recycles a newspaper and goes to the bathroom. In the bathroom she cleans the toilet until it’s sparkling. When she’s finished she checks out the rug and says “Laloog!”. She then looks like she’s doing really hard sums before exclaiming “Blanay!” and walking off.

She goes back to the computer to chat online at 1:45pm and smashes her head on the keyboard, yelling. Something’s bothering her. A thought-bubble came up of people holding hands. She wants to be in a relationship? Quite badly by the looks. She kept chatting and seemed to calm down. A few hours into chatting she makes a new friend, Jack.

Jack’s in a relationship with Judy.

She turns the computer off and sits there. She doesn’t get up. 3 minutes pass as she’s staring at the blank screen of the computer.

She turns the computer back on and plays some videogames.

Indie Game: The Movie

Saturday, June 9th, 2012

I went down to ACMI to watch ‘Indie Game: The Movie’ last night and thoughts are bouncing around in my head to the point of becoming distracting. So in the interests of getting-the-fuck-on with the development of the indie games I’m currently making, I’d really like to get this out so I can appropriately redirect my grey matter to what it’s supposed to be doing.

Making stuff!

Which, awesomely, is what this film is all about. The fact it’s videogames is merely a bonus. Indie Game: The Movie is a documentary about making stuff and the blood, sweat, tears, lawsuits, sacrifices, losses, and highs found while doing that. There was a conscious effort to focus on the people involved and their journeys as creators, which I was really relieved about. I wasn’t interested in how many iterations of the engine there was or how thanks to some clever epiphany the coder had they managed to cut down the amount of processes they had to do by 40%. The technical specifics weren’t really what I was there for. I was there to see people breaking their arses making things, and to get an insight into why they do.

I wasn’t disappointed. I even learned stuff. Helpful stuff.

This was about the maker’s journey, and considering everyone’s journey is different, how you can best equip yourself to get through it. Before going in I thought the film would be about a bunch of makers all going through their struggles to release their games, some sort of Act 3 crunch time or road block, and then the elation felt on (the very aptly-named) release day. I wasn’t expecting a lesson on working out what you want from making games in the first place and how this impacts your happiness when it’s all over. Their motivators seemed to be the real defining factors between each person.

The Team Meat guys behind Super Meat Boy — Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes — proved a stark contrast to Jonathan Blow and Phil Fish when it came to their motivations for making games and it’s got me thinking about mine.

Jonathan Blow has always seemed a little odd to me and this film helped me understand why a little better. Previously I knew of his gift for suddenly appearing in any thread that mentioned (his game) Braid, and I knew that if someone took issue with the game he would be there either demanding they properly explain themselves or he would be trying to explain to them what they weren’t “getting”. This made it easy to label him as an arrogant guy with a massive ego who was looking down on all the schmucks who just weren’t smart enough to “get” his genius, but it wasn’t until I heard McMillen say his reason for making games involved “trying to find new ways to communicate with people” that I realised maybe Blow wasn’t annoyed at people not understanding how smart he was, but perhaps he was hurting that he was trying to communicate with people and they just weren’t hearing what he was saying. That must suck as a creator. It was an active decision to put his deepest flaws and vulnerabilities thematically into Braid. Calling out over the ravine and not hearing any of his echo sent him into a deep depression after the game was released. Despite financial success and rave reviews and people enjoying his game, he didn’t get what he wanted out of it, and that was to show his exposed nerves to the world and to have the world validate them. That’s a lot to ask of a videogame.

Phil Fish seemed motivated by making the game world go “Ooooo”. He took the iconic 2D pixel-art and thrust it into moments of 3 dimensions. He wanted people to think it was amazing. He seemed fixated on attributing immense value to Facebook likes and tweets. He was caught up in a messy legal battle with his previous business partner over the intellectual property of Fez, and was visibly angry and bitter on camera exclaiming “He’s going to be a millionaire, and because of ME!”. He seemed consumed by the want for financial success and the fame that would come with it. He even said the only thing the game really has is the rotation into 3D. He was so close to it he “couldn’t even see the mistakes anymore”. His motivating factors were external and he had no control over them. Fittingly, he started to lose control of himself a little, too. He said he wasn’t Phil Fish anymore, he was “Guy making Fez”. The wary balancing act between giving something his all and it becoming his all was going in a very dangerous direction. He said if he didn’t manage to release his game he would seriously consider ending his life.

My eyes widened and I began to worry for the mental health of everyone making anything ever.

Tommy Refenes had a heart of gold and just wanted to work hard to pay off his parent’s mortgage. A noble cause for sure, but one that applied immense amounts of pressure. You know in bad action movies when the antagonist hurts the protagonist’s family member or best friend and the protagonist turns to the antagonist and says “NOW IT’S PERSONAL!”. Well… Tommy kind of did that to himself. The stakes were switched from “Try your best and if it fails it fails” to “Your parents will be financially punished if you don’t get this right… jerk”. Heavy. His heart was always in the right place, but due to these high stakes he threw himself so completely into making Super Meat Boy the rest of his life stopped. When he finished making the game, he felt lost. That was his identity for over 2 years. Thankfully, the game was a huge success and the release he was looking for was soon made a reality when his parents were officially debt-free. He was okay at the end of it all, but it was always a very real possibility that he wouldn’t be. Mentally, his journey really looked like actual trauma.

Thankfully, like a shining beacon, Edmund McMillen (who I’m fairly sure would lose bladder control at being referred to as a “shining beacon”) portrayed the motivations that made my heart sing. He makes games Little Edmund would want to play, but not in a catharsis-driven game-development-as-therapy way, as a method of reaching out to kids who feel as misunderstood as he did. Towards the end of the film as he’s looking back on Super Meat Boy’s success, he’s humble. It’s great the game made him money (it meant he could get his wife the hairless cat she always dreamed of) but to him it made much more of an impact on him personally to think that a child somewhere is staying up late playing his game, talking about it at school the next day, drawing the characters on their lunch boxes and having that personal connection to his art. He teared up thinking that he has impacted their lives in the way he wanted a grown up to do that when he was a kid. I feel like he was the only one with a motivation that seemed realistic, grounded, and balanced. He wanted kids (and big kids) to enjoy his game for whatever they got out of it. Anything else was a bonus. Succeed or fail, he’s going to be okay.

I feel like he had the greatest lesson to teach in regards to making stuff. He wasn’t asking the game to address his emotional needs or to help heal his wounds. He wasn’t asking the world to validate him. He wasn’t asking metacritic whether he was a good person, or living and dying on reviews. He got a kick out of seeing people play his game on youtube.

I walked away from Indie Game: The Movie thinking about my motivations for making games and whether they were conducive to being happy at the end of that really hard slog. It’s made me ask myself “What do you hope to get out of this, and is that okay”, which I think is a helpful barometer no matter what you’re doing. It’s a way to keep yourself on the path during your journey as a creator. There’s no right way to do it, obviously. Brilliant games are made at high and low human costs. Being happy at the end of it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the game’s quality itself or its success, but everything to do with you as a motivated and passionate creator. Making a conscious effort to look after yourself and do things for the right reasons can only be a good thing when it comes to the bigger picture of the relationship you have with your craft, and the relationship your craft has with you. We all want to get out of this alive, right? Making stuff is something I want to do. But I don’t want the stuff to make me.

Recent Features

For (not so) immediate release Where were you when we needed you? In Simmary #1 Amy #5 Indie Game: The Movie Ted #5

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