The Shallot-Liu Family: It Exists Now!

It’s these guys again! Everyone try not to freak out!

We last left the Jeong-Espinosa household, where Claudia prepared an early wedding gift worth… THIRTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS. HOLY SMOKES.

Claudia (upper right): hmmkggrfffhhg oh hi guys, ambrosia’s on the table, bye

Ambrosia is a dish best served with your lover. Bernard receives some sandwich-based emotional support as he prepares to take the first bite of the heavenly dish,

Claudia: hmmmbllfbmm another drink

and KAPLOOIE ZOW FLOATIES

He’s alive! He’s really alive!

Thanks to Claudia and her magic cooking hands, or Charlie and his normal fishing hands, Xiyuan and Bernard can be a somewhat outwardly normal-looking couple.

Claudia: hmmmmlfrgrbl don’t put anything in the dishwasher, it’s running

The first thing Bernard wants to do is test-drive his new corporeal body. They’re also going to test-drive a spaceship, because neither of these men have actually driven a spaceship before.

Does one really drive a spaceship?

It takes a lot to shake Sims in San Myshuno (they have homeless people! And BOHEMIANS. And oh. My! So! Much! Cultural! Diversity!), but being a floating green ghost occasionally does it. Now these two could sit at the bar and have a completely routine flirty couple conversation and no one would bat an eye.

“It was more fun when you were dead.”

Being rematerialized is only novel for so long, and when your choices are playing out a 10th grade essay about why immortality is bad or avoiding the finality of death by doing the aforementioned while monochromatic and transparent, one has to focus on the here and now. Treasure the moments where you can have a normal conversation with your partner about housework and—hold on. How is the yellow star one staying in his hand? Did they glue these cards together? What game is this?

The adoring look in Xiyuan’s eye is just his inability to poker face. Bernard, on the other hand, is lucky in love, unlucky in cards.

Hence it is with few regrets that Xiyuan and Bernard return to the same thing they do every day: try to take over the art world.

Their relationship is the real work of art—they have shown the rare ability to inspire others to be creative inside and outside their universe. Victor Feng, for example, has yet to pay his respects to the happy couple, and commemorates the occasion with a little ditty he wrote for them.

Said ditty may or may not be an 11-hour improvised a cappella rock opera.

He left at 10 AM. The only thing that could have made this better would be if Lily came banging down the door to get him to stop singing.

Shu is still visiting his father for weekends (which places him fifth for amount of time spent in this apartment). Thankfully, Bernard forgot about the bathroom incident and is now able to have a relationship with a taller, friskier Shu.

Shown: a thousand-word treatise on why Sims should not be allowed to dress themselves.

Right now, they’re just exchanging pleasantries, but will hopefully soon have someone to vent to about how Xiyuan refuses to drink tea if it was picked more than 2 months ago, etc., etc. Well, the joke’s on Shu—he did pick up some habits from his dad. Hello, plants!

Fascinating! Is there a genetic component to Sim idiosyncrasies?

All of this only distracts from the main event: wedding planning. With two swanky grooms and a love story of this volume, the pressure Xiyuan and Bernard are under to plan the perfect wedding is far from ideal. It’s enough to induce a sympathetic reflex with their actual wedding planner.

He knows whatever I’m planning isn’t good enough.

This is the third Sim out of three total marriages I’ve seen catch a cold right before his wedding. He somehow also passed the cold to the entire wedding party, pushing the date back an entire day. This isn’t going to be easy, is it?

The sun rises on the betrotheds for the final time. Both grooms use the morning to steady their nerves in the studio; either the wedding has to start after 6 PM so Claudia can attend (she who saves the day has the final say), or has to be pushed back to Saturday. These two are getting antsy—they’d get married in front of the elevator if they could—so 6 PM it is.

Bernard is hardly the same person who inadvertently BBQ-ed himself and his wife. Decades of practice have honed his technical ability beyond that of any other living artist, and Xiyuan’s continual presence has had a calming effect. Yes; the long sleepless nights spent talking about failure, the tireless efforts to shield Bernard from open flame, the removal from the incendiary estate that so haunted his memories; all of it had paid off, and he was finally in a position to realize his dreams.

So it would be unsurprising if his final masterpiece, completing the aspiration he died trying to achieve, were of his partner.

And with an hour until the wedding!

So sweet.

This is how the wedding begins: by finishing the business of a restless spirit. Bernard scrubs the paint off his hands and yells upstairs to ask Xiyuan where he left the garment bag with his tux. It’s on the dresser, Xiyuan replies, choosing a white tailcoat from his tailcoat closet and removing his white gloves from their case. Everyone in the bridal party who didn’t de-ghost a groom changes into their matching pink-and-white outfits. Kendra, (yes, you, Kendra), also has to change into a matching pink-and-white outfit. Claudia stares into her closet for 15 minutes contemplating whether she should wear the dress from her quinceañera or just throw on some leggings and use a brooch to fashion a cape out of leftover curtain chiffon; no one would dare criticize her. Victor and Lily watch the limo leave from their east window, cursing the 8-guest limit. Aileen weaves in her extensions and pops a Xanax.

This guy can stay. They paid this guy 5 simoleons to play “Somewhere Only We Know” as they walk down the aisle.

The guests arrive at a crystal tower specifically designed for this wedding. The setting sun is reflected by the six congruent facets of a crystal spire, which umbrellas out into a waterfall of glass encasing a pristine white ceremony space. White rose petals have been carefully moved from their natural disorder into a boundary with only right angles, possibly by Xiyuan himself. Floor-to-ceiling infinity mirrors stand proud as a symbol for the eternality of the concept of love. Dolly restarts the wedding 3 or 4 times to make sure everything is perfect.

The chessboard makes it a park

Xiyuan’s eye twitches as a curious Max casually strolls down the aisle during their impeccably drafted, written, edited, re-drafted, and re-written vows. Shu gives him a jovial little wave.

(Don’t be silly, guys. Max doesn’t ruin your wedding by doing something unplanned—I ruin your wedding by doing something planned. People familiar with the game mechanics have already spotted what.)

At long last, meet Xiyuan and Bernard Shallot-Liu!

They’re too dignified to smash cake on each other’s faces.

Two of our patriarchs kick off the reception with some appropriate familial bonding, symmetrically hugging their respective sons.

As if the vows weren’t saccharine enough, Xiyuan debuted a song he wrote for Bernard.

Now everyone is allowed to eat cak—wait, no, Bernard is performing a song he wrote for Xiyuan.

This is what I had in mind for over-the-top!

Alright, now everyone can have some cake.

Just as time almost prevented this relationship, time would be the undoing of their wedding. Let’s review some important figures. The wedding had to be started after 6 PM for Claudia to be able to attend. Sim weddings last 8 hours. If you’re better at arithmetic than I am, apparently, you would have been able to see this coming.

No one can shame you for power napping if no one else is awake. Well, there’s Mike, but he rarely notices anyone other than himself.

Look at the above picture again. Can you tell who’s missing?

It was Shu!

Shu chose to sleep in his own bed, then changed into his hoodie and came back to play the violin. Charlie and Kendra, excited that the reception was 80% napping and they didn’t have to entertain their parents’ friends, kept the party going well after 4 AM.

This is where the wedding ends: sleeping in the sky, in tails.

Luckily, the grooms would have a honeymoon to look forward to when they woke up. Kidding! They both had work, so Xiyuan’s friends came over and trashed the everloving heck out of the place.

Counting seems to be a hidden theme for this chapter. Here, you can count the glasses for a unique educational experience. Ah! Ah! Ah!

Oh, hey. Lily was also there the entire time.
Thirteen glasses and a broken stereo! Ah! Ah! Ah!

Xiyuan and Bernard have a maid. She comes every day. Unfortunately for Xiyuan, he’s the type to think “I have to clean my house before the person I paid to clean my house gets here, so they don’t get mad at me.” He may also be the victim of a benevolent, but imperfect, creator, who may or may not have been laughing hysterically as he picked up each individual glass, making the stack higher and higher.

What are a few extra dishes when the Romance Festival is tonight, anyway?

Recall Xiyuan’s last two Romance Festivals. Festival one, he sat at a table alone and stared at people. Festival two, he gave painting lessons to his son while his ex-wife stood directly in front of him to make out with her new boyfriend look at how happy she is now, no thanks to you.

Festival three, he’s with the love of his life and everyone is wearing his favorite colors. Everything’s good.

I think the man in the background speaks for everyone.

The next time we see these guys, they’ll probably doing something else that mocks the very concept of probability itself. Or painting.

The Jeong-Espinosa Family: Surprise!

With emotions, Sims can now distinguish between actions that cause them pleasure and actions that cause them pain. Each choice they make leads to a neatly categorized moodlet: happiness at a nicely decorated room, or a good meal; sadness at losing Don’t Wake the Llama, or the death of a spouse. Sims (and their creators) can then make choices according to what they want to experience. Pleasure, or pain.

This would all be well and good, except our species is notoriously bad at distinguishing the two. Ice cream tastes good, pea microgreens do not. Yet, what deeply personal factors determine whether it is more painful to lose the experience of eating junk food or suffer the health consequences? Is the pain of exercise worth the later reward of endorphins? What about comforting a suffering friend—doesn’t sharing pain with someone else strengthen the relationship?

And then we create a virtual world in which we can create these creatures who are eternally young and beautiful, accomplished beyond our wildest imaginations, sheltered from the thousand pinpricks we experience daily. And then we kill them.

On that note, let’s see what those rascals, the Jeong-Espinosas, are up to!

