Silicon Insider: A Perfect (Sim) World

— Sitting here at the keyboard, waiting for the next computer virus or worm to kill my computer, the mind tends toward thoughts of a better world.

My friend Bob always offers a left-handed defense of hackers. He says they play a crucial role in the ecology of the Web; that it is really the fault of software companies for not designing sufficiently robust products. “Every system needs its predators,” he says.

Perhaps so, but something tells me that if a blood test determined that Bob had a W. Bancrofti nematode infestation, he’d be begging for every medicine on Earth to kill the damn things before he got elephantiasis … and he wouldn’t accept an argument from the doctor that he had been insufficiently diligent in preventing such an attack.

Maybe the best solution to this whole problem is to use the civil courts. Class action suits — against the software makers whenever negligence can be shown, and against the little weasels who perpetrate this stuff.

Not just short prison terms, immediately followed by a high-paying job as a computer consultant. How about if we add a class action judgment, brought on behalf of 75 million victims for, say, $3 billion — plus another $5 million for that baby you killed in Omaha when you crashed the hospital fetal monitoring system?

Go ahead and take that consulting job: we’ll garnish every paycheck you get, forever. And attach every piece of electronic equipment you buy. And drive the folks who sold you your equipment into Chapter 11, and everyone who ever helped you into poverty. Did we mention that mom and dad are wiped out too? They’ll be spending their retirement with you in your new abandoned station wagon home.

But that will never happen. And so I dream on about a more perfect world.

An Unexpected Oasis of Domesticity

In fact there is such a world, and, ironically, it resides on the Web — The Sims.

I looked at the Sims pretty carefully when it first came out. Here, after all, was something new in the computer game world.

I’d been following computer games from their inception — played the moon landing game on the giant NASA mainframes in the 1960s, saw (and played) Bushnell’s first Pong game at Andy Capp’s Pub, and even tried out the first Atari home player before it was introduced.

I watched the computer game business rise and fall … and then miraculously rise again.

Like most adults, I drifted away from the game world — the real-life game of Silicon Valley was more than enough to keep me engaged 24/7 — only to be brought back a dozen years later by the birth of my kids. Through them I learned of the third generation of gaming.

Over the last six years, through my little surrogates, I’ve explored the panoply of modern gaming, from the renewal of my acquaintance with the Mario Brothers, currently residing on my 6-year-old’s GameBoy, into the darker worlds of Half-Life, Counterstrike and Unreal Tournament visited by my 12-year-old. And from there into the even murkier world of on-line gaming.

As with movies, life for my wife and I is a perpetual battle to keep from my oldest from sneaking into R-rated experiences, and my youngest from experiencing what his older brother is already allowed to see.

Yet, in the middle of this dreary landscape of murder, mayhem, and mythical beasts there is this unexpected oasis of domesticity called the Sims. And its enormous success I think says something very telling about being a child in the Internet Age.

Not a Game, But a Subculture

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