Us Millennials are a disillusioned bunch; our parents bought houses for about a fiver and by the time we were born they were worth ten times that. (Even though the houses in question were subsequently covered in Laura Ashley wallpaper and inexplicably filled with orange pine furniture). They told us we could achieve anything, a statement which they based on their own experience, but turned out to be bullshit. Whilst we emerged from uni to the burning trash-heap of the economic crisis, our grandparents were snapping up second homes somewhere sunnier. However, I think a bigger problem than all of this was the Sims.
When I was 10 my granddad died, so our whole family got in the car and drove to Wales for the funeral. My mum decided I was too young to attend the actual service and burial, and instead entrusted me to my aunt’s next-door neighbour; a 15-year-old girl who was expected to keep me company (presumably for money). At a loss as to what to do with me, and desperate to do anything besides actually interact, the girl fired up her giant, beige Hewlett Packard computer. The tower whirred and clicked, and the screen crackled from static as it sprung into life. I sat on a giant office chair, and she launched The Sims.
I was instantly hooked. I made a little family (modelled on my own, of course) and created their personalities. I made myself an adult too, because she explained to me that “kids are boring and you can’t do anything with them” which at the time I thought referred to the game, but now think may have been a strong hint that this really wasn’t worth the pocket money. I started to build a house and quickly ran out of money. I looked over at the uninterested teenager lounging on the bed next to me, confused about what I was meant to do now. She came over, opened the ‘cheat box’ and entered the code that was literally a game-changer; rosebud;! A whole new world opened up to me, and I never looked back.
The moment I had a computer of my own a few years later (that’s right kids, I am that old), I asked for The Sims for Christmas. The most fun part for me was always building houses. The Sims became my earliest exposure to “property porn”. I crafted beautiful mansions with manicured lawns and labyrinthine layouts. The sprawling interiors contained all the things I had ever wanted; grand entrance halls, pianos, walnut staircases and marble floors. I loved building those houses so much, that once they were completed I rarely bothered with the families who inhabited them.
It was always my dream to one day own or build a house for real. To walk through a castle gate into my own entrance hall (black and white tiled floor, mustard walls), cook in a grand kitchen-diner (wood floors, cream and green tiles) and then relax in a bathroom (fountain, roll top tub). All I needed was the Simoleans.
Of course, the Simoleans never came. Millennials were promised that the real-life rosebud;! would be hard-work, a good degree and a good job. We could expect the money to roll in once we were out there pursuing our dreams, whether that be as a medical technician, team mascot or pickpocket. The truth turned out to be very different.
Playing the Sims made me yearn for adulthood when I could be in charge of the game, building my own house and creating my own life. It made me dream of the inevitable day when I could set up a home and fill it with everything I needed to succeed in my lifelong ambitions. I would meet a neighbour and fall in love with him, pop out a baby or two, and hire a nanny - my only concern would be trying to not drown in our indoor pool.
My mum used to chastise me for cheating in The Sims, assuring me “You can’t cheat in real life”. But growing up as a Millennial made me realise that you can cheat in real life, it’s just that not everybody gets the same codes. As teenagers we would share the codes we found scrolling through early games forums, and copy and paste them to each other on MSN. Offline, people are less willing to share.
Of course I speak from a position of immense privilege; I have cheat codes of my own - being white, being middle class, being raised in the south, in a rich country, in a safe area. But all around me I still saw people with cheat codes I was not allowed to use; being male, being privately educated, being in good health. Growing up in the 90s and 00s, Millennials have seen the gap between rich and poor get wider, and we are increasingly being split into the haves and have-nots.
Without all of the cheat codes, the whole game seems like a much tougher slog. We are the Newbies, barely covering rent and debating the merits of becoming a robber, but we live alongside the Goths, sitting in a mansion filled with the ghosts of their ancestors. So sorry, if as a generation, we sometimes seem angry about playing this game, but at times it feels like we are swimming in a pool, and somebody took our ladder away.