When I was a kid, I was obsessed with The Sims. After I finished my homework, I would sit in front of our massive desktop with a bowl of pretzels and wait for the game to load alongside my little sister.
So when an ex from college texted me about a chance to test out the beta version of a game he developed, which he dubbed the modern Sims, I ignored the twisted feeling in my gut and agreed.
I ended up meeting him at his office, which looked more like a shack with low ceilings and wooden walls. After he gave me an awkward hug hello, he showed me to a touchscreen computer in an otherwise empty room and left me alone to play. To make judgments so I could fill out a survey and help him enhance the gameplay.
And the game was, as advertised, similar to The Sims. Except there wasn’t a feature that allowed users to fast forward or even a menu where you could choose your character’s skin tone, height, weight, or facial structure. You were just assigned a random family.
Mine consisted of a chubby woman wearing an oversized Metallica t-shirt (that looked like she’d been crying) and a hipster looking fellow wearing skintight jeans (that looked like he had a massive bump on his forehead). When I clicked on her, different options appeared: Say hello. Give hug. Offer handshake. Kiss cheek.
I must have been acting as the man, then. He had a glowing oval around his neck that reminded me of the shock collar my childhood dog wore, which I assumed was the game’s way of showing which character you were playing as.
So I told him to give the woman a kiss on the cheek, followed by several pick-up lines and ass slaps (one of the many new interactions that this game contained). Back when I was a kid, the only thing I liked better than tossing a Sim in the pool and removing the ladder to watch them drown was making them have sex. Death and sex. Sex and death.
So I built up the pair’s friendship. Told them to flirt like crazy. To dance. To cuddle. To chat.
I have to be honest, hearing them speak clear English instead of gibberish was beyond creepy. Their words didn’t even sound natural. They sounded forced, like the voice actors had guns against their heads.
But it got creepier.
When I finally developed their friendship enough and clicked on the bed in the adjoining room, there were several options. Rough sex. Gentle sex. Oral sex. Anal sex.
I pressed anal. It didn’t matter that I was deep in my twenties. I was playing the game I grew up on. It brought out the kid in me. I thought it would be funny.
But when the woman removed her clothing, there wasn’t a black bar or pixels covering her. You could see everything. Her nipples. Her pussy lips. Her stubble. Everything.
And it was the same with the man – you could see his balls, his dick, his treasure trail – but at least he looked like he was enjoying himself.
She didn’t. At all. Her nose was scrunched up to her eyes and her entire body was stiff. When the man tried to slide inside of her, there was a second when she pressed her hand against his chest like she wanted him to stop, but then her body convulsed. Like she’d been shocked. Like the thing wrapped tightly around her neck had shocked her.
I x’ed out the action to end it. Told them to eat dinner instead.
And I could’ve sworn the woman mouthed a thank you.
After that, I played on autopilot, not really paying attention to what was happening on the screen. All I could think about was why I had broken up with my ex in the first place. He was a sadistic fuck. I’d stuck a knife in my jeans the day I broke up with him, just in case he got violent.
Why the hell did I agree to this? I should’ve avoided his call. I should’ve told him to fuck off.
I was going to get up, get out, but then I realized I unlocked more options for my character. Since I wasn’t really paying attention to his needs, the man was now in a bad mood and could commit anger-based actions. He could yell. He could curse. He could drink. He could kill.
I had a flashback to my remove-the-ladder-from-the-pool days. I really wanted to see a proper murder. Anyone that played the game as a kid would have.
So I pressed on kill and was met with one last choice. Use knife. Use gun. Use poison. Use rope.
I wanted the knife. I thought it would be the most interesting to watch.
But it was pure hell. A nightmare in flesh.
After I clicked, the man sighed, ran a hand through his hair, and rummaged through the kitchen until he found a knife.
No. That was the woman’s voice. You’re not actually going to do this? You can’t. You’re not.
He hesitated, blade in hand. You know that I have to. It looked like he was crying.
She started to back away, prepared to run, but he lunged for her. Tackled her to the ground. Held her wrists over her head and pinned his knees against her thighs to stop the kicking.
Stop. Stop. You don’t have to. You don’t. When her pleas failed to work, she looked away from him, up to her sky. Turn off the game. Turn off the fuc—
The screen turned blue with thin green lines like prison bars. Then it blinked to black.
I pushed my chair away from the desk, almost toppling backwards. But the second I moved for the door, the handle turned and my ex walked inside.
“Fuck your survey,” I said, trying to move around him. “This game is never going to make you any money. If anything, you’ll lose money from a lawsuit. I don’t know what the hell you think you’re—”
When I got close enough to him, he pushed me. Not hard, just enough to confuse me. To stun me. And then he shoved a towel into my face.
I could smell the chloroform.
I woke up in an unfamiliar bedroom with a collar around my neck and a robotic voice in my ear, saying, “Take a hot shower.”
What the fuck?
When I didn’t move, the collar shocked me. Sent electricity through my neck and down my spine.
“Someone else is playing the game now.” This time the voice was different. It was my ex. “Your earpiece will tell you what the player clicks and you’re going to have to do it. If they tell you to eat, you eat. If they tell you to have anal sex, you have anal sex. And if they tell you to kill, you kill.”
I didn’t have to ask why the hell I would play along. The threats came in waves.
Or else you’ll get shocked. Or else you’ll be killed. Or else we’ll grab your little sister, your elderly mother, your teenage cousin and force them to replace you.
So when the robotic voice repeated itself, when it told me to take a hot shower, I peeled off my clothes, trying to avoid thinking about the player monitoring my naked body – and what else they were going to ask me to do.