satire, fiction and humor

The Worst Thing I Ever Did In a Video Game (So Far)

Everyone has a story. A “this is the worst thing I ever did in a video game” story. A “I think this proves what a horrible person I really am inside” story. A “really, it’s the game’s fault for even making this an option” story.

Here’s mine.

This is the worst thing I’ve ever done in any video game….so far.

Image: Blog post title image with the title, URL, and a screenshot of an extremely sad Sim.

Aspiring to Greatness

In late 2017, I finally bought The Sims 4. I’ve been a fan of the Sims franchise since 2000, but I’ve always been notoriously late getting on board with new releases.

One of the first things I pounced on, when I got The Sims 4, were lifetime aspirations. The Sims 3 had a lifetime aspiration system, but it wasn’t as nuanced as 4’s, and I really liked the opportunity to complete specific tasks and to switch lifetime aspirations.

Because I’m definitely a more horrible person than I pretend to be, the very first lifetime aspiration I ever gave a Sim was the Public Enemy aspiration.

Aspirations have about four tiers each. Each tier has various tasks a Sim has to complete. Some of these tasks can take quite a while – in some cases, a Sim’s entire life (“have a child or grandchild reach the top of a career”). Others are fairly easy to knock off (“talk about grilled cheese with 5 Sims”). And some are pretty rare on their own, but can be made to happen by a particularly diabolical player.

“Witness another Sim’s death,” in the Public Enemy aspiration, is one of the third kind.

Normally, it takes a while for a Sim to die in front of you. But as every Sims player knows, the game gives you plenty of ways to speed up the process.

One of the most beloved ways to kill Sims these last 20+ years has been to have them jump in a swimming pool, then delete the ladder. The Sims 4 stole this option from us, however, by simply allowing the Sims to climb out the side of the pool. Like normal humans. Boring, self-sufficient normal humans.

Sims in 4 can’t get out of the pool, however, if you build a fence around it. So that’s what I did. The “death” half of “witness another Sim’s death”: Check.

But I also had to contend with the whole “witness” part. As a newcomer to The Sims 4, I wasn’t sure what it meant. Did “witness another Sim’s death” mean my Sim need only to be present on the lot when another Sim died? Or did my Sim have to watch the entire process?

Sims have notoriously short attention spans, and they take a notoriously long time to die of exertion in a swimming pool. There was no way my Sim would stand at the side of the pool for the entire time it took her party guests to drown.

Not unless I made her.

I bought a comedy microphone and set it at the poolside, facing so that my Sim was facing an audience of doomed swimmers. Then I had her stand there and tell jokes. Until someone died.

It Gets Worse

Honestly, I thought that making my Sim tell jokes to a pool full of her neighbors until they drowned was the worst possible thing that could have happened.

I mean, that I could have done.

I mean, that I did.

But no. As if to punish me for this horrible digital life choice, things in my game got infinitely worse.

First, the Grim Reaper showed up. This isn’t, in itself, all that bad. The Grim Reaper has shown up in every Sims installment whenever a Sim dies. We all kind of like Grim by now.

Except Grim couldn’t actually get into the pool to reap anyone’s souls, because of that fence I put up to keep the victims from saving themselves from death by drowning.

When Grim found he couldn’t actually do his job, he ended up wandering into the house. He helped himself to some snacks and then decided to watch television.

Turns out the Grim Reaper likes rom-coms. They make him…flirty.

And that’s how my Sim ended her day of comedy and death by making out with the Grim Reaper.

It Gets Even Worse

The Sims 4 has by far the most nuanced mood system of any Sims game so far. Sims have access to a wide range of moods, and can even die of extreme moods, like excessive anger or hilarity.

The vanilla mood system is weird and sometimes difficult to manipulate. As a brand new Sims 4 player, I certainly wasn’t ready for what happens when a Sim jokes a half-dozen of her neighbors to death and then gets smoochy with the Grim Reaper:

She got “Very Sad.”

All the time.

I tried removing all the dead bodies, the comedy microphone, and eventually the entire pool. I kicked Grim off the lot. I sent my Sim for a jog, for a nice hot bath, for a cup of mood-changing tea. I cranked her mood-changing paintings to high.

Nothing I did made her feel better. Nothing.

My Sim just kept crying. And making her spouse sad. And pissing off their toddler by being too sad to read books or play dolls. Her work performance tanked. She just kept painting the same crying rabbit over and over. She wouldn’t even fight her declared enemy anymore!

Since my Sim clearly no longer had anything to live for, I decided to embrace the depression lifestyle. Every time her interaction menu gave me the option to do a Sad activity, I did it.

Crying in bed. Watching sad movies. Sobbing at the graves of her deceased neighbors.

That last one…actually perked her up a bit. Enough that the interaction menu gave her the option to “Make Fun of” the dead.