The weekend is when Claudia goes to work, Mike does whatever the hell he feels like, and Charlie and Kendra hang out at the park. Charlie begins each park visit by effortlessly dodging all human contact, establishing a conversation-free zone near the fish pond. Kendra (now unsupervised) chooses to enact Return of the Obra Dinn. A couple of local teens pop in to play the role of eldritch horrors, Kendra is the helmswoman steadying her doomed vessel against the certain death lurking below, and her best friend Wyatt will be the first to be brutally torn apart by Max’s merciless tentacles. Everyone’s having a blast.

Amazingly, Max Villareal (Mean, Evil), of all people, seems to have very good chemistry with Shu.

That’s right: Max has strayed so far from his original characterization, he’s using his natural douchiness to entertain kids. In the future, Kendra may very well lose hers. She’s making a few too many friends and doing a little too much outside. From what we know about her, she should be hiding in the bathroom playing with her monster dolls.

Nope, everything’s fine! Carry on.

Wyatt (Childish) is one hard-to-read teal-and-crimson-wrapped package. His sole trait is tautological, and his sole friend is Kendra. They met in the playground looking for ants, and bonded over imagining the weird and wonderful: ghost stories, the fact that everyone is a skeleton surrounded by blood, which monster is the scariest. Kendra is happy to have found someone who doesn’t back away slowly at the mere mention of demons. Wyatt just wants to make everything explode.

A minute later, half the pieces were pantomimed as being turned inside out and half the pieces were on the floor. The pieces on the floor were guts.

Meanwhile, Claudia comes home from a long day of work. She’s exhausted, weathered, beaten-down—but, in an effort to keep up the facade, she veers away from the bar and goes to greet her spouse. Mike just got back from a party. Could she go away, please? He’s busy on the computer.

Yet Claudia can’t be suffering—look at how well-decorated that room is! How high their relationship bars are! Happy moodlet, happy marriage, happy, happy, happy. The rules say Claudia is perfectly fine; she is experiencing constant pleasure, and nothing else. You can’t be depressed in a room with expensive furniture!

But the juice has never been enough for Claudia, and it’s unclear if she’ll ever feel real joy again. She keeps going up to Charlie’s room to watch the fish.

If only the bright colors and calming movements could distract her from her own thoughts forever.

In Mike’s defense, he’s too busy “trolling teh forums” to notice how far gone his wife is.

I may have asked Mike to perform one mischievous interaction, by accident, but reaching Level 3 is all his doing.

Claudia, by the way? She’s an extremely sweet woman. So sweet, in fact, that she’s the original Sim and still hasn’t been angry even once in her life:

She doesn’t deserve this.

Now that we have an idea of what the source of Claudia’s pain is, however, we can begin working towards fixing it. Mike started to put more (any) effort into their relationship. They’re both enjoying the attention; instead of going about their business separately, they’ve started wanting to be physically intimate—and, little by little, Claudia has been getting better.

Sure, she’s making a drink. But she’s at the gym! And she’s smiling!

It wasn’t clear whether this was the solution or a problem.

That’s vomit on the floor.

Maybe she just had some spoiled food! Let’s ignore the fact that food that Claudia makes doesn’t spoil; Charlie must have made her a grilled cheese or something.

CLAUDIA NO

That’s it! She’s taking a pregnancy test.

CLAUDIA NOOOO. (Please disregard the last name change.)

Sometimes the Sims are harmed by themselves, sometimes by the environment, sometimes by others, and sometimes by their creator. Here it was the latter option. In my ignorance, I changed the settings on MCCC to set Risky WooHoo to 10%.

Mike and Claudia had risky WooHoo once with a 10% chance of pregnancy.

Surprise!

While I freaked out and tried to figure out how to induce a Sim abortion, Claudia was elated! Immediately after taking the pregnancy test, she ran over to Mike to give him the news, and they’re acting like their old inseparable selves again. Aw heck, you can keep it.

Hey, and Mike wasn’t flirting with his best friend this time!

The non-fetus second-generation Jeong-Espinosas go about their daily lives with no contextual understanding of their mother’s pregnancy. Charlie, for one, has been busy living up to his graphic shirt and cargo pants. If we know anything from multigenerational games, Charlie has to have children so we can play as the children, and then the children have to have children so we can play as the grandchildren. Procreation does, minimally, at some point, involve talking to a girl. Charlie, this is Elsa. She is a genius. She would love to go climbing with you.

Nah, not having it. Charlie refuses to even engage in polite conversation, instead choosing some distant vantage point to focus on while forcing a smile. Poor Elsa; this is the second time (at least!) someone has walked up to her and just bluescreened.

Charlie may have better luck improving his social skills at parties; at least this was the thought process of Shu, who doesn’t know Charlie well enough to not invite him.

This particular party has a lot going for it. First, the bacon thing: neither of these guys have the Mischief skill, so it must have been unlocked somehow. Second, conclusive evidence that Charlie would really rather be fishing right now. Third, there are no other teenagers at this party. Who the hell invited Shu?

While everyone else is distracted by the glowy lasers, Charlie uses the opportunity to slink off somewhere secret and peaceful.

He’s, uh, he’s holding a fishing rod. You just can’t see it.

The ocean is a punishingly complex and turbulent system, but when we view it from above, all we see are relaxing, gentle waves. Charlie is a man of few words. Charlie is not a man of inaction—he’s the first child of two fantastically accomplished parents, and has been working nonstop to live up to their expectations. When he gets overwhelmed, he goes here: the grotto entombed in rock, silence, and darkness; independent of past, present, and future; lit only by fireflies and subaquatic glimmer. Glimmer which is probably coming from a behemoth anglerfish. Right? Right?!

Kendra is too good for this world.

Kendra continues to learn and grow like any Sim child would. She’s learning to play eerie carnival music in the early hours of the morning. She’s learning to draw monsters, monsters, and additional monsters. She’s staying up with a flashlight under the covers reading forensic anthropology and anatomy textbooks. Her dreams involve being chased through a forest by a faceless, all-consuming void, her nightmares going to the convenience store and they’re out of chips.

If Uncle Xiyuan comes over to babysit, Dad can have his computer time. Dad needs his computer time.

Yes, Kendra has no fear of death or pain in the way only a child can. When she’s bored outside, she enacts her monster dolls rising from the depths of a volcano to belch lava onto the village below. When she’s bored at home, she draws hellish abominations with eyes where their hands should be and hands where their eyes should be. When she wakes up in the middle of the night,

she does exactly what we expect.

It’s so rewarding to make a little girl’s dreams come true.

Kendra progressed; she had no fear of the unknown, because this monster was no unknown. This is the moment she had been waiting for.

Kendra’s favorite thing is monsters. So, wouldn’t it make sense if her best friend were a monster?

This isn’t normal. Normal little girls have lesbian orgies with their dolls and then pop their heads off and throw the bodies under a lawnmower.

Kendra is an astounding example of developing an identity outside the options laid out for her. Yet, this has never been an option for some Sims, and so we mimic true personality by putting them in contrived situations where they can show off a particular set of generic skills and interactions. Here’s ex-comedian Mike telling jokes at the Humor & Hijinks festival.

The fact he can do two things makes him a 3D character! That, and cruelly destroying his wife.

The Humor/Hijinks festival was not without its Hijinks, and some waste of RAM decided that included defacing the beautiful artist engagement love mural. Whoever did this is taking a long swim in a pool with no ladders.

Just kidding! Sims figured out how to get out of pools. Mike could easily “accidentally” cause a death by laughter instead.

Then some mysterious angel restored the mural, and my faith in Sim-anity with it. Simhood? Simitude?

Claudia (hereafter, MVP) was busy doing everything while the rest of the family was out. First, running off to the hospital to be cut clean in half by an incompetent doctor and have a shrieking blood-potato mechanically extracted from her unanesthetized body. Meet baby Hector!

Kendra was amused at how much the newborn baby resembled the alien.

While at the hospital, she also got a tubal ligation, because the Jeong-Espinosas are definitely done having kids.

I SAID YOU WERE DONE.

Second, you may have realized an application of Claudia’s high gardening skill, Claudia’s high cooking skill, and Charlie’s penchant for fishing, like, constantly. Hey, wasn’t there a ghost somewhere we want to bring back to life?

That’s right!

Ambrosia, bitches!

Have a drink, MVP. You definitely earned it.

Before we end this surface-level slice of Jeong-Espinosa life, consider the false dichotomy between pleasure and pain. Consider our attempts to separate these concepts, creating a black-and-white world with inhabitants who can be constructed to experience only one or the other. Have we succeeded? Or, is someone always doomed to be the victim in a consequence-free system?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go scarf down some microgreens.

The Jensen-Liu Family: New Beginnings, or at least Sleeping with New People

Let’s see what Aileen is up to while her ex is being deliriously happy with his new fiancé.

Shu’s ready to age up, which can only mean one thing: there’s about to be an extremely awkward party up in here and all his mom’s friends are invited! This shitshow needs to be appreciated from its ideal vantage point, which is very, very far away.

Let’s break down everything happening here. On top, Shu aging up in front of his mom and no one else. Left center, two of his mom’s friends watching his dad’s new dead partner, who does not have the Comedy skill, doing standup. Right center, Mike trolling the internet. Bottom, his mom’s new astronaut love interest using the treadmill at a child’s birthday party while Bennett Good inexplicably watches. Nowhere, Shu’s dad. What’s he up to?

He really missed those plants.

But Shu can’t let a little thing like reality get him down! He ages up into one of his mom’s traits, Neat, and the aspiration Serial Romantic.

Why Serial Romantic? It felt right. Besides,

DAAAAAAAAAMN.

