Cheat Codes and Free Will: What the Sims Taught Me About Life

Perhaps my worst kept secret is that, for years, I unabashedly loved the computer game The Sims. I was never a Sims City fan--that required far too much work and even at a young age I had no illusions that I should be, in anyway, in charge of running... well, anything. But The Sims was different. In the game, you built houses, decorated them, and then created families to move in and live there. The premise is your Sims need to build skills so they can get jobs, make money, and improve their houses. But y'all, Sims are stupid. Left to their own devices, they leave their babies outside in the snow because they wanted to watch TV; they don't go to work because the house is too dirty and it depressed them. And they never study. But there's a little switch in the settings of the game that makes all this a moot point: The free will button. See, you can turn free will off, and then your Sims can't do a damn thing unless you tell them to.

I mean, the ability to be totally in charge of someone's life? Sign me up.

I could play that game for hours. Oh, I'm sorry Mr. Sim--you want to watch TV? Tough. You burned toast last night and set the kitchen on fire; go read a book to improve your cooking skills. Mrs. Sims wants to sleep? Neat, but your baby is crying and the game comes with built in CPS, so suck it up buttercup and go sing some nursery rhymes. Oh, and there are bills to pay but neither of my Sims have jobs? Well, good thing the game also comes with a cheat code to get them unlimited money because I don't have time for work.

I mean.... I might have some control issues.

There is no clearer illustration in my life of my love of control than the way I played The Sims. I've always been particular about the way I want things to be done. I hate uncertainty. I need to have solid footing under me at all times, otherwise I go crazy--seriously, batshit crazy; I can give you names of people who have had to witness this. Uncertainty is, really, at the root of pretty much any fear and anxiety I've ever had. I need to know where I stand. I need to know what's going to happen and how and why. My control means that, in general, my life is organized and run well. But there are some things that elude my control. And those things tend to piss me off.

I've never been terribly adept at handling change and uncertainty, and the past few months have brought plenty of that. It's difficult for me to interact with people who try to control my emotions and interactions. I don't like have "rules" about what I can express or when. It's hard for me deal with situations and relationships when the ground keeps shifting beneath my feet.

Mostly I've just come to the conclusion that those situations and people who leave me feeling powerless are situations and people I have to avoid. I'm learning there's a difference between relinquishing control in a healthy way (#yolo) and someone wresting it from you against your will in an attempt to take advantage of you or manage your reactions (#ass). I've let too many people exert control over my life lately. Some have done it unwittingly--frustrating but forgivable. What's harder to accept is that there are a few who have done it purposefully--who have used my weaknesses against me. I'm working slowly to shut those people out of my life. Or, at the very least, to shut down situations where I find my words, reactions, and feelings being policed by them. I've decided I'm done feeling guilty, embarrassed, or out of control. To quote Maxine Waters, I'm reclaiming my time. Or my control, as the case may be.

Of course, I backslide a lot; for a control freak, I have shockingly little self- control, as anyone who has seen me crack open a bag of Doritos can attest to. But I'm working on it.

So the world isn't my personal game of The Sims, much to my dismay. Most days, I can handle it. I am, after all, slightly more adept at life than any of the Sims I've had to play on the computer. I've never left a baby in the snow, fallen asleep in a plate of burned spaghetti, or electrocuted myself fixing a toaster (seriously, if you don't play this game, you're missing out). So, I suppose I have to navigate this world, constantly bumping into those people whose free will keeps getting in my way. I'll just I have to live with that.

But, just saying, some cheat codes would be nice.

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