This article originally appeared on VICE France.
I was lazily scrolling through my first weekend of quarantine when an ad on Facebook caught my eye. "Create your own world with The Sims 4 – 75 percent off for a limited time only!" I'd forgotten about the addictive virtual reality game I'd loved playing as a kid, when I'd spend hours building ugly houses and trying to learn how to speak Simlish. Hit by a pang of nostalgia, I downloaded it. It felt like buying a pack of cigarettes 20 years after quitting smoking.
When I was a kid, The Sims let me imagine myself as a grown-up. I could have everything: the perfect career, a house with a garden, a loyal husband, kids, a dog, a cat. Now, stuck at home, I wanted to recreate my real life and actually live it. I spent a good hour making a Sim that looked and dressed like me. I then filled out a personality test that generated my alter ego's character traits and aspirations based on my answers. I didn't know how to react when I saw the result – Chloé Sim wasn't a journalist, but a "not-quite-in-demand comedian". And she was a snob, or a Sim with "no time for low-quality things [who is] bored by 'low brow' television, and gains confidence around other Snob Sims". I could relate.
Next, I bought a modest house in Willow Creek for 15,000 Simoleons, a very exciting purchase for a Parisian renter. Then I bought a computer and a microphone to work on my comedy. An hour or two went by and Chloé Sim was alone, talking into a microphone in her living room with a full bladder and an empty stomach. The scene was incredibly sad. She started shaking and begging her creator (me) to end the stand-up session and let her go pee.
At that point I realised I'd been playing for five hours. Five hours without going to the bathroom, eating or drinking – but also without thinking about the coronavirus or the anxiety of being stuck indoors indefinitely. Unable to resist sharing my virtual adventures, I posted about them on Instagram. The validating reactions from friends who remember the game fondly kept me from feeling too bad about spending the whole day on it.
The next day I started to lose patience: Chloé Sim wasn't making enough money with her shitty comedy sets to satisfy her snobby needs. Luckily, my muscle memory kicked into gear: I hit ctrl+shift+c, and discovered that the old cheat codes still work. Keep pressing them and Simoleons will magically appear in your bank account, no virtual work required. I was rich – by which I mean, my Sim was. I'd promised myself I wouldn’t play for more than an hour, but suddenly I was three-deep into a full home makeover. I chose light wooden flooring with exposed red bricks walls and decorated the rooms with cacti and candles. I also gave Chloé Sim the best refrigerator and the comfiest bed Simoleons could buy. Maybe now she would start moving up in the world.
A few hours later, my efforts paid off. Chloé Sim went to a few parties and made new friends. Meanwhile, in real life, I'd spent many uninspired hours on Tinder, putting up with the lamest coronavirus ice-breakers imaginable – "Hope you stocked up on macaroni!" or "You might be my last match before the end of the world!" I decided dating by proxy was much more appealing, so jumped back into Chloé Sims' world and introduced myself to the first Sim passing by.
Florent wasn't at all my type – his moustache made me uneasy and he was wearing a horrible vest with rainbow stripes. But the longer I talked to this idiot, the more my confidence and charisma traits would increase in the game. I tested some jokes on him and then went on the offensive, asking him if he was single. I also told him I wanted to dance and make a chocolate cake together – all while in my underwear. Unfortunately, Florent wandered off.
Disappointed, I vented about Florent to my actual best friend Alban that evening. Oh god, I was talking about my Sim's life as if it were my own. "Well," Alban said, "I think the game is actually good for you. It’s definitely keeping your mind occupied." He was right. I stopped feeling guilty and really leaned into it.
Despite our dodgy first encounter, I ended up on a date with Florent and we kissed. I invited him to stay over and, as you'd say in Simlish, we "wohooed" in my luxurious bed. I got pregnant. After the wedding, Florent became literally mine to control and I could finally change his hideous vest into a nice plaid shirt and his weird moustache into a full-on beard. We expanded the house and I gave birth to twins. Taking care of four Sims in one household will be hard, but for now, the whole family is smiling. And I am, too.