A few nights ago I was eating dinner with three female friends of mine, and conversation turned, inevitably, to The Sims.
The Sims, for those who have not played it, is a computer game that allows you to manage the lives of a family of people, from finding them jobs to dictating when they use the restroom. Such a concept should allow players to explore different aspects of life in novel ways; instead, it's often turned to more prurient purposes.
"Remember the vibrating heart-shaped bed?" one girl asked me. I nodded--the bed had all the style and grace of a no-tell motel, and if you told your Sims to use it, they would disrobe and perform carnal--excuse me, virtual--acts beneath the covers.
"Once I was home alone and bored," she went on, "and so I had my Sims have sex again . . . and again . . . and again . . . until finally the man passed out on the floor."
"I did something similar," another broke in. "I built a wall around the bed, so they kept having sex until they both died from exhaustion."
I told my own story, in which I turned my best friend's little sisters into sociopaths. I taught them that you could put a Sim in a room, remove the door, and then set the house on fire. When your Sim perished, the Grim Reaper appeared to dispose of him. My friend's sisters were suitably shocked.
Fifteen minutes later, they dragged me over to the computer to show me their latest project. They were luring neighbors into the house in order to trap them and kill them when the house burned down. I patted the two budding serial killers on the back and left, telling myself I had given them only the means to murder, not the motivation.
"The real problem," one of my friends said, "is the social workers. My Sims had a baby, but there wasn't really time to take care of it. So this social worker came and took the kid away.
"Of course, if you build a wall around the social worker when she shows up, she'll just die anyway."
"If you keep killing social workers," one confided, "they can never take your children away."
Our fourth dinner companion, who had evidently never played the game herself, wondered aloud whether she ought to call DFACS as soon as any of us conceived.
"No," I said, "at least, not on these two. Do you really want to be responsible for a social worker's death?"
I guess Sims lets you explore what it's like to be God, within certain limits. We heap a lot of blame on God, especially for the sort of things that happened in the Old Testament. Fire rained from the sky. People were turned into salt. There were floods, and massacres, and a baby got cut in half. But really, can we claim to be any better? At least God never walled you up in a house and set the carpet on fire. Nor has he killed a disproportionate number of social workers, or brought people to death by sexual exhaustion.
We take issue with the matter of Creation. There's a tree, and you're not allowed to eat of it, but you know, it's right there, and what could one little bite hurt? The logical man might wonder why the tree wasn't placed out of reach, but the logical man never had to play Sims without cheat codes. You're limited in funds, and it's hard to put the Tree of Knowledge on a distant mountaintop when there's a perfectly convenient spot right between the mulberry bush and the demonically persuasive serpent.
Sims teaches us an important theological lesson. A lot of times in our stories, gods just behave like we would, if only we could. Anybody whose had to deal with Egyptian customs procedures has thought about smiting the whole country with locusts, and most of us, upon meeting a beautiful woman we're too shy to talk to, would probably jump at the chance to manifest as a bull or a swan or perhaps even a convenient raincloud. It's the Olympian way.
So give the gods a break. After all, they're only human.