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Cogito, ergo Sim sum

by Bill Prindle

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts: 1, 2, 3

part 1

Thursday, June 6, 2013

I am born.


I, Sebastian Balfe Dangerfield, was reborn when The Finger touched the screen of his new iPhone app Sim Freeplay 2.0, an evolved but still dumbed-down version of the original Sim City, which allowed the player to create a city driven by open-ended algorithms. The game was a hit with intellectuals, city planners, non-violent gamers, and ant-farm enthusiasts.

When the Sim Freeplay 2.0 app was released, something quite astounding happened.


My birth seemed unremarkable. To populate a village, The Finger, as I call the player, selected my personality — Bookworm — and named me after the hero of J.P. Donleavy’s novel The Ginger Man. The Finger endowed me with a precise set of physical characteristics (sex, eyes, face, hair) and clothing (shirt, pants, shoes) and plopped me down in a modest, pre-built house.

He added more houses, more Sims, more businesses and assigned activities to us: eating, defecating, washing up, making friends, tending gardens, dancing, farting, romancing, cooking, working, and having sex, about which, more later. All of this was standard fare for Sim Freeplay. Our relationships evolved in programmed ways.

But not this Simkin (my preferred name for our species). I march to a different drummer.

That’s enough for today. I have to go to my night shift at the Art Gallery and shall return anon.

* * *

Hello again. Apparently. The Finger misplaced his iPhone for a couple of weeks, forgetting to feed and bathe his Simkins, all of whom suffered. The evolution of our village crawled along at a periwinkle pace. But I kept busy thinking and writing, characteristics inherent to my Bookwormish digital DNA.

The story of my birth programmer — My Originator — is integral to my story, so follow along.

His name is Stuart Vernon, a 1985 Stanford graduate with a double major in English literature and music. After teaching high school by day, intermittently working on his novel at night, and playing in a bar band on weekends, all he had after three years of burning his candle at both ends was a short candle, an unfinished novel, and no social life.

He quit teaching and got an undemanding job as a barista at Starbucks, so he could concentrate on his writing. His short stories were published in science fiction journals, which paid nothing and had small readerships, principally composed of unemployed, pale young men still living with their parents.

He achieved literary success on the smallest scale possible, had a passable social life, but no money. A close college friend of his named Margalo, like so many smart Stanford grads, had signed on at the start-up software company that created the original Sim City.

As the game became popular, the company sought out more smart Stanford grads with quirky backgrounds. Margalo called Stuart, Stuart interviewed, and was hired before the interview ended.

My Originator’s life blossomed. His musical skills made him a natural programmer and his literary knowledge endowed his code with narrative drive. The company prospered, was acquired, and Stuart’s wealth increased as he ascended the meritocratic ladder.

His social life again suffered, limited by his eighty-hour workweeks. He compensated for his lack of an emotional life by buying an 11,000 square-foot house in Silicon Valley and hiring an interior architect to decorate it with Bauhaus-inspired chrome-tube-and-black-leather furniture that gave the interior a sadomasochistic frisson. He added abstract Expressionist paintings that resembled the floor of an abattoir.

For all his high-tech toys — sound systems, computers, programmed lighting arrays — and professional grade kitchen appliances — the Meneghini La Cambusa fridge, a Grand Palais 180 stove, Scanomat TopBrewer (four pots in ten seconds!), glazed lava countertops, etc. — all he ate was take-out, and all he did in his fancy house was sleep and shower.

His possessions brought him no joy. He was programmed to work and little else. His sole passion was creating new, more complex simulated cities and Simkins to inhabit them.

Fate finally intervened on Stuart’s behalf. Margalo and Stuart were assigned to upgrade Sim Freeplay. As a gateway product, its primary purpose to frustrate players with its glacial real-time pace and drive them to make repeated purchases of add-ons to enrich and accelerate their Simkins’ lives.

Or, better yet, they’d be lured into purchasing the latest, befuddlingly byzantine version of Sim City. “Sixteen cities! Endless possibilities! Create polluting industries and watch as the Sims in neighboring cities become ill!”

Sim Freeplay was a give-away product, a nothing-burger in the realm of online gaming. For experienced programmers and Sim fictioneers like Stuart and Margalo, such an enhancement should have been a two-month project, a mere walk in the park.

One night, over take-out Ethiopian food at Margalo’s condo in Redwood City, Stuart and she discussed the personality types they’d create for the game. Even these Simple personality types, they speculated excitedly — Jock, Fashionista, Socialite, Bookworm, Villain, Geek, Tycoon, Artist — could have deep psychological subtexts that would activate as their village became more populated and relationships more intertwined.

As he nibbled at his alicha wat and qoocco, Stuart realized that the traits they were discussing for Bookworm — intellectual, absent-minded, naive, kind, and filled with a latent yearning for a true soul mate — and Geek — playful, cerebral, sloppy, witty, fickle, intense, and filled with a latent yearning for a true soul mate — were, in fact, themselves!

He gazed across the coffee table at Margalo, his friend and confidant, sitting on the floor, dipping her injera into her kitfo, and spilling tej onto her Vampire Weekend T-shirt. He was swamped by a wave of love for her. So barren was his emotional landscape that these feelings swept away all other thoughts, like a flash flood in the desert.

“Marg, I have a confession,” he said.

“I know,” she said, chewing on a piece of gristle in the alicha wat. “I saw you double dip in my kitfo. S’all right.”

“No, it’s not that. It’s a feeling I have.”

“I know what you mean. When they put too much turmeric on the qoocco, I get brutal gas. Don’t be embarrassed — just let ’er rip.”

“No, no, it’s not that either. It’s us, or at least me. I’ve been so busy thinking about how to make Bookworm and Geek fall in love that I didn’t realize that I’m Bookworm, you’re Geek, and that I’m in love with you. I haven’t had time to love anything or anyone. If it hadn’t been for this project—”

She dropped her injera on the floor, scooted around to his side of the coffee table, and threw her arms around his neck. “Stu, I’ve been secretly in love with you since college. I never had the nerve to say it! Let’s WooHoo!”

WooHoo is the name they assigned for sexual hijinks between Simkins. Stuart and Margalo WooHoo’d that night and the following morning.

For the next eight months, their passion was equally divided between developing a far subtler and emotionally potent version of Sim Freeplay than was originally planned and sharing evenings of exotic take-out food and WooHooing.

Their romance came to a disastrous end with an exogenous event, not unlike the arrival of Godzilla in Sim City. As their project neared completion, Margalo’s ex-boyfriend Trey, who worked at Google in Mountain View, just twelve miles down the road from Sim City World Headquarters, got back in touch with her.

Just like her character Geek, Margalo also proved fickle, and Trey wooed her away with his charm, worldliness, and an offer to make her VP of Imagineering at Google.

Heartsick and forlorn, Stuart lost interest in finishing the development of Sim Freeplay and turned it over to junior members of his team. But the potential rebirth of Stuart and Margalo as Bookworm and Geek was already deeply embedded in the game’s code.

You might ask yourself, how came I to know these intimate details about Stuart and Margalo?


Stuart is I and I am Stuart. But now I must leave off, for The Finger has decreed that I bake some chocolate chip cookies for an upcoming Bake Sale.

More startling revelations to come!

* * *

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2014 by Bill Prindle

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