In 30 days, he is going to be such a dish—just like the cake that finally attracted guests to the main event. Not his mom, who is too tired for this; and not his dad, who isn’t done saying hi to all the plants.

tfw you’re watching a ghost tell jokes and it makes you want to do pushups

Aileen eventually realized it was inappropriate to take a nap at her only son’s birthday party. Besides, Costco ordered too much man candy, and she hasn’t gotten her free sample yet. (This is their first date, btw.)

Shu tells people he has 1.5 dads.

The other guests are either making themselves comfortable upstairs, where there is nothing for them,

unless you like hanging out in kid’s rooms, toddler’s rooms, art studios, or unfaithful spouse shame rooms,

or making themselves uncomfortable downstairs.

If you’ve ever wondered whether parties can beg for the sweet release of death, well, now you know.

Mercifully, the party ended, leaving the guests on their own to forget what took place tonight. The atmosphere of the Jensen-Liu household dwindled from hot mess to regular mess.

Xiyuan went inside the house for like, one hour.

Shu’s room got a makeover, from non-matching kids-room blues to the inside-of-a-raspberry optimistic love dome we’re going to call the Age-Inappropriate Boudoir (A.I.B.).

Spot the last thing his dad painted before leaving.

Luckily for Shu, he aged up the day before the Romance Festival. What luck! Shu locates his tealest pair of glasses, powers through two cans of Axe, and heads over.

Too bad there were no teenagers at the Romance Festival.

My closest guess for what those math diagrams are is either “graph theory” or “wooooo science is happening,” like when videos show experimentalists pouring different colored water into beakers.

Derrick (Athletic, probably Self-Assured, don’t remember or care) definitely has chemistry with Aileen. They both exercise a lot! They are similar in age. They, uh, occupy similar positions in space. Aileen is fortunate to get along so well with the one dateable bachelor in her entire world; that, and she has no ulterior motives for wanting to be in a relationship.

Shu knows that all cool kids get painting lessons at the Romance Festival (with both parents in attendance, to boot!), so he wasn’t disappointed—except they don’t, and he was. He had to succeed in what Charlie had failed to do, finding where other teenagers hang out. Magnolia Promenade was our first guess. Teenagers like to be out in the open where parents and law enforcement can find them.

i made burgers, does anyone want burgers

Yeah, there’s lots of ’em.

Charlie will never forgive him if he swoops in on Cruz.

Shu takes a moment to weigh his options. Elsa (Genius, Cheerful, Swedish) is a fantastic choice. They’re friends. However, when I encouraged him to flirt with her, he stared blankly at her for ten minutes, then cancelled the interaction. Poor baby.

It took me a second to figure out where Shu was in this screenshot, that’s how well his outfit blends in with the scenery.

Genevieve (Dance Machine, Neat) is a little kicky, a little kooky, and Shu gets along with her just fine. Unfortunately, he ran into her an hour after chickening out. We decided it was still too early to try anything. For now, he’s just window shopping, practicing talking to girls until his palms stop sweating so much.

Genevieve doesn’t get a makeover. If she wants to pull off a red dress with hot pink tights and black pantyhose, she can pull off a red dress with hot pink tights and black pantyhose.

On the other end of the aggressive flirting spectrum is Shannon Bheeda (Hot-Headed, Vegetarian), who made damn well sure Shu was at her birthday party, and invited absolutely no one else.

“I love getting all this attention,” she said, eyeing him like the last creampuff at the buffet.

Ultimately, Shu did nothing but weigh his options and stare at people’s shoes. He might be doomed to spend his life trying to complete his first aspiration; he might be waiting for someone special, we don’t know. Let’s label him as a failed project for now and move on.

Meanwhile, Aileen is free to self-improve/love thanks to excellent coparenting from Xiyuan.

Aileen is a powerful goddess warrior. She sends out such strong positive vibes, in fact, even the former Miss Universe was inspired to step away from the bar.

Aileen is wellness incarnate. Aileen only listens to music in the Women of Color Having High Self-Esteem genre, which for her is just the Simlish version of “Worship” on repeat. (For additional sweet vibes, though, play “Fitness” while looking at the image above and pretend it’s diegetic.) She doesn’t need anyone, but if she wants to get her rocks off, she can.

The side-by-side comparison doesn’t lie, those are some very tiny pants he has on
She got this whim immediately after the closet WooHoo was over. GIRL, I FEEL YOU

Liu Crew,

i.e. Charlie trying his best to look turnt and Shu practicing DreamWorks Face,

head to the park to reel in some fish, if you know what I mean.

This is what I meant.

Aileen is concerned about where Shu goes all day, but not concerned enough to punish him, or, heaven forfend, keep an eye on him every once in a while.

To her credit, she did keep an eye on him, but it was a side-eye and she was cosplaying as Steve Jobs.

Aileen and Shu do occasionally stop trying to bone everyone and try to have a normal mother-son relationship. Magnet-school-prep-extra-credit-for-fun Shu somehow forgot to do his homework for some reason (see: the Liu sledgehammer approach to sexual awakening), and Aileen is helping get him back on track.

Wait—that’s the problem!

Shu was so focused on growing up, he forgot who he was! He’s Xiyuan’s protégé, for heck’s sakes! He grew up learning every possible artistic discipline; nay, he was a child violin prodigy! If he can’t talk to girls yet, he’ll bust out his father’s violin and speak with his bow.

Mariana Bloom (Glutton, Neat): yeah, this is working for me

The magic of the violin caused a girl in a blue dress to teleport behind him and go from 0-100 undressing him with her eyes. Now she’s just standing 9 feet behind him, waiting for him to notice her.

Which is a goddamn power move, especially for someone who materialized out of the aether to meet a dude

Shu calls her over; she introduces herself as Chantel Lucas. More importantly, even though Shu is wrapped up in conversation with Mariana, everything about Chantel’s body language screams THIS IS MINE NOW. Look at her! She’s mentally peeing around him in a circle. She’s going to lick him so no one else can have him.

“Oh, hi! I was standing in that spot for a normal amount of time. I got there by walking.”

Her traits are Creative and Erratic.

She’s PERFECT.

Ok, go to the Spice Festival and hit on her.

He’s killing it! To be fair, he could spend the entire date talking about MLMs or bus chair patterns and Chantel would still be throwing herself at him.

Shu doesn’t have any trouble complimenting or kissing Chantel; something about her is special. (Some idiot didn’t take a screenshot of their first kiss.) As they both careen through relationship milestones at the speed of hormones, neither of them stop to process what’s happening.

Shu can’t go on his first date without one of his parents crashing it, of course. Chantel is just stoked to be meeting his parents already.
Aileen even snuck in without asking to cover the mixologist’s shift. (Both interpretations of this sentence make sense.)

The date continues with Chantel and Shu playing some B-ball together (read: attended a joint therapy session), flirting the whole time, until they’re ready to take the next step in their relationship.

Woo! They met earlier that day!

This is where we end: Aileen, Chantel, and Shu went home; presumably to hack something to an unending loop of “Worship,” write “Mrs. Xishu Liu” in all the margins of her notebooks and put teal glasses on a body pillow, and be a teenage boy, respectively.

We’ll have to wait until next time to see how having one partner each works out for Aileen and Shu.

Xiyuan Liu/Lord Bernard Escargot Shallot IV: Vignettes from San Myshuno

(The events of this chapter take place either concurrently with Seven Days, or after. You’ll probably be able to tell which is which. This chapter is a lot shorter, a lot less bonkers, and yes, I am aware I have other Sims.)

Settling In

Xiyuan had no trouble whatsoever acclimating to his new life.

This is what he was doing when I switched control to him.
This is the second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth thing he did. It’s good to be home.

The Neighbors

Xiyuan accidentally moved next door to the Chinese Mafia. He made the mistake of introducing himself in his native language, and now they can’t seem to leave him alone.

Note the hearts coming from the door when Lily Feng, the wife in this two-Sim household, is outside.

They love Xiyuan. They love the absolute heck out of him.

Victor and Lily Feng are described as a politician and businesswoman, respectively, who are secretly bent on world domination. In practice, though, they apparently spend all their free time with their ears up to the wall they share with Xiyuan, ready to bolt out and stand in front of his door the moment they detect any sign he’s home.

If Xiyuan talks to them, they take that as an invitation to come in and use his computer for hours, because there are no other sources of entertainment in his apartment beyond painting obsessively and practicing instruments.

This is DAY ONE.

He can’t even avoid them in his dreams; when he goes to bed, they follow him to his bedroom and start an online chat with him using his computer.

By now, “Xiyuan pink” should be starting to make a lot of sense

If he practices the piano, they need to be let in so they can watch him play. If he has friends over, they need to be let in to watch his friends. If he’s cooking something, they need to come over so he can feed them. He can barely put a book away without one of them realizing his presence and knocking on the door to claim boredom or loneliness.

It was Mapo tofu. She ate two whole servings back-to-back.

But Xiyuan is too polite/hyperfocused on painting to ask them to leave, so the only Fengless moments he gets are when he leaves his apartment. They haven’t started following him around. Well, they haven’t started following him around every time.

Exploring the City

San Myshuno offers a variety of activities for the discerning tourist, some of which are outlined below with minimal commentary. You can drink in San Myshuno, as demonstrated by Claudia:

You can also break into your friend’s house and use his bar while he’s at work, then leave before he comes home.

You can ignore age limits for sitting at the bar, as demonstrated by Shu:

Green hair has a thing for Xiyuan, she’s going to be so disappointed

You can reluctantly listen to your young son outline his plans for teenagerhood:

When the body language screams “I don’t want to be here” and the townies scream “you need to download more CC”

You can appreciate the lack of bureaucratic awareness as a filthy Sim dressed as a raccoon sleeps on a cheerfully multicultural park bench:

Oh, I get it! She’s a trash panda.

