The Sims & Second Life: How two virtual worlds helped me find myself
Throughout my 31 years on this planet (yikes), there have been two games that have always been a constant for me - ones I’ve always played or returned to no matter the stage that I’ve been at in life: The Sims and Second Life.
The former was introduced to me by my Nan at a young age when visiting PC World as I perused for something to entertain me when visiting her house.
After spotting something called ‘The Sims’ tucked away on a revolving shelf amongst a slew of other games I’d never heard of, this one spur-of-the-moment decision spawned a lifelong love of the series, unknowingly setting me on the path to the point I’m at in life today.
From then on, it was little me, eagerly anticipating the next Expansion Pack, which my Nan would send to me along with handwritten notes (or replace whenever I’d accidentally break a disc) - the soundtracks of which provide me with nostalgic comfort to this very day (Makin’ Magic, anyone?)
As someone who always felt slightly untethered from those around me at a younger age, and a bit of a black sheep, it provided me with an outlet to create stories, furnish extravagant homes and small cottages; and was an incredibly vital form of escapism as someone who was bullied simply for being me.
As The Sims came and went (alongside the familiar 2000s internet dial-up tone when I wanted to check out The Exchange - remember that?) and The Sims 2 came into view. While my PC wasn’t quite strong enough to run it, I eventually found a virtual world that would help me discover exactly who I was: Second Life.
A journey of self-discovery
For those of you who aren’t quite aware of what Second Life is, it’s a virtual world - think Ready Player One but without all the VR doohickeys. Setting you free in a world that is ultimately shaped by those that reside within it, there are endless amounts of opportunities here both from a customisation standpoint and a possibilities one - and you can fly (because of course you can).
Venturing into this world after discovering it late at night when looking for a new MMORPG game that would take my fancy, I remember being blown away and absolutely bewildered by what I saw.
My memory of the first night I spent in Second Life is of me, flying through the sky over a beach location with a free leopard print dress I found at a shop, utterly mesmerised. What I didn’t know on that night, though, was how integral this virtual world would be to my own journey of self-discovery, and the fantastic people I’d meet along the way who have been cornerstones in my life.
Im(possible) dreams & roads travelled
That’s one of the things about the internet, and Second Life in particular: it gives you the opportunity to meet people and find friendships with those that simply wouldn’t be possible without it.
Throughout the years, as I found myself relating more and more to my own avatar, and identifying more with her appearance and less with my own in the real world, the friendships I forged there gave me the courage to begin to work towards understanding what it all meant.
As I grew up, my ties to my avatar and my own goalposts for what I wanted in my life changed, and I absolutely owe that journey of self-discovery to games like Second Life and The Sims - all of which gave me an outlet to free myself from the shackles of a life that I ultimately felt I was playing a role in - my own reality.
My younger years were a lonely time as I never quite fit in, but in Second Life, I was stylish, a photographer who enjoyed taking snapshots, using PhotoShop, and creating blog posts about what I (my avatar) was wearing and where I got it all from. The fact that I’m writing this today with a career in games journalism absolutely stems from those grassroots moments, and looking back I remember often musing on how cool it would be to work as a blogger or writer.
As someone who had select few friends in the real world, people in Second Life that I hold incredibly dear to me who have come in and out of my life knew me as closely to the real me as was humanly possible at the time - and not the outward perception the world had of me elsewhere.
Today, I’ve manifested a life that completely follows the dreams of ‘what if’ I’d have when playing either of these games - moments that felt way too out of reach to ever be an actuality and were only ever real in these virtual worlds. At 31, though, I’ve never been happier - and this decade of my life has been the best of them all so far.
The time that I’ve spent in games like The Sims and Second Life has slowly diminished over the years, but not because of a lack of love for either of them; but because the escapism they provided for me is no longer so fixated on constructing a life I want to live - because I’m living it.
These games will always be a part of my life, and just as moments like university and previous careers meant that my time spent in either of them wasn’t something I could do quite as often, both are, and forever will be, parts of my life that I wouldn’t be where I was today without them or the people I’ve met there.