My Sim found this hilarious. She began telling jokes again.

At the grave.

To her toddler.

And that’s how I learned exactly how horrible a human being I really am.

…So Far

To date, this remains the worst thing I have ever done in a video game. But even as we speak, I am working on an even more dastardly plan.

This one is in Skyrim, on the Xbox – no mods, no console commands. Nothing except exploiting things the game will already let me do. (Really, the developers should have seen this one coming).

That’s all I’m going to say, in case it fails. If it doesn’t, I’ll be back, confessing the new worst thing I ever did in a video game. Stay tuned.

Help me be awful to video game characters: buy me a coffee or share this post with your awful gamer friends. You know the one.

AI and predictive text, satire, fiction and humor

Bad Carols, Season 2: Once Upon a Fireplace (the Christmas Joy Song)

Last year, I spread joy and cheer with the Bad Carols Project, aka Christmas Carols Nobody Asked For: A series of ten carols, with lyrics generated by predictive text, set to music of varying badness by yours truly.

Despite great clamor from the fans never to do this again, Bad Carols has been renewed for a second holiday season.

This year’s first project is an attempt to recreate one of those narrative folk songs with a million verses no one remembers, like “Clementine” or every forgotten attempt to set “Twas The Night Before Christmas” to music (there have been many).


Once Upon the Fireplace (the Christmas Joy Song)

For piano score, click here.

For mp3, click here.

Once upon the fireplace
Santa Claus consulted
With your grandma and her cat
You were not alive yet

Chorus: Christmas merry, Christmas happy, Christmas baby too
Christmas day is, just because of Christmas joy for you

Grandma’s house was fuller than
A face all stuffed with cheer
Christmas came a day early
And then Christmas was just here

Grandad said that it could be
The finest Christmas yet
But heaven only smiled back
And snowed everybody in

Paradise right here and all,
The family still froze!
Remember when we had last year
A feeling in our hearts?

Santa Claus could barely breathe
As Emily was born,
Soaking wet but somehow fine
With being up tonight.

Elf kickbacks surround the child,
Merry reindeer too.
Like the tales that we sing
And the gifts we bring to you.

A Christmas like the Christmas past
Shall never be again,
Holding Jesus in your eyes
Will make this Christmas last.

the stars hate you

The Stars Hate You, Vol. 0: In Which Debunking Astrology Makes Me a Trustworthy Astrologer

Like most Quorans, I get all kinds of weird answer requests. Some of them were obviously spammed to everyone who ever wrote on a particular topic. Others were obviously spammed to everyone, period.

A few days ago, I got this question [paraphrased]: “Why do scientists say astrology isn’t a science?”

I am, in fact, qualified to answer this question. I’ve been casting and interpreting horoscopes for decades. What baffled me is that I had not yet made that fact known to Quora.

So I answered:

the stars hate you 0

Why Isn’t Astrology a Science?

Because astrology is based on a model of the universe we know to be false.

Your birth chart is, essentially, a map of the universe with you at its center. On this map, there’s you, at a particular place and time on Earth, and then there are seven perfect circles: the orbits of the moon, the sun, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. (Modern charts also contain Uranus, Neptune, Pluto and sometimes the major asteroids Ceres, Vesta and Chiron.) The map shows you where in the zodiac each of those planets appeared to be, relative to the place and time on Earth you occupied at the moment of your birth.

Birth charts are set up this way to reflect how astrology works, which is:

Your soul begins its journey in the “firmament,” or the space beyond the orbit of Saturn. (The ancients didn’t know other planets existed, so they don’t count.) To get into your body, your soul descends through the orbit or “sphere” of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Mercury, the moon, and the sun. On the way, it picks up traits related to the ruling planet of each sphere.

These traits are further influenced by which zodiac sign the planet looks like it’s hanging out in at the time, from the perspective of the time/place of your birth. Your soul then gets sucked into your body with your first breath, carrying all those traits it picked up from the spheres with it.

There’s just one problem.

We know that the Earth is not the center of the solar system.

Astrology depends on a geocentric model of the universe in which all the other celestial bodies move in circular orbits around the Earth. But we know they don’t. Rather, the moon revolves around the Earth, and both of them revolve, along with the planets, in elliptical orbits around the sun.

That our solar system is heliocentric isn’t news. We’ve known this for centuries. It’s not hypothetical, either: We have, based on our mathematical models of a heliocentric solar system, successfully launched rockets and satellites and even actual living humans off the planet and brought them back again. We are correct about the Earth revolving around the sun and not the other way round.

The solar system cannot be heliocentric and classical astrology be scientific. One of those two things has to fail “being science,” because they are based on fundamentally incompatible models of the universe.

