Our games editor is on a plane somewhere between Quebec and Georgia. Our assistant games editor doesn’t start until August. The interns are in charge today, and one of them, Rebecca Sarvady, is finally ready to open up about the games that spoiled her otherwise idyllic childhood. It’s a sad, funny, ultimately brave tale, one well worth heeding, whether your childhood remains intact or if it was somehow ruined decades ago.
Remember those moments in your childhood when you began to realize life wasn’t all sunshine and puppy dogs? Maybe it was when you first fell off a bike, you failed your first quiz or you couldn’t get anyone in your family to build a robot out of old shoeboxes with you so you ran away from home (okay, that last one may just be me). If you were lucky enough to have a cushy, parental-controlled childhood like me, it was little things that made you become a little less naïve; often, you were the one choosing the things that made you less innocent. I believe it was my choice in computer games that shaped the course of my childhood, or maybe even effectively ended it. From children’s games about ponies to videogame versions of prime-time soap operas, these are the PC games that ruined my childhood. Maybe they ruined yours too.
Did your school ever hand out Scholastic catalogs? If so, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that those these were more coveted than a 13 year old’s playboy found in the bottom of one of dad’s boxes from the attic. If not, let me explain: Scholastic catalogs were essentially a magazine that had every book Scholastic was marketing to schoolchildren, as well as a description of said book and the price. You could order straight from the catalog. I guess the idea of the whole thing was to make reading and buying books more of a fun and toy-like experience for kids. Well, at age seven I believed I had cleverly outsmarted the capitalist Scholastic system when I ordered the computer GAME Garfield: Mad about Cats! from the catalog. I felt so smug in my defeat of my school trying to make me learn something in my free time. Then the game came and it was an educational encyclopedia about different feline species, their diets, and where you can find them, merely cloaked in a guise of being a mad scientist-themed game. I was horrified, ashamed and never quite trusted an academic publication again.
In hindsight I sort of brought this game upon myself. I was eleven when my fifteen-year-old sister barred me from playing her videogame version of the infamous ABC melodrama Desperate Housewives. Not one to enjoy being told no, I went into her room and stole it, playing the game whenever I possibly could. Where my parents were during this time I don’t know. But what I did know after playing Desperate Housewives is that suburban housewives sure do like to have affairs. After playing this Sims-like simulation game where I, as a Wisteria Lane housewife, slapped people, killed people, and served people my homemade ratatouille, I definitely felt I had lost some of my childhood innocence. My neighborhood suddenly seemed a little more ominous, but a plane still has yet to crash into our town’s Christmas display.
I have very little to say about the Lionhead Studio’s 2005 movie studio simulation game, because I played it for all of five minutes before it crashed, taking my family computer’s motherboard down with it. We had to buy a new computer. My dad was very mad at me and it has scarred me for life.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the girl detective videogame series, but as an 11 year old (and maybe even now) it scared the shit out of me. You, as Nancy Drew, are constantly traipsing off to haunted inns and mansions in New Orleans, Japan and England. You, as Nancy Drew, are also 17. Where the f*ck are your adult supervisors? As the games’ CGI improved, the gameplay became eerier and eerier. Maybe I sound ridiculous, but if you were playing a computer game and suddenly this happened, you would be freaked out too. On top of all the peril that Nancy has to endure alive, she is also constantly being murdered, setting herself on fire or trapping herself in ancient tombs (thank God for the game’s “second chance” option). Dozens of YouTube videos are dedicated just to montages of all the Nancy Drew’s death sequences. My personal favorite is the montage set to Train’s “50 Ways to Say Good-bye.” I’d laugh about how people take time out of their day to make these things, but yet here I am, watching them.
My affinity for mysteries goes way back. Pre Nancy Drew days, Freddi Fish was my thing. I felt like such a daredevil 6 year old, sitting in front of a Windows ’95 solving classics like “The Case of The Stolen Conch Shell” and “The Case of the Hogfish Rustlers of Briny Gulch” (say that three times fast). My love for Freddi Fish was so devout that it turned me into a bratty little kid. I once got into a physical altercation with another 6 year old at my local science museum’s computer lab while fighting for a chance to solve one of Freddi’s classic underwater mysteries. My Dad also wants me to mention that one time I was so enthralled playing Freddi Fish 2: The Case of the Haunted Schoolhouse that a rat straight up died right beside the computer and I continued on, unfazed.