You can light yourself and Claudia on fire and pretend you and your ex are on speaking terms because your kid is right there:

Xiyuan’s sitting there wishing he could have burned that outfit instead. Also, in his defense, Claudia was already lit.

Here’s something you can’t do. You can’t invite dead painters to the romance festival:

😦

You can be peer pressured by your friends into buying garbage:

Raise your hand if you can see Xiyuan ever wearing this or any other T-shirt. Nobody? Good.

You can have your cultural identity erased:

Dolly’s partner: I find it unbelievable that a painter and violinist would be lacking in finger dexterity. (Dolly’s partner actually talks like this)

You can be marginally less awful at karaoke than everyone else:

You can, and probably should, definitely avoid this guy:

This is the kind of person that Simister and I would see on a train, and everyone would immediately shift in their seats and shun eye contact to avoid acknowledging the fact that they now have to share a space with someone who ignores societal norms in a potentially harmful manner, and Simister would be fascinated by the shared feeling of discomfort and start a conversation about how unhappy everybody looks because they have to share a space with a potentially volatile person, while seated right next to said person, while I lower my head and try to shrink into as small a ball as possible to hide all evidence of my existence so I don’t get murdered

And this is just the beginning. It’s a nice city, but, personally, I can’t feel at home without the lingering smell of piss.

Welcoming Bernard Home

In case you missed the moving Gothic romance/giant wall of text, Xiyuan successfully convinced Lord Bernard Shallot Escargot IV to run away with him and start a new… life. Bernard has had some exposure to modern technology and customs (he understood the importance of making the relationship Plumbook official), but also must adjust to leaving his entire previous life behind.

The first thing he did was possess the oven.

The maid is like “yep, same shit, every day”

Luckily, his primary liaison with the modern world shares enough common interests to make the transition smoother.

Having your boyfriend match your entire house is peak Xiyuan

This also had to happen at some point.

The game had an achievement for WooHooing with a ghost, which suggests EA is judging me pretty hard right now

Bernard was initially thrilled to have moved in, but as the shock of seeing his apartment for the first time wore off, the guilt he felt for leaving Mimsy began to dominate his thoughts.

He also saw all the mean fan content people made about him on the internet.

Ideally, Bernard would have made an appointment with a licensed mental health professional to discuss his anxiety/depression (because “loony” isn’t an actual thing, right?), high sensitivity, traumatic experiences, social isolation, blasé attitude towards his own death, change in sexual identity, recent divorce, and dramatic relocation. But in this world, there is no therapy. There are no medications for chemical imbalances in the brain. There is only basketball.

See the tiny green arrow? It’s working!

It took Bernard 8 hours of shooting hoops to get over his divorce.

Having been touched by the miraculous healing properties that could only come from chucking an orange ball into a net held open by a 10-foot high metal ring, Bernard was finally free to live his best life. Bernard’s best life involves his re-entry into the Painter career, five hours minimum of art practice per day, and being really, really fucking cute with his partner.

Shut the blog down, we’re done

All of these posts so far have been polished from the original first drafts, which were built from pairing screenshots with first-thought commentary on the situation. Past Dolly had nothing insightful to add about the following two images, or eighty gazillion other similar images (not shown), and just mashed random keys while squealing. Current Dolly doesn’t either.

sgjl ravjcfi;nsgoidhrgiorehigowr
dsgijharcifxneiaxfhijdbfpojpje. Actually, this one is marginally plot-relevant.

Connoisseurs of The Sims 4: Get Together may have realized one glaring inconsistency in the story as presented so far, which is that Bernard’s traits are Art Lover, Ambitious, and Hates Children, and Xiyuan has a kid. In Seven Days, Xiyuan never actually mentioned that he had a kid. This is because introducing Shu to Bernard is a potentially volatile situation that should be carefully handled in a safe environment, and certainly not like this:

Bernard did manage to have a civil conversation with Shu, which is as much as anyone could ask for.

In short, by the power of basketball, Bernard has successfully been reintroduced into society. Here’s his natarajasana.

WHAT ARE YOU HOLDING ON TO

The Finale

Sims have a different understanding of love than we do. Sims can be paired off to someone reasonably attractive and compatible because their handler wants to also control their children and they’d be perfectly happy. If a human did that, we wouldn’t call that love. If a friend said “Brad and I are going to get married because we need beautiful babies,” you would spend the next few days furiously trying to convince them that this is a Bad Idea and they need to Get Out of This Hot Mess Right Now.

But for Sims, it’s fine! As long as they have a 60-100% full friendship bar and 75-100% full romantic bar, any two Sims can be labeled as soulmates. Us humans, we don’t have a bar to fill. The decision to marry another human is often reported as happening during mundane activities, like eating breakfast.

Sim artists randomly choose what to create from a list of preset images. If two human artists in love decide to collaborate on a work together, they’d probably choose something deeply symbolic and meaningful, something that captures the essence of their relationship. For example, if a couple transcended time and death to be together, they might choose to focus on the timelessness of their partnership, and portray two figures encircling each other in eternal harmony. Sims are incapable of understanding metaphor as a concept. Sims can only paint what the game tells them to.

Even if one Sim gets the whim to marry their partner, it takes a while for the other Sim to generate a similar marriage-related whim. Whims are randomly generated according to a variety of factors. It would be extremely improbable to have two Sims express the same desire to be wed within 12 hours of each other.

Yep, the reason the previous one had the controls uncropped was so the time of day would be visible.

The list of all possible suitors for any given Sim is finite, known, and short. Humans have a much larger set of options; faced with a myriad of potential choices, the set of people they meet is determined by chance. Sometimes finding love is a matter of being in the right place, at the right time, and talking to the right person.

Sims have a well-defined set of defined characteristics, but may be given more depth of character by their creators through external backstories. If two Sims are fated to be together, it is often by design. It would be unthinkable for someone to design a Sim perfectly suited for another while being completely unaware of the other’s existence.

And of course, if a human falls in love with someone who died in a previous era, they’re SOL.

This is all one big coincidence. Most of these choices were made by a machine, and while this particular combination of events is improbable, it’s not impossible. So what? Are our lives not subject to the same forces of stochasticity?

And ultimately, if we come to recognize in Sims our own experience of being an unwitting victim knocked around by chaos, they start to feel more human.


“Dolly,” you may be wondering, “what’s this perfect fairytale romance doing in a story about handling death and self-inflicted trauma?” Well, let me ask you something.

What does this imply about everyone else’s relationship?

Seven Days at the Von Haunt Estate

(Synopsis: This is a novella-length account of the courtship between my Sim, a recently outed divorcee, and Lord Shallot, an NPC ghost whom most players sympathize against.)

DAY 1

Xiyuan walked up the steps of the Von Haunt estate. He had almost no information about the man he met that night—just his first name, Bernard—but the museum’s name strongly implied it was haunted, and “ghost” was the only other usable datum he had. This seemed like a reasonable first option. Besides, even if his hunch was wrong, the house-haunters might be huge gossips.

Before he could check the gardens for signs of… life… or, maybe… not-life, he had to pass through a historical mansion. The old Von Haunt estate functioned as a museum for curious tourists (but no one was allowed to touch the artifacts, not after that incident with the honeymoon), showing a little slice of life of the late-1800s aristocracy. Or not-life?

Immediately on opening the door, Xiyuan’s eye was drawn to the ornate paintings in the dining room. One seemed oddly familiar.

Yes! The piercing eyes, the distinguished face, the neatly trimmed beard; it was him, but less pink. And to the right, the woman who went into a rage and slapped him. There was a plaque nearby: Lord Shallot… 1864–1898… yada yada, some unflattering commentary on his failed career… accidentally started the deadly blaze of 1898 by hurling an oversized watercolor into the fireplace. Well, did he spill something on it, or mess up the blocking, Xiyuan found himself thinking, before realizing that wasn’t supposed to be his main focus. He figured there was more to learn from studying the painting itself. This work was a standard portrait, with no noticeable Romantic or Impressionistic influences; rather, the natural elements were downplayed by low lighting. Moreover, he chose to portray both himself and his wife as extremely uncomfortable. Xiyuan leaned over the railing to examine the texture. Lord Shallot was definitely technically proficient, and Xiyuan had seen worse from of the dozens of paintings he appraised every day.

Now all he had to do was find Bernard. If he was anything close to the kindred spirit Xiyuan suspected he was, he would most likely be painting. A quick search of the house revealed its lack of easels; fantastic, this only left 90% of the sprawling property to search. Xiyuan made his way outside to the balcony overlooking the chalet gardens, deftly avoiding the lady of the house as she darted around. The sunset reflected across the mountains in breathtaking gradients of pink and yellow, pouring over the snow-covered peaks that framed the pristine garden below; Xiyuan briefly forget who he was, where he was, what he was doing, and felt himself lose control of his body until he was no longer viewing the scenery as an outsider, but interweaving with his surroundings into one coherent whole. It took what felt like a few minutes to break from this trance state, and a couple moments more to remember his reason for being there. Right!

He started a quick, conscious visual scan of the garden from left, finding no signs of life around the wedding arch, the piano (though he did make a mental note to play it later), or the central fountain. He had hoped Bernard wasn’t scaring guests in the hedge maze—searching would be so time-consuming—even as it became the only remaining option. But his view of the maze was blocked by a large balcony, and on that balcony was an easel bearing an unfinished canvas. And there was Bernard!

Xiyuan found himself running before remembering to contain his excitement, regaining his composure mere yards from the balcony’s edge. Bernard, absorbed in his painting, didn’t react to the sound or movement, prompting Xiyuan to cross to his left side and lightly tap his right shoulder.

