Oh Poo! (aka Pets, Pets, and More Pets)

“Mom, when can we get another dog?” my 13 year-old son asked me yesterday.

pet overload

Pets are cute, but it is important to know one’s limits.

I looked around at the piles of cat fur waiting to be vaccuumed, at the unscooped cat litter boxes, at the hamsters waiting to be fed, and at the Beta fish, who swam in lazy circles around his tank, which needed a change of water.

“Um…never?” I said. Not that I don’t love dogs. Well-trained dogs are great companions, and our family really misses our Golden Retriever, whom we lost a few months ago. But I do not miss the expense of owning a large dog. Or the monthly baths. Or the constant poop scooping in the backyard. Or being yanked down the sidewalk on our walks (because as sweet as she was, we never did train her well on a leash). Pets can be a lovely addition to a household. They are fun to play with, nice to snuggle and pet, and can provide a much healthier and more active lifestyle than sitting around playing World of Warcraft for hours on end. But let’s face it, they also require a great deal of responsibility.

I spent most of my childhood in the hills of the Bay Area, with a yard full of pets. At one point, our family owned ten hens, two rabbits, a duck, a goose, a cat with several kittens, two dogs, and one gorgeous blue parakeet, named Hope, who belonged only to me. Honestly, I have no idea how we managed to care for so many animals. Both of my parents worked full time, and we children were busy with school, Scouts, and sports. But somehow, the animals survived. That is, until our pet wolf, Muppet, killed several chickens and the goose. Oh, and my parents killed the rest of the animals and served them for dinner (which I did not know until recently). Okay, well, not the dogs or cats. Or the parakeet. I don’t think.

I think I had a point here somewhere.

Oh yes, responsibility.

Well, now that the kids are a little older, it is becoming easier to care for pets. We all take turns feeding and grooming our two cats, and scooping litter boxes. The beta fish belongs to my 8 year-old son, who never forgets to feed it twice a day. And the two hamsters are the pride and joy of my 11 year-old daughter, who now has three colorful cages full of hamster toys and plastic tubes. Dewdrop the Dwarf HamsterIn fact, the whole family is pretty enamored by the hamsters, who are tiny and cute and very entertaining, although the Syrian hamster is quite the escape artist. We have had to reinforce his cage in several places with duct tape. I have considered creating a Twitter account just to chronicle the tales of Gumdrop the Runaway Hamster (in 140 characters or less). However, I discovered that Twitter already has a slew of hamsters tweeting from behind bars, including the intellectual and amusing ramblings of Edward the Hamster.

 

Still, as much joy as pets bring our family, I think that it is important to have limits. Despite my own happy childhood petting-zoo memories, will never become the suburban farm family of the neighborhood. The truth is, I really just don’t like cleaning up so much poo.

“I think we’re finished with dogs for the time being,” I told my son. “If you really want another pet, you can always collect a new one on World of Warcraft.” There! No poo. No fur. No cages or tanks to clean. Thank goodness for videogames.

Playing God (a.k.a. Life is a Simulation)

During the week, my routine is not very different than most of yours. I take kids to school, go to work, come home, cook dinner, pay the bills, etc. Just like most people. But when the day is over, and all the work is done, I am God.

Okay, okay, don’t get all offended. The thing is, I have these secret worlds, filled with people whom I have created, who wear what I tell them to, sleep when I tell them to, and live and work wherever I see fit. It is up to me to decide who will become a beautiful rock star, who will become a poor family with six children, or who will become a lonely insane genius who works all night in his laboratory, creating mysterious potions. In this world, I control everything. I can make it snow for weeks on end! I can (sort of) bring the dead back to life! I have the ability to turn an entire population into bloodthirsty vampires! Mwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!

A Sims 3 Family Did I get too carried away? Oops, sorry. Something about playing The Sims 3 turns me into a power-hungry megalomaniac. Yes, I said The Sims 3. It is one of my favorite creative escapes. Truthfully, I have been a huge fan of simulation games since I was quite young. Back when Sim City first came out, it was like I had discovered gold. Since then, I have played every subsequent sim game:  Sim City, Sim Earth, Sim Farm, Sim Tower, you name it. When The Sims was first released, I was immediately hooked. And now, more than a decade later, I am still Sim-ming.

Here’s the deal – like a god, you create a person, or an entire family. You dress them, give them names (and sometimes pets), then move them into a home in your neighborhood. Really, it’s like playing a sophisticated game of Barbies. Only get this – the Barbies have come to life. And you, the player, have to guide them as they live their lives, and help them to stay happy as they navigate the ups and downs of careers, relationships, and family. Just like real people, each individual Sim has wishes and desires, which you can help them to fulfill. Like real people, they age, give birth, raise children, and then kick them out into the real world. And, like real people, the Sims grow old and die. (Or they can die sooner, you know, like if their house burns down and they can’t escape because you “forgot” to add doors. Just sayin’.) You can even throw a funeral, and then watch your other Sims get freaked out when the person comes back to haunt them as a ghost. Best game of Barbies EVER!

(Great video of Sex & the City, Sims 3 style)

Sims can walk around the neighborhood and meet people.

Sims can walk around the neighborhood and meet people.

Okay, so maybe the Sims isn’t the right game for everyone. It does take a lot of responsibility, organization, and time management skills to succeed in controlling the lives of others. And while the Sims can satisfy my hunger for power much of the time, I recognize that some of you may need to control a greater territory than just one little town of Barbies. I understand. And for you, I recommend one of many great war strategy simulation games, such as Civilization, Europa Universalis, or my personal all-time favorite, Age of Empires (the second one – forget the others). Then you can have your very own world of Barbie warriors who engage in medieval skirmishes or global thermonuclear warfare. HUZZAH!

sims-3-university-life-screenshot

 

What Shall I Do Now? (a secret revealed)

Okay, brace yourself. I am going to let you in on a secret about me…a little-known secret from my past. But you must be careful not to judge when you find out, okay?

Here it is:

My very first computer was a Commodore Vic-20.

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I was six years old when my stepdad bought it for me for Christmas and hooked it up to my bedroom television (which looked a lot like the one in above photo, btw). I was smitten from the first moment my hands began to type on the clunky keyboard. I had discovered my calling. I was destined to be a geek.

And really, it took a true geek to love the Vic-20. These days, playing a game means popping in a CD-Rom or downloading a file. But the Vic-20 didn’t have such fancy-pants technology. Games either came on a cassette, like this:

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Or you could do as I learned to do at the age of six: spend hours copying BASIC code out of computing magazines in order to acquire new games. See, I told you…geek from the very beginning.

And the Vic-20’s best game ever? Adventureland. Ohhh…I spent so much of my early childhood glued to the screen, playing God in a very nerdy, BASIC, text-based kind of way.

I’M IN A FOREST. TREES. WHAT SHALL I DO NOW?
(answer) kick tree
OKAY. WHAT SHALL I DO NOW?
climb tree

Yes. That was computer game bliss in 1981.

Eventually, as time passed, I moved on to better, more powerful systems (Commodore 64, Apple II Plus, Apple IIe, Packard Bell 486…skip a few…iPad 2). I no longer program my own games, though I am still quite the gamer. Only now when I play God, it is usually to a family of Sims or a squadron of strategy-game soldiers with wa-a-ay more pixels and power than my first little personal computer could churn out. But my Vic-20 is the one that started it all, the one which opened the door to techie adventure, and taught me always to wonder, “WHAT SHALL I DO NOW?”