I feel obliged to put the Sims on here, because it was probably the game I played most throughout my childhood and the one I spent the most money on. Between Sims 1, Sims 2, and Sims 3, plus several expansion packs for each, my family and I easily spent a combined $300+ on the whole thing. I feel like Sims corrupts a lot of people, teaching us that it’s easier to “Woohoo” someone if you gift them really nice stuff, that with the proper cheats, money is always obtainable and that if you don’t want to pay taxes, you just have to delete your mailbox. Besides all the glitches and moral ambiguity, I think the thing about Sims that really brought me to ruin was the obsession it incited in me. I’d miss meals while I taught my Sim to cook their own soufflé. When I first got Sims 3:World Adventures in middle school, I immediately invited my friend over for the weekend. We played for 7 hours straight, slept a little, ate breakfast, then played for 9 hours more. That was not a particularly unusual weekend. Think of the time lost playing all these years. I could have mastered the piano (if I’d taken lessons).
This game instilled a rage in me I have never felt before, and I will hopefully never feel to quite the same level of intensity again. One of the challenges was a river rafting game that I would play until my fingers hurt. The objective was to get the Reptar-shaped raft across the river in order to retrieve baby Dil, who is for some terrible reason being hung precariously off a bridge by a gang of monkeys. Sounds easy enough, but wait! The river is filled with rocks and branches, and if you hit them your raft will deflate. You have 5 chances to avoid the sharp objects before game over, though, because the Rugrats remembered to bring 5 measly band-aids to patch up the holes. You may find yourself asking, “How could band-aids stop a hole in a inflatable raft?” I counter that if you’re thinking that logically, it’s frightening why you haven’t stopped and asked yet why BABIES are steering a boat to save another BABY from his imminent death. I was so bad as this game that when I finally won, I felt as if I’d actually accomplished something big, like winning a war or finally putting up an Ikea bookshelf that’s been in a box in your house for 8 months. Then the computer crashed.
Sim City was like the annoying little sister of Sims that you were forced to play with when you were hanging out with Sims but Sims’ mom forced her to go practice piano. I begrudgingly would bring out Sims City 4 when the ancient computer that contained all of our Sims games broke, which was about once a month. I would create intricate cities with gorgeous sprawling parks and swimming pools, because I was 10 and that was more important to me than building schools or police stations. Also for that reason, my cities always seemed to fall into crippling debt. Once, when crying about my city reaching the point of no return, I read online that there is a “destroy” control panel in the game. From that point onward, I got a great deal of pleasure out of building expensive, giant cities, and then watching it crumble by a well-timed tornado or robot attack. A 10 year old should not be able to play God like that.
This game, by and large, messed me up the most. Let me set the scene: I am 5, I love My Little Pony and I love computer games. I play this game happily, dressing up my pony, feeding her lollipops and brushing her virtual hair. Then it happens- I make the foolish mistake of making my pony trot on over to the outskirts of the Friendship Garden and I click on the rainbow that leads up to a pretty castle in the sky. A pop-up box simply asks me “Are you sure?” Uh, yes computer, I’m sure I want to go party at the cloud castle with my pony. I click yes. Suddenly, my pony is surrounded by her family and friends and a talking butterfly. They all wish her well. Then she gallops away on the rainbow and fucking leaves me to go a party in the sky while I rot with all her other rejects. Then the game ends! My pony is gone. I have the option to create a new pony, but it’s too late. I’ll never love again. By and large this was the most a computer game has ever ruined me, because it taught me that everything you love will someday leave you. Thanks, Hasbro Interactive.
Rebecca Sarvady is from Atlanta, Georgia and attends school in California. She won a t-shirt design contest in 4th grade and is still riding off the coat-tails of that accomplishment. You can find her on her unsuccessful twitter here: @rebleeks.