Bernard shot up 6 feet in the air. “WHO—oh, you’re that gentleman from the bar.”

“That would be me, yes.”

“… Xiyuan? Did I pronounce that correctly?”

“No. Don’t be embarrassed, no one here does.”

“I really did enjoy meeting you the other night,” Bernard remarked. “Mimsy and I rarely leave the estate, but when we do, no one wants to talk to the loony failed painter who burned his wife alive.”

“Bernard, if you don’t mind me asking,” here Bernard narrowed his eyes in response, “what was wrong with the painting?”

“I didn’t mark the canvas with pencil in fear it would bleed through. But without the sketch, I misjudged the placement of two elements and ruined the overall composition.” Hah! He knew it. “What an odd question to ask. Most people are fixated on the ‘burned alive’ aspect.”

“That’s the first thing that comes to mind; I stare at paintings all day. Maybe you’re familiar with my work? I did a series based on synesthetic interpretations of Rachmaninoff’s compositions two years ago? Or, my most recent exhibition was inspired by machine-generated images. Did you hear about that?”

“… Oh!” That’s when the realization finally hit Bernard. He hadn’t heard the name before, but had certainly seen the name Xiyuan Liu in print. In fact, he showed up in the Arts section of the newspaper so frequently, Bernard had started to roll his eyes every time there was another mention of his exhibitions, his beneficiaries, his collections, or his paintings. Bernard felt a combination of jealousy and awe for the man whose presence had been so calming only a moment before. Yet as he watched Xiyuan get distracted by his underdrawing, he realized what he had mistaken for calm was instead restrained intensity, which got harder to hide the longer he viewed art. “What brings an artist with your influence to my estate? Are you here to admire my portfolio?”

“In a manner of speaking,” Xiyuan replied, propping himself up against the easel and smiling. There was that intensity again. “I won’t look at or evaluate anything unless you ask me to.”

Screenshot totally unrelated to narrative

“You consider yourself awfully charming, don’t you? Well, congratulations, you are.”

Xiyuan beamed in return. Then, he broke eye contact, starting to look concerned. “Actually, there is something I’d been meaning to talk about. The plaque in the museum… wasn’t exactly flattering. Have people always talked about you like this?”

“Unfortunately, yes,” Bernard decided to confide, relieved to talk to someone who didn’t immediately label him a monster. “During my lifetime, I was constantly ridiculed. I felt like the punchline to a joke everyone else knew. It was so frequent, every small mistake started to physically hurt. That’s why I started burning my paintings; the pressure was too much to handle, and I had lost control of my emotions.”

“Bernard, I’m so sorry.”

“Oh no, don’t be. After I died, it was clear my career was over, and my reputation would follow me beyond the grave. I eventually learned to paint for myself,” he grinned, “and also learned that if one is already a target of derision, shocking people becomes so much easier.” He paused in a moment of realization. “I would have treated you the same way if I knew you were also an artist.”

“‘Never discourage anyone who makes continual progress, no matter how slow.'”

“Come again?”

“Plato. Most people would have given up entirely after experiencing what you went through, but how often have you painted since your death?”

“Every day.”

“That’s what I thought. So you’re admitting to having over 50 years of experience more than any living artist; on top of that, you have a unique perspective on death and the passage of time. Speaking honestly, you would have no trouble succeeding if you were to start your career today.”

“Such flattery! Are you warming me up for something?”

“No, I genuinely admire your passion. I know very few people dedicated enough to continue the same practice for over a hundred years, and even fewer who would die for their art.”

“Huh,” Bernard thought aloud, “no one’s ever said it that way.”

“You have to get used to me being right,” Xiyuan teased. Bernard snorted at him. “By the way, did you meet any other early modern painters while you were alive? Seurat? Van Gogh?”

“Oh, you have no idea…”

DAY 2

Bernard was painting at his favorite spot, again, same as always, when he felt a tap on his shoulder.

“Oh, hello, you. Back again?”

“I’m not sure where else to find you. You’re a hard man to find. Have you ever gotten hold of a phone, or—“

“Castles don’t have phones.”

“Hah! Good one.” Bernard was perplexed as to what the source of humor could possibly be. “What’ve you been up to?”

“Painting, mostly. How about yourself?”

“Painting, mostly.”

“Of course!” Bernard realized. “It’s not often I meet someone as mad as myself.”

“Please, Bernard, don’t call yourself mad when we’re both rich enough to count as eccentric.”

“Right. Money excuses everything,” he opined, half-sarcastically. “You’re genuinely not bothered by my public image?”

“Name one famous painter, writer, philosopher, or scientist who was known for being mentally stable.”

“Touché.”

“I forgot to mention last time,” Xiyuan confessed, “most of my close friends or family members see me in a similar way. They’re just more willing to accept the large sacrifices I make to remain this prolific.”

“‘Prolific’ is an understatement. From what I’ve read, ‘terrifying’ is more accurate.”

“The press doesn’t know how much of my day I spend obsessing over every minor detail, even in my sleep.” This was true; he preferred to not give interviews, and, when forced, refused to stray from strictly factual statements. “It’s great to finally have someone to talk to who shares my quirks, instead of simply accepting them.”

“Me—” Bernard started, before realizing he didn’t want to imply anything negative about Mimsy in front of his new friend, and didn’t stop to consider why that might be the case. He instead changed the subject. “I mean, I’ve been thinking about what you said the other day. I have something to show you. Wait here.”

Xiyuan watched as Bernard took off floating at full speed towards the mansion, vanishing out of sight as he passed through one of the walls. Two minutes later, he exited the mansion through the front door, clearly having trouble with the corporality of the canvas he was holding. He carefully turned his canvas so that only the frame faced forward before careening back to the balcony.

“This is how I see my estate. What do you think?” He held up the canvas for Xiyuan to inspect.

The gardens were portrayed in a similar gloomy overcast he had used in his portrait, giving the scene an overall feeling of a prison cell. The configuration wasn’t the same as it had been this decade, or the decade before; but it was not as if all time had stopped, rather if all time was passing at once. A group of trees went from alive, to dead, to gone. The hedge maze was a barely understandable mishmash of pathways morphing in and out of existence. The estate was portrayed in various stages of restoration or disarray. A single light source radiated from the center of the gardens: Mimsy, on fire, eyes hollowed, screaming, while her un-immolated arm watered the flowers. Xiyuan was blown away by the portrayal of unimaginable pain, guilt, and sadness from a man who was reminded of his failures daily, unable to find peace even in death.

“Oh, dear, did I frighten you?”

Xiyuan raised his eyebrows at the small pause. “Quite the opposite. You’ve chosen to reveal so much of yourself, I can’t help but be drawn into the sheer beauty.” He straightened his posture. “No one, and I mean no one, could accuse you of being dull or unimaginative after seeing this.”

Bernard breathed a sigh of relief. He’d hid this particular work somewhere even Mimsy couldn’t find it, for fear it would upset her. Mimsy preferred to look on the bright side of death; she didn’t need to be reminded of the suffering she underwent under his watch, or learn that he was anything other than quietly content with his repetitive, pastoral life. Suddenly he realized how far forward he was leaning, quickly correcting his posture to create space between himself and his conversational partner.

“Uh,” he said, looking for an excuse to cool down, “do you mind if I continue this painting?”

“Not at all. Do you mind if I stay here for a bit?”

“That’s alright.”

After Xiyuan left, Bernard hid the canvas he had been working on, setting a draft of a new portrait in its place.

DAY 3


Xiyuan brushed himself off as he waited in front of The Narwhal Arms. He quickly checked inside to see if Bernard had arrived before him, but, despite living much closer, he was somewhat late. Five minutes passed before he was greeted by Bernard careening toward him at full speed. As he came closer to where Xiyuan was standing, he leaned back to come to an abrupt stop, and, beaming, bent into a full bow complete with hand flourish.

Xiyuan took a second to reply to the greeting with a half-bow. “Did someone get a new phone?”

“I may have temporarily liberated it from its owner as he ran screaming out of my mansion. Don’t worry, it’s since been placed in the lost and found.”

“Hah! What did you do this time?”

“Nothing personal, I was simply possessing the fridge to look for snacks.” “You know, your odd sense of humour is one of the things I enjoy most about you.”

Xiyuan wasn’t sure if it was time to press the issue, but decided to move forward. “Did you miss me?”

“You haven’t visited for a couple days. I was worried.”

“And you’re okay with calling this a date?”

“Well… if I’ve understood you correctly…”

“Don’t be worried, you are. And I’m honored.” Xiyuan rested his arm on Bernard’s shoulders.

Bernard made no attempt to move, but sighed heavily. “I have to admit, this is a strange and uncomfortable situation you’ve created for us.”

“It’s difficult,” admitted Xiyuan, “but I’d be making a huge mistake not to pursue you.” He moved to give Bernard some space. “Why don’t you tell me what’s on your mind right now?”

“You’re bringing up your wife on a date?”

“In my defense, I believe my wife is going to become relevant at some point.”

“Sure, but I can’t help but notice you’re referring to her in the past tense.”

“No, but—argh,” Bernard failed to recover. It was true; over the years, he and Mimsy had grown apart, and they were no longer friends, let alone lovers. Still, he felt an obligation to the woman he once loved, who had spent over a century by his side, who had been robbed of life through his actions.

“Besides, you’re the one who asked me here.”

“Maybe this was a mistake.”

Bernard was somewhat taken aback by the dramatic recoil, but took his opportunity to even the score. “Aren’t you also a married man?”

“I left her a while ago. I didn’t figure this out until it was too late, but I’ve never really been interested in women.”

