Having retired from world-saving heroics, Christopher Livingston is living the simple life in video games by playing a series of down-to-earth simulations. This week, he steps into the life of a human being, something he should really have gotten the hang of by now.
Real Lives is a downloadable educational simulation game, promising the simulation of a single human life, one life among billions. According to their website, when I begin my simulated life, anything can happen. I could be born anywhere in the world. I could die an infant or live until old age. I could wallow in poverty or become a success. The simulation will advance me through my life a year at a time, allow me to make decisions, and let me manage my money, relationships, career and hobbies along the way.
I start the simulation, and I'm immediately born. Booyah! Man, I am acing this so far. My name is Devapratima Medha, and I'm a zero-year-old baby girl, born in Gujarat, India, to parents Parimal and Mahendra. I also have an older sister, Vasanta.
At age one, I've grown a baby tooth and learned to crawl. At age two, I'm walking and welcoming a new baby sister, Ritu. At three years, I try to start my own business, but the game tells me I'm not old enough. Lame. I also contract the measles. Ooh, genuinely lame. So, three years in, some victories, some losses. As this is an educational simulation, I'm given facts just about every time something happens in Dev's life, and I'll pass them on to you!
Actually, this might not be quite as much fun as Airwolf's fun facts . Why don't we just skip it.
I advance to age six, and start school. Nothing is more important than a good education, and I have hopes that Dev might someday run her own business empire instead of, say, having to spend her weekends writing about weird simulation games because she didn't take her education seriously like some people I could name. Then, I turn seven.
Wait. WHAT. One year of school? How the heck am I going to start my own business with one lousy year of school? What do you even learn in your first year of school? Here's what: nap time. You learn about nap time, which kids hate until they're adults, at which point they discover that napping is the absolute best thing in the world you can do with yourself, which does them no good because you only get nap time in your first year of school, when you hate naps.
Well, you can take my education when you pry it from my warm, living fingers! I'll just teach myself. I get to pick my leisure activities in this simulation, and I choose Reading/Study, as well as Music and Art. I also chose to spend time volunteering, because Dev is going to give others the help she never had. Frankly, I am starting to like Dev more than I like myself. I never volunteer, and consider it an act of heroism when I bother to give directions to lost tourists.
A few years pass. Dev, at age 12 and with really no other options, gets a job as a food processing worker. It sounds terrible, a twelve-year old dropout working in a processing plant, but no matter. I have my books and my art to occupy my mind as I cram processed hunks of assembly-line tandoori chicken into can after empty can. And even working overtime, I still find time to volunteer.
Six years pass as I process food, asking for a pay raise every single year, and being denied every single year. Still, at age 18, I have enough money to live on my own. I move out, find a small home, and spend as little as possible on food and entertainment. I'm determined to save my earnings. I meet a boy I like named Sujit, a shoemaker, and we start dating.
At age 19, several things happen. I discover I can no longer afford the place I'm living in, and have to move to a cheaper, smaller hovel. I also contract malaria. And, I'm told I have syphilis.
Syphilis? Are you kidding me? Sujit, you dumb slut, you gave me syphilis! I dump him and his diseased wang immediately. I quickly meet another boy, named Bahrat, but I decide not to date him, because even without an education, I've quickly learned that boys are horrible skanks that give you STDs.
Years pass. I work overtime constantly, yet I still find time to read, study and volunteer. Despite my low-paying job, I manage to save money, make some investments, grow my bank account, and even give a little to charity each year.
I am 30 years old. I am working in the same food processing plant I have since I was 12. For 17 straight years, I have asked for a raise. For 17 straight years, my requests have been denied. Finally, on my 18th year of work, I am given a raise. A 1% raise .
Screw. This . I decide I need to make a change. A big change. Dev is kind, charitable, she works her butt off and saves every rupee she makes at the Chicken Cramming Plant. She deserves a better life. She is owed a better life. While I'm sure I'll miss my sisters and parents, it's time to leave India and its grim factories and its simulated swirling clouds of communicable diseases behind. I decide to emigrate to another country. I spend a little time on Google, trying to determine what the best country in the world is, where people, particularly women, are the happiest. Most of my search results tend to agree: Denmark is the happiest damn place on Earth. Denmark it is, then. At age 30, My net worth is 90,000 rupees, and I check to see what it would cost to move to Denmark. Oh, not much, just 1,600,000 rupees . I'm not even close. I'm not even close to being close. I'm crushed.
However . There is an option to illegally emigrate for a tenth of the cost, 160,000 rupees, and I am close to being close to that. I don't see Dev as a lawbreaker, but desperate times call for desperate getting the hell to Denmark . I move back in with my parents, invest every penny I have, and cut my expenses to the bone. After six more years of soul-sucking, back-breaking, food-stuffing overtime labor at terrible wages, I've got enough money to leave the country. I quit my job, pack my bags, and pay some dude in an alley almost all the money I've saved over decades of hard work to illegally sneak me into Denmark.
I arrive in Denmark. I'm immediately caught. I'm deported back to India.
Years pass. At age 40, I'm still working constant overtime, still not getting a raise, still living at home, still reading and volunteering. I've met a man and we're engaged over the objections of my parents, who did not approve of my suitor and who even threatened to write me out of their will. At age 42 I request and receive a 1% pay raise, the second raise of my entire life spent working at FoodCramCo. To celebrate this wondrous achievement, my fiancee calls off our wedding and dumps me.
