Malcolm Owen On August 9, 2004 at 7:02 am

The UK has been enjoying the latest series of Big Brother. In comparison to the United States version of the show, we the general public choose who stays and who goes, instead of the Survivor-esque voting-off that the US contestants go through. This has shown that the average British person is a scheming, evil person. We all vote to get boring people out and to keep the annoying ones in the house, because we have learned to vote to make the show more entertaining than it is. We’ve made ourselves into Roman Emperors, judging gladiators at the Coliseum with our thumbs, or rather fingers.
The other main reason that Big Brother does so well in the UK is that the housemates are grouped to try and provoke angry reactions whilst being given copious amounts of alcohol by the producers. The housemates are more emotional, and not afraid to show it at any time, and the alcohol helps this along.
This year’s theme was "Evil", with the housemates chosen based upon their own prejudices and stereotypes (The homophobic immigrant, the homosexuals, the lesbian idealist student protestor, the psychology student who’s so unconfident in himself that he must remind everyone at every second of the day that he has got 4 A-Levels, the wide-boy bounder-type guy whom believes he is better than everyone else so shouts a lot and gives out tons of smack talking…) and the show geared towards more evil issues, such as making people hang over nettles for a prolonged period of time without falling, and allowing 2 contestants to be "evicted", but taken to a separate room in the house where they can spy on everyone else remaining via a private TV feed, giving them some inside information on what is happening behind their backs. During the show’s run, there’s been one housemate evicted for constantly breaking the rules and defeating the object of the programme, and more famously a large fight erupted, forcing the live video feeds to be censored for an hour, and the introduction of bouncers to the house to avoid any extremely heavy confrontations.
Every year, the critics crawl out of the woodwork and talk about how shows like Big Brother are ruining society, allowing people with lower IQs than trained chimps onto our screens to backchat, backbite and generally bitch at each other, and also why the people whom watch the show are thoughtless individuals with no lives and no brains. Most of the population agree with their sentiments, and then half of them end up watching the show anyway.

A few months ago, I decided that I wanted to find out what the heck this "The Sims" thing was. I’m not a complete moron, so I knew what the basic mechanics of the game were, and I knew roughly what I would be in for, I just had not played the game at all. The constant criticism that "hardcore gamers" give towards the game makes it seem like a bad thing, especially since it’s bought by "casual gamers" for the most part. The fact that add-on packs to the original game take up half the top 20 slots in the sales charts week in week out also point towards EA being an evil company that should know better than to pray on the "simple minds of the weak" to keep the executives’ beds filled with cash. I thought that it might be an idea to play the game to find out whether this was all true or not.
Within a few days of this initial thought, I managed to get hold of a copy of the game and most of the expansion packs from a friend. He lent them to me, rather than force me to spend so much money on something that I would probably use for a week at most. Please note the important words "a week at most". I restricted myself to that as I had things to do, like going to dental appointments and sleeping, that were planned for the week after and I had the feeling that I would have maybe a part of my life overtaken by this game, that many thought was a disease upon the whole culture.

 At first, I installed the game and the various extras. Not exactly a big step in the grand scheme of things, but a step none the less. I created a couple that I would control and force into doing my bidding, the man was set to be really tidy, and the woman to be quite average in most respects. I called them Will and Grace, partly because I thought they were the best names I could choose when I would be watching two people living their lives on my computer screen, but mostly because the show was on TV at the time. With the little resources I had to play with, I was forced to select one of the smallest houses in the neighbourhood. I decorated the home sparingly, and attempted to make life work out between the two.
About three days into their new lives, it was decided that Will should get a job, since money can be exchanged for goods and services, and that’s part of the aim of the game. Grace was to stay at home and watch TV, which she did. She also, for reasons unknown, urinated on the floor a lot, and it took me a while to work out why: I hadn’t built a toilet into the house. A quick edit and everything was running smoothly… until Will came home. They hated what was on TV, and complained in unison about most of everything in the building. They also argued with each other. They then both left the house, walked pretty far into the garden, and started doing weird hand gestures and speaking about the house. I could only assume that they hated the place, and were pleading with me to do something about it. Of course, the initial plan of action would be to create another family and start from scratch, but that wouldn’t do. The continued hatred I would feel from the initial experiment subjects weighed heavily on my mind. I felt compelled to make their imaginary lives better. I then reached for a gaming magazine from times past.

I remembered that The Sims had a large catalogue of cheats for the game, including such wonders as gaining more Simoleons instantly. A few minutes later, it was set that both Will and Grace were millionaires, and could afford to move out of their pathetically small lodgings and into something slightly larger. A bigger house beckoned me, and I bought it. Using the most expensive items I could afford, I tried to make my Sims’ lives better than they had ever imagined. Two kitchens, three televisions, a pool, and most importantly, thirteen toilets! They were also rich enough not to worry about working ever again, especially considering all the "inheritance money" that I was bestowing on them. A gardener was hired to keep the shrubs looking fine, multiple maids were called in to do any dirty work, and a party was arranged. Guests arrived, Will entertained, and Grace slept through the whole thing. I then thought that it would be a fun idea to allow Grace to become a star, since I also had the Superstar expansion installed. She was taken around the place and I sent her to sing to entertain people. After some training at home, the crowds started to give her small amounts of money, which quite frankly didn’t help out the financial situation at home. A message box appeared, saying that Grace should quickly gossip with other people and name-drop like there’s no tomorrow, but she was tired and had to go home to rest up.

It was at this point that I decided to look at the clock handily on the other side of the room, to find out how long I had been playing. It felt like an hour, but seeing as I started playing at 6pm on Tuesday and it was then 3am on Wednesday, it was in actual fact a fair bit longer. 9 hours. In a state of shock from this, uninstallation of the game was my top priority, since if it could suck 9 hours out of me that easily, what if I mistakenly played for longer, missing out more meals and important appointments? The Sims could have ruined my life, and I contemplated the notion whilst I used one of the real-life toilets in the house (We only have two).

The appeal of The Sims stems from our need to create and watch relationships and inter-personal dramas, and our almost parental stance on making someone we created a better person. In the same way that a child can play with Barbie or GI Joe and have imaginary storylines as they go along, I was moving my own non-existent versions through an imaginary soap-opera where I called most of the shots. Just sitting and watching the drama unfold can be entertaining, which makes television brilliant, but being able to take control and help the flow of the story for what we want it to be, is a much better prospect. No wonder that the game has got this popular and this mainstream.
People who watched the UK version of Big Brother were playing their own version of The Sims, and chose who should leave before others do. We were nudging the story along, and in many ways the eventual arguments are our own doing. Like The Sims, we like to people-watch, and we like to meddle with those involved.

And the amount of arguments they had is unsurprising really, considering they only have one toilet…

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