“Really! How did you reach that conclusion?”

“I just… realized. One day. Look, I’m not the best person to ask about it, this is all very recent.”

“You divorced her after we met?” Bernard asked, letting the realization sink in. He lowered his voice. “You didn’t leave her for me—did you?”

“Of course not. I would have done it eventually, anyway,” Xiyuan admitted. “Leaving my family was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, but Aileen deserves someone who loves her in ways I can’t.”

“That’s a relief. That’s also a very modern way of thinking.”

“Bernard,” he offered, “Why don’t I back off? We can just enjoy the night out without any pressure.”

They entered the nightclub, where Bernard was immediately accosted by two women who refused to leave him alone for the rest of the night. Xiyuan occasionally chimed in between thoroughly rehearsed monologues on life in the 1800s, on what it was like to be a ghost. Nothing he did would get them to leave him and Bernard alone.

As the day ended, Bernard wrenched himself away from the three-way conversation to address Xiyuan. “Thank you for coming here tonight. I’ll call you back, maybe?”

“If you still have a phone.”

“If I still have a phone.”

DAY 4

This time, Bernard turned as soon as he heard footsteps. “Good evening, Mr. Liu.”

“Back at the easel?”

“Always. Yourself?”

“Just stepping out for a break,” Xiyuan said, clasping his hands and stretching them above his head. “About the other night: did the tourist come back to pick up his phone?”

“Yes. I had trouble finding a hiding place,” he said, gesturing to his translucent body.

“Hah! Don’t worry, I’m happier being with you in person, anyway.”

Bernard cringed. “I should tell you. That was a lie.”

“What?”

“I didn’t call because I didn’t know what to say,” he admitted. “You’re delightful company, of course, but I don’t know what to make of you. All these visits, and compliments,” he shook his head. “I liked the attention at first, but now, it’s honestly overwhelming.”

“Would you like me to leave you alone?”

“No, it’s not that.”

Xiyuan braced himself. “Are you only interested in me as a friend?”

“… I don’t know. You have to stop asking me these kinds of questions. I can’t process this. I don’t understand.”

Xiyuan opened his mouth to apologize, but decided it was better to just stop talking. He occupied himself by tapping his leg at 120 bpm before Bernard finally spoke again.

“Xiyuan, listen. Mimsy meant a lot to me when I was alive, and she stayed by my side all these years after I,” here he paused, “killed her. If I suddenly decide to leave her, what does that imply about me? I’d become the monster everyone believes I am.”

“It implies you want to give her, and yourself, another start?” Xiyuan argued, even though he knew the question was rhetorical. “I have nothing against Mimsy; I don’t want to hurt her either. But the fact that I’ve already damaged your relationship remains. The real question is, how much do you want to hurt her, and how?”

“I’ve known you for… how long has it been… half a year? Mimsy has been my only companion, and the love of my life, for over a century. This doesn’t seem like it should be a difficult decision.”

“Did she have a choice in this marriage?”

“Maybe you should leave.”

Xiyuan turned to walk away, but muttered under his breath, “Did you?”

Bernard furrowed his brow. “Go.

DAY 5

It had been a difficult few days for Xiyuan. He found himself constantly replaying the conversation, the meetings, that first night—searching for anything he could have done better, for any hints of Bernard’s true feelings—finding none, and none, respectively. He’d flown too close to the sun. He’d spent a lifetime searching for someone, and now, that someone appears out of thin air as he’s second-guessing himself, someone who he didn’t just feel comfortable around, he felt completely exposed, laid bare; someone who could accept his inner demons, even share them… all of them? He’d never know. Whatever could have happened was gone.

And then, there was the other question: should he go back? That was the one thing Bernard had been clear about. But ultimately, Xiyuan could feel his own selfish desires winning out, and he began inventing justifications. He would apologize, and then leave.

That’s it. That’s all that would happen.

Bernard, again, turned from his easel as soon as he heard footsteps. How did he know? Xiyuan made a mental note to learn how his footsteps sounded.

“Bernard, I’m sorry. This is all my—“

“No,” he interrupted, gesturing with both hands to stop. “I’m the one who should be apologizing. Please understand, I was confused.”

“You don’t need to apologize for that. I think after a lifetime of art, we’re both used to being confusing by now.”

“No, I wanted to apologize for sending you away.” Xiyuan knew better to ask the obvious question, so Bernard answered it for him. “Mimsy’s a sweet woman, but she and I haven’t talked in ages. She attends to her gardening, I to my painting—and, after a hundred years doing the same damned routine every day at the same damned estate, the usual topics of conversation run dry.” Bernard shrunk in guilt. “What she’s done for me… at the end, I was a wreck. That much is obvious. She loved me, and she taught me to love myself in spite of my failure. An ordinary man spending lifetimes with an ordinary woman.”

He took a moment to collect his thoughts. “And then you came along, and you were almost too different. You don’t see me as ordinary, do you?”

Xiyuan shook his head. “A kindred spirit.”

“You. A successful Patron of the Arts. I never told you, but I’ve seen pictures of your life-sized statues at gallery openings. I’ve seen your paintings in print. I had no idea that one could be so imaginative and prolific at once.”

“Those are both things we have in common.”

“And you don’t mind me being labeled as a failure.”

“You know better than anyone else that creative work is ninety percent failure,” Xiyuan mused, pretending this wasn’t a well-known fact. “The other ten percent is crying.”

“Well, in that case, I’ve given it 1000%!” Bernard continued, excited to contribute wordplay. They both laughed at that. “It’s good to have you back, Yuan.”

“So informal! If you’re going to call me Yuan, should I be calling you Bernie?”

“Hah! Why not?”

By now, they were both leaning on the railing, watching the wind rustle the bushes of the hedge garden below. Xiyuan straightened his arms to push himself back, glancing sideways to find Bernard resting his head on his hand, gazing steadily at him. They smiled at each other.

“Yuan.”

“Yes, Bernie?”

He laughed. “It’s too easy to rile you up! Are you sure you weren’t born in the 19th century?”

“Maybe I was in a past life.”

“See, where was that sense of humor five minutes ago?” Wait, this conversation had a point, he reminded himself. “What I was originally trying to say, was, I did some thinking. I can’t deny my feelings for you anymore.”

Xiyuan felt the shock vibrate almost audibly through his body, as if his brain had undergone a soft reset. He blinked—still alive, moved his fingers under Bernard’s—corporeal, darted his eyes around—at the Chalet gardens, on the balcony overlooking the hedge maze. Finally, he remembered Bernard’s presence. “Is this really happening?”

“I swear on my own grave.”

Xiyuan cupped Bernard’s hand in his. “Bernard, I … don’t know what to say.”

“I thought you might want to know.” He rested his lower back on the balcony railing, and sighed. “Let’s just enjoy being near each other, alright?”

“Alright.”

They had exhausted all need for conversation or movement. Xiyuan wasn’t aware of how much he was smiling. He was only focused on how close they were standing—was he ever this hyperaware of Bernard’s presence before? Between the ghostly chill and the crisp night air, he was glad he brought a sweater.

Bernard leaned sideways and broke the silence in a low whisper. “You’re wearing cologne.”

“You feel like a refrigerator,” Xiyuan retorted, second-guessing himself as the words left his mouth. “That is, the inside of a refrigerator.”

The unnecessary correction sent Bernard into a fit of giggles; Xiyuan found himself unable to stop giggling as well. Leaning forward had only brought them closer to one another. He was inches away from Bernard’s face.

“Do you want me to kiss you?”

“Just one kiss?”

“One kiss.”

Xiyuan resisted the urge to rest his head on Bernard’s chest, while, at the same time, feeling the chill of Bernard’s hands edging towards his shoulders. BONG, asserted the Von Haunt grandfather clock.

BONG. BONG. BONG.

“Already?”

BONG. BONG.

“Indeed,” Xiyuan confirmed, gesturing to his watch. “I should turn into a pumpkin. You know, before we do anything we regret.”

BONG.

“Maybe that’s for the better,” Bernard smiled. “Take care, Cinderella.”

BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG. BONG.

DAY 6

Xiyuan came back the next day. The same day? Bernard, fully rested, spun around from his easel as soon as he heard footsteps on the stairs.

“Good morning, Cinderella,” Bernard teased, getting no response. “You’re not going to object to that?”

Xiyuan shrugged. “It seems fitting. You keep recognizing me because of my shoes.”

“Ah; I thought you were finally becoming less uptight than the 19th century ghost lord! If you must know, your boots have a distinctive heel-heavy sound,” Bernard clarified, gesturing downward, “but the real trick is that no one else ever comes up here.”

Xiyuan walked the length of the balcony, listening for the telltale click, until he settled by the far railing. “So…”

“What’s on your mind?” Bernard asked, perhaps too coyly for a simple question.

“Nice weather we’ve been having lately.”

“That’s all?”

“The weather. Good evening, Lady Shallot.”

“… Oh! Hello, Mimsy, my dear.”

They both watched Mimsy float off the balcony and settle at the piano. Now it was Xiyuan’s turn to tease. “Were you greeting one person, or two?”

“I’ll let you figure it out—,” Bernard began to retort, before Xiyuan caught his wrist and drew him into a passionate kiss.

What followed was definitely not an attempt at taking it slow or abstaining from adultery.

just picture a bunch of this, I refuse to write smut

It wasn’t until hours later, locked in a tight embrace, that Xiyuan spoke again. “That was not what I intended to happen.”

“I have to agree.”

He checked his phone. “Bernard, I cannot stress how little I want to do this, but it’s time for me to go.”

“You can’t stay?”