Science “knows” things by examining whether the things it hypothesizes are observable, measurable and replicable. The heliocentric-ness of the solar system is one of those things.

Your personal affinity for your own horoscope, however, is not. We can observe whether you think it applies to you. We can attempt to measure how well it applies (maybe by polling all your friends to see if they agree you have the same traits your birth chart has). But we cannot replicate it – we can’t go back in time and birth you again. Nor can we set up a control version of you without that birth chart to see whether that you behaves differently than this you.

That said: Do not assume science is the only valid system of knowing things. Science is one system of knowing, with specific rules. We use it a lot because its rules offer a very effective way of knowing things about the physical world.

However, humans have developed many, many systems for knowing and understanding things. Astrology is another such system, with its own rules. Some people find the knowledge they get from astrology’s system of rules to be very useful, and that’s fine.

Astrology is a system of knowing. It is, however, not a scientific system of knowing.

Like so much of my Quora content, I posted this and then went on my merry way, not giving a second thought to its impact on the readership of that particular site.

Then things got weird.

I Start an Advice Column

Since posting this answer, I’ve received over a dozen oddly specific requests for Someone What Knows Their Astrology to look into the requester’s chart. These typically come with a description of the problem the questioner is having, plus their birth date, time and place.

(Note: Please don’t post that info publicly. Not everyone is as ethical or lazy as I am. A less ethical and more enterprising individual would have no trouble committing a little friendly identity theft.)

After about 23 minutes of consulting Twitter via poll, I decided not to wait the additional 23 hours and 37 minutes for the poll to end. Instead, I launched The Stars Hate You.

The Stars Hate You: A FAQ

The Stars Hate You is an advice column, in which I, an armchair astrologer with decades of experience and a very large personal library of books on esoterica (a few of which I have actually read!), respond to astrological queries. Only I’m not going to cast anyone’s chart.

“Um, okay. But why?” I hear you ask.

Because you (or someone like you) came for advice and I’mma give it. BUT:

  1. Casting and interpreting horoscopes is work – yes, even with software that does the math automatically. I blog for my own amusement, but like the selfish meat-based corporeal being I am, I like to eat food and sleep sheltered from the elements. (If you simply must have your actual horoscope interpreted, drop me a line and we’ll talk terms.)
  2. The best person to do that work is always the person for whom the horoscope is being cast. I insist on being paid to do other people’s horoscopes because it’s the only thing I’m guaranteed to get out of the transaction. Otherwise, I don’t benefit from interpreting the stars, your Tarot cards, your palm, or the pattern of Froot Loops in the bottom of your breakfast bowl. You benefit from interpreting those things.

Will you teach me how to interpret my own chart? 

Sure. For money.

Isn’t there some kind of prohibition on taking money in exchange for teaching magic?

One, astrology isn’t magic – it’s a system, whose various purposes include “organizing all the random crap that makes up our lives,” “understanding how everything is connected to everything else,” and “getting nowhere.” It can be used for magical purposes, but it is not, itself, magical (or rather, it is exactly as magical as everything else).

Two, I’m not the one who took that oath. You’re thinking of a certain English walnut fond of shaving his head and doing too much hashish.

What about the advice?

The advice is free.

Does that mean I’m getting what I pay for?

And then some! You also get my sparkling wit.

You’re not really that funny.

That’s not a question.

Doesn’t telling people you’re interpreting their “stars” when you’re actually just giving bog-standard advice make you TA?

Twitter reassures me that I am NTA here. Even if it didn’t, being TA is in the eye of the beholder. Or so your stars tell me.

So do you believe in astrology or don’t you?

That’s a blog post’s worth of question in itself.

Tl;dr: No, I don’t “believe in” astrology, any more than I “believe in” science. I apply each as a system of knowing in order to think more deeply about what’s in front of me. I choose among systems of knowing (including but not limited to astrology and science) depending on what it is I’m trying to think more deeply about and why.

Will you give me advice?

Sure! Drop a line in the comments below, or DM me on Twitter @danialexis. I do my best to maintain the anonymity of advice-seekers, but feel free to use pseudonyms, change the scene of crimes, etc.

(N.b. I do not give advice regarding actual crimes.)

Is there anything else I should know?

The Frogurt is also cursed.

You can get to every entry in The Stars Hate You by clicking the link on the navigation bar at the top of the blog (next to “Bad Carols”). New entries are published when I feel like it, or when someone actually asks for advice.

I try to give good advice, but I make no guarantees as to what might happen to you if you do or do not follow the advice given. You’re the one running your life – running my own is more than enough work for one lifetime.

Your stars say that tipping your armchair advice columnist is a courteous thing to do, especially if you found their advice useful. If tipping isn’t an option for you, the stars say that sharing your armchair advice columnist’s posts on social media is also acceptable.