I'm 42 and this is my life. Squishing food into cans, getting dumped by jerks, and living with my petty, vindictive parents. Poor Dev, right? Decades of a mindless job with no prospects of improvement, a string of guys who give her diseases and dump her, living in a tiny home with parents who don't respect her? How can one woman possibly deal with this?
She can deal with this by going to the bank, withdrawing her life savings, finding another dude in another alley, and, once again, paying him to illegally sneak her into Denmark. What, you thought Dev just gave up on her dream of illegally moving to Denmark? Maaaaan, you don't know Dev . I hold my breath, steel my nerves, and tell the game to emigrate me the hell out of here.
Success! I'm in Denmark! My dream come true! I immediately burst out of the car trunk I hid in all the way to Denmark and dash off to see all the sights, like Dreyhaven Park, Borreby Castle, Tivoli Gardens, and everything else Dev has read about in her books and I just found out about by Googling "sights of Denmark" a few seconds ago!
I find a job as a seamstress, immediately ask for a raise, AND IMMEDIATELY GET A RAISE. Boom. Suck it, India: Denmark knows how to treat a lady. With everything going my way, I decide to keep rolling the dice. I meet a man named Amandeep, and suggest we date. He accepts! Dev is on a hot streak.
A few years later, I'm making good kroner as a seamstress without even having to work overtime. Amandeep proposes marriage. I accept. When I turn 50, we get married. Amandeep is making major bank at the factory he runs, we live in a luxurious house, we eat well, I give generously to charity, and still, as always, volunteer my time to help others. And of course, I continue to read and study. It appears I'll never have the option to run a business due to my lack of a formal education, but no matter. I even get notified that my syphilis has been cured. I am so winning at this life game, you guys!
Except I'm not , maybe. I check Dev's stats every year, and I've become worried about her happiness (rated from 1 to 100), which keeps dropping, little by little, year by year. Even with so much going for her, she's not really that happy and I'm not sure why. Does she miss India, and her family? Does she not like her job? Is her husband, Amandeep, being a jerk? Does she resent her entire life being controlled by a guy sitting at his computer Googling Denmark facts? I don't know, but I'm not giving up. At age 53, I try to make some positive changes. With Amandeep making so much money, I have Dev quit her job, continue to volunteer, start socializing more, and get involved in social causes. The simulation doesn't specify what the social causes are, but I like to think Dev works on a public awareness campaign to make sure everyone in India knows that her first boyfriend, Sujit, has a syphilitic dong. I'm hoping these new activities and lack of a stifling job will make Dev at least a little happier.
Well, that's probably not going to help. I turn 54 and Amandeep promptly keels over dead. I immediately check on my financial situation. I mean, um... I immediately mourn my beloved husband and scatter his ashes at his favorite thing in Denmark, which is The David Collection, because that's what Google came up with when I typed in "favorite thing in Denmark". It's apparently a museum, hopefully one where they don't mind if you run in and scatter human remains all over the place your way to the bank.
Okay, back to money. My current expenses are 27,000 kroner/month, and my current income is zero kroner/month. Even my first grade math skills tells me that ain't gonna work. I've got some assets and some cash, but I have to move into a smaller place and get a job. Naturally, the only job I can find is as... wait for it... a food processing worker. Full circle. Once again, I'm sitting on an assembly line in a factory, this time jamming the traditional Danish cuisine Frikadeller (Google!) into can after empty can.
Dev turns 56. Her happiness drops to 32. Her mom dies the next year. Dev meets a man she likes, but he's not interested. Dev's happiness drops down to 25.
Age 58. Back in India, Dev's dad dies. Her happiness drops down to 24. She meets another man, and again, is rejected.
Age 59. Dev's investments are slowly losing money, she can't find a better job, and her happiness is still declining. I think it may be time for one of those big, sweeping lifestyle changes. Maybe if I scrimp and save for another five years, I can move again. Hawaii? Hawaii seems like a great place to retire. Get a small place on the coast, make the money last, retire with a nice big stack of books. Doesn't sound bad at all.
Age 60. Dev dies of breast cancer.
Uh. Wait. What. Whaaaaaat. Come on, Denmark! How could you let this happen? You have a great health care system that I know all about because I Googled it four seconds ago, he yelled, hoping yet another joke about how he doesn't know anything about Denmark would mask the truth that he was genuinely upset that the simulated Indian woman he'd come to know and, yes, care about over the past hour had suddenly died.
The game gives me Dev's obituary, but I am unfortunately too stunned (really) over her death to actually take a screenshot of it. It mentions her volunteer work, her one year of schooling, that she has two sisters, and a few other details. Essentially, it sums her up her entire life in one paragraph. (Clearly, I don't have a future as an obituary writer.)
Conclusion: I don't really have a conclusion. I feel like I did poorly -- I didn't amass riches, conquer a profession, or live happily ever after -- but the game isn't saying I did poorly. It's not saying anything. There are no points, there's no score, no achievements or badges. But I can't help feeling that, as a human being, I failed.
Maybe not. Dev never got an education, sure, but she never stopped reading and learning. She never made a fortune, but she always gave what she could to others. She died of breast cancer at age sixty, but at least she didn't die of measles at age three. Maybe it's not a failure, maybe not a success. It's just a single human life, one life among billions.
You can download the trial version of Real Lives here .