“Not only is that a terrible idea, the bed in the museum is roped off.”

“No, I realized that. You can nap on the benches outside. I’ll be right beside you when you wake up.”

Xiyuan kissed Bernard’s neck. “You’re making this too difficult. We both need to get a full night’s sleep and carefully consider our options.”

“I hate that you’re right.” Bernard muttered. “Let me walk you out, then.”

They passed out of the gardens and through the mansion, arm in arm for the first time. Bernard propped himself against the door frame, watching his paramour walk away until he was but a speck on the horizon.

DAY 7

Xiyuan leapt out of bed, brushed his teeth, took a quick shower, and headed directly to the Von Haunt estate, not realizing this was the first time he’d skipped his daily 5-10 AM painting session since Shu was born. Bernard was waiting in his usual spot. He hadn’t started painting, either.

“Good morn—“

“I’ll skip the teasing today, thanks.”

It was Bernard who stopped this time. “We should probably talk.”

“Of course,” Xiyuan said, keeping his arm around Bernard’s waist. “That was just to say hello.”

Bernard started to ask a question, but dropped it mid-phoneme. “I don’t understand modern courtship. How does one start?”

“Let’s start with what you want. Do you want to keep seeing me?”

“This moment? Definitely,” he confirmed. “But perhaps I should consider the long term in more detail.”

“You can think out loud. I’m listening.”

“Well…” Bernard began, choosing his words carefully, “I’ve been around for longer than you can imagine. Changing everything for someone I only met a few months ago seems—“

“—Improbable?”

“Maybe ‘rash’ is the right word,” he continued. “And yet, while alive, even my most treasured relationships could be traced back to forced contact or begrudging acceptance. Even those who sought to provide any meaningful contact could only offer trite platitudes. But you,” he paused with meaning, “didn’t try to understand me, and didn’t need to—you stripped away the labels, the disgrace, the past, right to the core of my being—and what you found was someone worth treasuring. For that, I am grateful.”

“What can I say? I’ve always had a good eye.” Bernard rolled his. “Before that night, I spent years searching for someone who experienced feelings as deeply as I do, who considered my obsessiveness to be a profound source of connection, not as something to merely tolerate. I found no one. I came to believe that there was, indeed, no one capable of truly relating to me. I learned to acclimate to the constant feeling that something was incomplete. But it never occurred to me,” he continued, “that the person I was looking for may have died almost a century before I was born.”

“That’s what it is,” he agreed. “Imagine feeling that isolation for ten times as long.”

“I’m literally incapable of doing that.”

Both of them allowed the conversation to diffuse into contemplative silence. Finally, Bernard had been able to consolidate his feelings, and had figured out what to say.

“Let me say,” he confessed, “being around you has given me a better understanding of what it means to love someone.”

Xiyuan held tight onto Bernard’s shoulders to stop himself from shaking. “I think I love you, too.” They held on to each other tightly, as if the world itself began to fall apart around them, and to let the other go would send them careening through the void of existence they had created.

“It’s nice to feel needed for once,” Bernard remarked. He immediately shifted the mood from pensive to upbeat. “So, to answer your original question, yes.”

“Seconded.”

“Then it’s unanimous!” He clapped his hands together in celebration. “What’s the next question?”

“Are we in a relationship?”

“That’s an easy one. Yes.”

“It’s such a relief to be able to admit it,” Bernard remarked. “What’s the next question?”

“I’ve saved the hardest question for last. Where are you going to live?”

“Oh,” Bernard winced. Xiyuan felt the hope drain from his body.

“Do you want to talk through it again?”

“Well,” he considered, coming up with an excuse to stall, “what would the other option be?”

“I live alone in a penthouse apartment in San Myshuno.”

“Go on.”

“There’s a balcony. It’s not as big as this one, but it has a great view of the city.” Now was the time to start bargaining, he figured. “You could set up an easel there? In fact, I could convert at least five rooms into studios.”

“And what is living in the city itself like?”

“It’s fantastic. Every week, there are festivals, parties, performers to watch, concerts to go to—”

“—what kind of concerts?”

“I usually go to watch my old orchestra perform. Maybe an opera, every once in a while—“

“—the ballet?”

“Yes! The theater—“

“—the galleries—“

“—we can open our own, I have the money. Oh, and karaoke. I forgot karaoke. That’s something I’d like to watch.”

“What else?”

“The neighbors are constantly popping in. Every week, I go out to the suburbs to visit my best friends.”

“No, on a daily basis.”

“Well, I wake up—“

“—thank you for clarifying, I was wondering—“

“—I shower. I make you breakfast.”

“I butcher your name again.”

“We check the Arts section for news about each other.”

“Of course I’d restart my career.”

“You’ll be brilliant. I like to start painting at sunrise, in our between-one-and-five studios.”

“I’ll set up right next to you.”

“I practice piano. The neighbors come in to watch me play, and then eat the rest of our breakfast.”

“You’re not being facetious about the neighbors?”

“They smother me. If it’s not time for work, we go out to the museum. We paint murals all over the city.”

“That sounds wonderful.”

“And at night, whatever you feel like doing.”

“And we won’t have to be apart.”

Xiyuan smiled. “No, we won’t.”

Bernard paused to consider this new information. “You know, I’m still not sure whether this is the right thing to do,” he admitted, “but it’s time to give myself and Mimsy a fresh start.”

please note the topic of conversation. these two, i swear

Xiyuan didn’t immediately respond, and looked away. Bernard moved in to check on him. He was tearing up.

“I was so worried,” Xiyuan choked out. “Honestly, if you had refused, I don’t know what I would have done without you.”

“It’s going to be alright,” Bernard replied, wiping the tears from Xiyuan’s face with his thumb. “I’d like to go home now. Will you meet me at the steps?”

As they separated, Xiyuan took one last look around the gardens, across the meticulously pruned hedge maze, the topiary archways, the white piano, the contrast of the distant mountains to the immediate flora, the pink rose petals floating in the water fountain, and finally, the single easel. He’d treasure this image until the day he died.

The glory of the idyllic backdrop was broken by a woman screaming something indistinct from inside the mansion. Bernard flew out a couple seconds later, carrying a large stack of canvases. “Will you help me with these? We have to leave now.”

But as Xiyuan left the balcony with his partner for the first and last time, he could think of only thing to say. “Are you ready to spend the next century with me?”

“Perhaps. But I can’t wait to find out.”

The Jensen-Liu Family: Aileen’s Life is One Big MF-ing Never-ending Party

SO SUCK IT, XIYUAN.

You know what’s more fun than getting a divorce? Getting a divorce, but having a set of two friends you’re unable to divide up, and their stupid kids keep stupid getting older.

She went out of her way to sit as far away from him as possible. Subtle. I like it.

Luckily, Aileen hasn’t been left alone entirely. She has me, the benevolent maker! She also has Shu, who absolutely adores his dad and wants to be just like him in every conceivable possible way.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. You’re not out of the woods yet.

So, this is where we start our story: what promises to be a long and arduous process of healing and self-discovery for Aileen. Or, she’ll wallow in despair until she dies. It’s kind of a toss-up at this point.

Did you think the title was Aileen venting? No, it’s just that Kendra’s birthday party technically never ended. Aileen and Shu were having a blast in the Jeong-Espinosa house and stayed long after the hosts had gone to sleep; Xiyuan similarly overstayed his welcome, but while thoroughly avoiding Aileen. Maybe they feel more comfortable with friends right now—or are they just raiding Claudia’s fridge?

It’s pi o’clock, bitches!

They stayed so long that Mike woke up, and his only reaction upon learning Kendra’s party guests decided to wreak havoc around his house all night was to offer his old roommate some breakfast pie. As one does.

It’s pie o’clock, bitches!

The Jeong-Espinosas are awake and going about their day at 10 A.M.—at least I think they are, because no one is coming to whack Shu for waking them up with his ungodly screeching.

“FWITZO FWITZO TEEMY ZWAR, HAPA ZHUMBA SHUSHU GAR.” Remember in The Sims 3: World Adventures where every time a Sim learned a new song, they would sing it constantly? I don’t miss that one bit.

And if they had stayed, my tale would have never ended. They did leave around noon, but only to scrub all traces of Xiyuan pink out of the house and replace it with shades of grey. (If the term “Xiyuan pink” doesn’t make sense, wait till you see his apartment.)

Claudia helped by bringing some food over. Funfact: I removed the bar from this house because Claudia is incapable of doing anything else in a house with a bar.

Aileen can’t get a post-breakup pixie cut because her hair can’t get any shorter. Luckily, she’s a Sim, so post-breakup medium bob is also an option.

Playing Aileen helped me figure out what outfits are flattering on women with broad shoulders.

However, Aileen’s main challenge isn’t the divorce: she was thrown into a set of best friends and colorful characters, and, as a result, didn’t develop her own identity. “Single mother” is all she has.

Figuring out Aileen’s personal preferences is a start. She seems to be unusually fond of San Myshuno, so she’s going to use karaoke as an excuse to drag herself away from the computer.

Aileen (sans Shu) was back the next night at the same karaoke bar. It goes without saying that she’s on the prowl. I mean, she can’t be seen wandering in her ex-husband’s new neighborhood alone while he’s busy chasing translucent tail. She is going to find a man, a good one, and RUB IT IN HIS FACE. I mean work on loving and respecting herself before dating and RUBBING IT IN HIS FACE. No, that’s not it; I mean build positive relationships with the people around her and hopefully one blossoms into romance SO SHE CAN RUB IT IN HIS FACE. LOOK AT HOW GREAT I’M DOING WITHOUT YOU, YOU BASTARD.

