Sunday, September 5, 2010

Idea Garage Sale: The Tritelight Zone

A man wakes up in a strange landscape, with a perennial migrainoid visual effect that made the world look flat, nonsense sounds coming out of his mouth and those of everyone around him. He makes up his mind to do one thing and finds himself doing something else. He soon realizes that his wife, who he was thinking of leaving (or even murdering) has stuck him in her Sim game.

This man's conflict with his wife stems from the fact that, when she believes she knows what's best for him, she is almost always right. He is one of those people who take pride in his own perversity, which he calls individuality; who says "If you tell me not to do something I will sure as hell do it" without realizing that this is handing other people the control of his life that he takes such pride in retaining. His wife, however, is a simple soul who gives him good advice straight on and thinks he ought to take it because it is good. So when it became clear that he would never humble himself to behave sensibly, she stuck him into her game, where she could see to it that he got to work on time, improved his skills, and hardly ever picked fights with people.

Hardly ever, because she doesn't play him exclusively. She has other exes, and some relatives, she has to take care of, too, and of course when she sends one of them to a community lot and the protagonist turns up as an NPC, he has free will and can play up as much as he wants. But as time goes on he realizes - and resents - that he really is happier when he behaves as his controller wants him to behave. Possibly he can communicate with the other trapped personalities and they work out ways to rebel, but since they're all there for roughly the same reason coordinated activity is problematic. Everybody wants to be ringleader and nobody wants to follow anybody else's plan. Eventually he probably becomes resigned to the whole thing.

I conceived this notion during the Year from Hell, when I spent a ridiculous amount of time playing Sims. I know a lot of people do awful things to their electronic dolls, but I've never understood the impulse. The attraction of the game for me has always been that I could make the little buggers be happy, whether they wanted to or not. (Also, house building. And endless generation of pun names. Larry Penates. Sally and Gerry Mander. Maddy Moiselle. Polly Phonik. I would write them down at work for access in the averbal evenings.) When chance or stupid game rules or miscalculation made them miserable,I could swoop in and address the problem. If worst came to worst, and one of them died because another one wouldn't get out of the way and let someone out of the pool and I was busy on another part of the lot and didn't notice, I could close the game without saving and rescue him that way.

I can't do that in real life. I wish I could. Some of the Year from Hell could have been prevented if Certain People had done what I wanted them to do rather than what they wanted to do (no, really!), but I had no control over that. Some could have been mitigated if I, or anyone, had picked up certain foreshadowings in our lives and acted on them; or if I had made this choice instead of that choice ten, fifteen, twenty years before. But, we didn't, and reality has no option to quit without saving and reboot from the most recent back-up.

The weakness of this trapped-in-a-Sim world concept is obvious. You could make a Twilight Zonesque short story out of it, I suppose. Somebody with more satirical flare than me might be able to turn it to good use. But it's hard to think of a direction in which to take it that would achieve anything. Ultimately, it's as pointless as a Sim lifestyle. Not good literature at all.

Eh. We all have bad ideas.


  1. I have a lot of both flaws named (perversity in the face of good advice and a desire to live other people's lives for them).

    I also have migraines, although not usually with the well known sensory effects. This combination of the philosophically significant and personal trivia is the sort of thing that inspires paranoids (and pronoids) to believe that a specific work is aimed directly at them, even if it was created before they were born.

  2. I always read "Killing Me Softly" as expressing a normal, if intense, reaction to a well-executed lyric that struck close to home, like my response to certain (particularly Etheridge) songs during the Year from Hell. Universality is a quality we're all striving for, after all, and it's good to connect to the audience. Till they start stalking you.

    Although my ear doctor thinks I'm a migraineur, I at the time associated that flat, sim-world visual effect with depression. I got it a lot that year.

    Another reason not to write that story is that it didn't have anybody to root for in it. Having defined both pro and antagonists by their worst traits and focused the plot, such as there was, on them, left me with no apparent room to develop any sympathy with either. In real life, when you encounter these traits, they're set in a matrix of a whole person and can be bearable or even endearing (like any fault); in a short story - and this wouldn't bear the weight of a novel! - you have to foreground one or two aspects of character and imply the rest.

    Probably, even if he'd planned to kill his wife, having his free will surgically removed would be enough to create a base of sympathy for the viewpoint character, or else a thrill of justice mixed with horror such as were evoked by certain Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents stories. I'm just not much of a horror or short story writer and can't see my way clear to accomplish that, though.