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My name is Brittany and I'm a gaming sadist

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Absolute power corrupts absolutely

I ventured out to the vet's office a few weeks ago with a Miniature Pinscher in tow. Sam Fisher (the same of Third Echelon fame), my beloved pup, was to see the doctor for a regular checkup and heartworm test. While waiting in the lobby, I overheard other patrons discussing the abuse of a three-month-old Labrador puppy and the damage inflicted upon its tiny limbs. Tears welled up in my eyes nearly instantly. My fists involuntarily clenched themselves up, searching for the victim they would rain down searing pain upon should I ever meet them. 

Any human empathy I have for my fellow man drains upon the information that one has knowingly and intentionally harmed an animal. I can cope with violence, but once it falls upon the head of a living creature who arguably has little by way of protecting itself, I crumble. I become the staunch animal rights activist who would jump in front of a car before harming the trembling little Lab pup I caught a glimpse of in the veterinarian's office. Yet, I have my own history of violence against other living beings in the virtual space. That's right. I've abused humanoid beings and other creatures in videogames. And, for some reason, I don't feel even the least bit concerned about doing so.

I can't stand it when my Sims live fulfilling lives. I like to drown patrons of my parks in Roller Coaster Tycoon. As I've grown up, I've murdered hundreds of digital citizens for a few quick chuckles. But, when I was a little girl, I loved to mistreat Norns, the stars of 1997's Creatures, the most. Call me sadistic, but there's something inside me that drives me to bend the rules of every simulation title so that the objective becomes treating the game's inhabitants the worst I possibly can. It's invigorating. Feels good to rebel. The game wants me to create and nurture, but I want to wreak havoc and destroy everything. It's fulfilling to me. So, while my heart bleeds for the helpless animals I see lying in filth, malnourished, and otherwise neglected on the ASPCA commercials on television, I just can't bring myself to care about the strange Norns or their way of life.

In fact, I wanted to ruin their lives so much that later on in my days of PC gaming, I began to willfully terrorize the innocent little beings. Though I would purposefully withhold food from my Babyz and unleash daily apocalypses on the unsuspecting citizens of Sim City, I never thought much of it. I really had it out for these furry little Norns though, and I was perfectly okay with driving them to an early grave.

I have no idea why these helpless, innocent little buggers drove me to hurt them so. Maybe I was irritated because of their helplessness. Perhaps it was their grating voices, a cross between baby talk and Furbish. Or maybe it was the "deer in the headlights" look their freakishly large eyes had, staring deep into my soul with mind-numbingly bright smiles and ridiculous hairstyles -- particularly the blonde female Norns. I'll never know for sure what sparked this madness in me, as I wouldn't think of doing such a thing with a living animal or fellow man. I believe to this day, as someone who seeks out new experiences and other points of view to both observe and learn, I never felt the familiar pangs of guilt one would imagine because of my ability to clearly separate video game from reality -- something most of the world believes youths do not possess. But I know I do, and I know it's as easy as disconnecting from the real world, suspending belief for a few precious moments, and trying things you ordinarily would not.

It requires a bit of familiarity with Creatures' creatures to understand my tendencies. Released in 1997 from Mindscape, Creatures took place on the fictional world of Albia, a disc-shaped world previously inhabited by a race of beings known as the Shee. After the Shee left for greener pastures, new inhabitants (presumably the player) traveled to the planet to introduce brown, furry deer-like Norns into the environment. Players were tasked with hatching the Norns from large multicolored eggs with an intubator, teaching them to speak, feed themselves, interact with other Norns, and defend themselves from slimy, green, lizard-like creatures known as Grendels.

Creatures was remarkable in that, by breeding these interesting little beings, traits could be passed on from parent to offspring in ways that even the creators of the game could not exactly foresee. Small retained traits such as hair style, hair color, mannerisms, and different mutations in colors were seen, and for an earlier PC-life simulation title, it's fascinating what all could be done. That is, if you actually played the game the way it was meant to be played, which I did not.

The game graciously offered up ways to help ingrain your Norns with activities of daily living, such as using a machine conveniently placed in the game's first open area to teach them basic words, items, and concepts. This was accomplished via flashing an action or an item on-screen and letting the Norn repeat it, much like with human children. Words were expressed aurally with a strange combination of higher-pitched nonsense syllables and actual word visuals inside balloons. To teach Norns different words to add to their vocabularies, you needed to type in your desired actions, names, or item descriptions.

As I found the Norns wandering away to be left to their own devices while I was holding useful lessons, this began to wear on my nerves. I didn't understand why those "stupid things" (as I complained to my father) wouldn't sit still and learn how to say hello and goodbye. I soon learned that I could "slap" the Norns (and also show physical affection to reinforce positive learning) if they misbehaved. To keep them in place while I attempted to teach them what a carrot was and that they should eat it, I was slapping every second as soon as it looked like they'd stray. They'd fall on their bushy little tails and I'd guffaw. I would also purposely begin teaching them the wrong words by way of the learning computer in the main area of Albia just so I could slap them for getting the question wrong. And, I didn't care.

I'd make sure the Norns, looking at my hand-shaped cursor, learned their "names." I'd type "Stupid" or an equally unimaginative word such as "Farthead" to get back at them for being so ignorant in their own way. It made me laugh until I thought I'd fall out of my computer chair, and I'd go back to continually smacking them until they repeated their names back to me, followed by a word like "honey" or "carrot." I'd take every bit of food in their reach and hide it near an underground cave, where they'd never be able to access it unless I chose to take them there. You can see that in the header image, actually, where I've hidden all the food, toys, and beverages the Norn could possibly get to if I looked away for a moment. 

I hatched a few more Norns for variety. Eventually I had a few Brady Bunch characters, Sailor Senshi, and Fartheads wandering around Albia. And then they started breeding, which only sought to infuriate me.

When I began finding eggs from my "partnered" Norns, characterized by kissing noises and a distinct popping sound, I was irate. How DARE they? I went ahead and hatched the eggs, but made sure that the children of my adolescent Norns were kept as far as possible from their parents. It only seemed right that I should punish them for daring to have a bit of fun in the world I carefully orchestrated to perpetuate their misfortune.

One day, startled, I realized I had felt the tiniest bit of remorse. It almost frightened me, washing over me in such a way that I couldn't understand how I could have ever been such a vile mistress to these helpless creatures. I began attempting to play the game "correctly." I had perused many a online forum full of tips and tricks on how to make my version of Albia thrive, and I wanted to be successful. For a while, I worked hard at getting them to listen, attempted to teach them how to defend themselves against the Grendels, and even made use of some of the tools in-game to aid the Norns, such as herbs to cure illnesses and general malaise.

Well, that is until I discovered the poisonous herbs. That's where the destructive cycle began anew. So, my continual torture of the Norns marched on for months on end. I thought nothing of the brief feelings of shame that had surfaced upon my sudden realization. I had found a new method of torture, and it continued to entertain me. My Norns would suffer, and I would laugh.

After some housecleaning, a move, and the start of a particularly stressful school year, I lost track of where I kept Creatures and its expansion pack, Life Kit #1. The years passed and the series saw subsequent sequels and even children's spin-offs. Every time I think of Beowulf I can't wipe the image of a disgusting green beast from my mind, terrorizing the Norns after I unleashed one in their vicinity. Whenever a conversation turns to sim games, I think back on my time with the original game in the series. And, as I write this, I think of the fun that could be had with the newer games and the different races and items that have been added since my time in Albia.

But I still don't feel bad about it. Not one little bit.

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Brittany Vincent
Brittany VincentFormer Associate Editor   gamer profile

all! I used to work here, more + disclosures


 


 


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