Tonight’s man is personal trainer Bennett Good, one of Aileen’s best friends who just so happened to have two free nights in a row and he is so sad to hear about the divorce, just SO SAD, dear, does she need a shoulder to cry on? Is it alright if it’s just us? Ok, see you at 7.

Homeboy’s playing Connect Four while everyone else is doing the MIT Mystery Hunt

Aileen, having been a random townie, hasn’t had to deal with the realities of dating yet. She’s spared the dick pics and nice guys, but is falling into the same trap Claudia did: it’s possible to find Sims who are attractive, have good traits, or are compatible with you, but not all three. Her best option would be to stay at a social venue past closing, when all of the Maxis-curated Sims have gone home.

Another “option” is Don Lothario, who would prefer to corner Bennett in the bathroom:

“Isn’t it great that we both like grilled cheese and hate ascribing to social norms?”

Don breaks one of my cardinal rules, which is to not impose artificial sources of conflict. This doesn’t mean she can’t hook up with him! Or everyone!

Bennett invited Aileen to the street fair the next day. Not one of her other friends, no, the only one who seems dead-set on spending as much time as possible with her once she became single. Too bad Aileen doesn’t see him that way, and his attention span isn’t long enough to actually make a move. The only person who got something out of the outing is Shu, who seems to have finally picked up on the fact that his mom might be seeing other people and his dad isn’t coming back.

Or he’s uncomfortable because the not-date date interrupted his shower. Hush.

What you’re seeing here is the beginning of a long-running trend in which my Sims replace therapy with basketball.

(dribbles sadly in Mandarin)

But there’s one thing we haven’t addressed: does Aileen really need a date? What kind of heteronormative social pressure bullshit is that? She should probably start learning to love herself instead. She needs outlets. She’s started attending yoga classes frequently and is developing a strong practice. She started learning two new creative skills, writing and singing.

When Aileen writes, she is channelling her rage, fear, and frustration. She doesn’t quite yet have the words for what she’s feeling. Luckily, 127% of all songs are breakup songs, so someone else might have found them already. Better to go through the entire songlist just in case.

She needs to switch from “You Oughta Know” to “Good as Hell.”

On the other hand, focusing on self-care doesn’t mean she can’t window-shop.

There are a couple cute guys Aileen keeps seeing at karaoke. They’re two of the canned City Life Sims; let’s call them Manbun and Ginger. Ehhhh. Both of them have some kind of shitty trait like Non-Committal, Hot-Headed, Evil, or Gloomy. We were just about to give up, for good, when…

I scared my partner by screaming “OH SHIT, OH SHIT, THIS ONE, AILEEN, TALK TO THIS ONE”

Let’s see. Cute! Likes her! No bad traits! HE’S AN ASTRONAUT OH SHIT AILEEN LOCK THAT SHIT DOWN

AAAAAAAAAAH

AAAAAAAAAAAAH I’M FREAKING OUT

(This lovely specimen is Derrick Harris, by trentonikui. I downloaded a few other Sims a while back and just forgot about them. While we’re on that topic, if you know of any strong characters, I’d be happy to incorporate them into Gen3 onward!)

What’s the hot take, pancake?

Yeah, that was my reaction too.

The next chapter of this story is kind of a doozy, and I may spend a couple days editing it. Brace yourselves.

The Jeong-Espinosa Family: Everyone Grows Up Except Mike

When we last left them, Mike was being an asshole, Charlie was being weird about this one kid, and Claudia was drowning herself in juice. She’s also pregnant.

Other than queasiness and morning sickness, pregnant Sims have very few restrictions. Claudia runs around with the lil’ bean nestled securely in the impenetrable barrier formed by her abs, abs that have no risk of splitting as she gives birth. She also won’t have to deal with postpartum depression, postnatal bleeding, incontinence, mommy blogs telling her to eat her placenta, horrific pain, or the risk of dying in childbirth. (Asshole.) Instead, she creates Tumblr-style moods like “pregnant bodybuilder eating doughnuts.”

Cut past a few days of Claudia trying to give the nooboo fetal juice syndrome, and Kendra Jeong-Espinosa is born.

Now, we’ve established that Claudia has a drinking problem, but only vaguely alluded to the reasons why that might be the case. Let’s visit Exhibit A: Claudia, former Miss Universe, interrupting her workout twice. Once to feed the baby, and once to change her diaper. Where’s Mike? Taking a siesta right next to the screaming baby.

Clockwise from right bicep: Blizzard, Claudia, Viper, Kendra

Claudia used to spend her day gardening, cooking, and then head off to the gym to work as a personal trainer. She went to the gym so often, all the actual personal trainers are her exes. She went to the gym so often, all the young adults in my game look like this:

They’re also all super-good dancers. For those of you who don’t play The Sims 4, when a lot is loaded, it’s also seeded with 10-20 NPCs. These guys were called to fill the lot every time Claudia went to the gym, which was every day. Newcrest is now mostly grotesquely muscular people.

But now, her top priority is her family. The old Claudia is dead. So what’s a girl to do?

The same thing anyone else would.

Meanwhile, Charlie is out alone in the wilderness somewhere.

He’ll be fine.

Charlie was never a rambunctious kid. He’s been a great helper to his dad, providing moral support for rocket building and occasionally beating him at chess. Fishing gives Charlie something to mentally focus on when his dad’s outside the house—it doesn’t hurt that he loves seafood, either. The only problem is that no one will join him.

He’ll get the chance to work on the rocket soon. It’s his birthday!

The problem with planning a child’s birthday party is that the only person who knows the child’s friends is the child themself, who is not allowed to plan the party; leaving the party planning to the parents, who don’t know any of the child’s friends. Charlie can’t invite Elsa or Max or even Cruz to his birthday party. But he’s in luck! Their close family friends have a kid, and as long as everyone can ignore the extremely messy divorce that happened less than a week ago, everything will be fine!

Aileen clearly wrote the book/Buzzfeed article on Shirts to Wear to a Child’s Birthday Party to Remind Your Ex-Husband What He’s Missing:

Looking real sharp!
From top down: SEVERE emotional discomfort, gloating, total obliviousness. Hi dad! Come to think of it, why do Sims hired as entertainers always pick the object they have the lowest skill in? Xiyuan was a professional musician and there’s both a piano and violin in the goddamn room. Shu would probably be less entertained if he were actually listening to the jokes.

Finally, Charlie blows out the candles on his special cake, rainbow glowies surround him while he floats, and he immediately gets upstaged again!

Classic younger sibling move, they always want to do what you’re doing at the exact same time.
Just ignore conservation of mass and shoot up to your parents’ height instantaneously

Welcome to puberty, please keep your arms and legs inside the vehicle and try not to get a boner in class!

Charlie, perhaps unsurprisingly, grew into the Nerd Brain aspiration, giving him the quarternary trait Quick Learner. He also earned a love for the outdoors. In short, he’s going to be one of those 60-year-old scientists who tears his ACL and is off in two weeks riding his bike twenty miles to a conference.

Here he is post-makeover.

This is the outfit every teenage nerd wears. I have that shirt in white, so this is really more of a self-roast than anything else.

Charlie gets a new room to match his nature-loving personality, with a microscope, work bench, bookshelf, and fish tank. He also gets the upstairs to himself and a private bathroom.

Spot the tissues next to the bed.

Now Kendra!

Yikes. I was planning on making her weird anyway. Thanks for agreeing with me, GAME.
Take two—poofball with the curse of the big hair!

Both Jeong-Espinosa children are starting to acclimate into their new roles. It’s often interesting to see what the AI decides to pick up on—for example, here we have Charlie, not in the mood to write jokes at all, thinking about doing something that fits his personality more. Yet, he decides on his own to write jokes, just like his father did several years ago.

Very neat. Hey! Your dad decided to pay attention to your mom for once!

Kendra is a constant delight. I’m not generally a fan of toddlers, but she’s like a prodigy of being weird.

Claudia’s been taking on the bulk of the toddler care again. Oh, she truly loves her children, of course, but sometimes she just needs to leave it all behind. She can’t go out anymore. She can’t drop everything to party all night like she used to. So what does she do to relax? Mix drinks. And now Kendra’s checking out the area.

Don’t do it. Don’t end up like Mommy.

We still have two Sims in this family with a rock-solid relationship. MJ and Claudia definitely don’t fight, they get along great, and they haven’t run into anybody else in their world better suited to themselves. And yet, while we’ve collected some evidence that Claudia might be deeply unhappy with the way her life turned out, let’s talk about Mike.

Mike has always been a fun guy. That’s what attracted Claudia to him in the first place. He’s Gregarious due to his popularity aspiration, and Self-Assured, which makes him a great conversationalist. But is Self-Assured really a positive trait to have?

There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance, and, given the way he acts, Mike barreled over it without anyone realizing.

boop tiny guitar

Mike has maxed out more skills and completed more aspirations than anybody else—but how? By only doing the fun parts of parenting and leaving Claudia do most of the work. Here he is, reinventing himself again. (Going out to do BUSINESS every weekday is far more hours than any other top-level career.)

No wonder Claudia drinks; the closest person to her in the world is too focused on himself to talk about her problems, let alone notice them, and making the natural decision to marry him is what put her into the situation in the first place. How was she supposed to know? In the context of normal Sims gameplay, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Mike. In a real relationship, he would be a nightmare. But! He’s still a Sim, and Sims are idiots.

Welcome to the Millennial Club, please try to remember pants next time.

Charlie is feeling heteronormative social pressures to go out and find a partner and stuff. Unfortunately, I am also an idiot, and tried to force him to talk to Yuki for a full two hours before realizing she was behind a locked club door. Charlie somehow knew the door was locked without even looking, or trying, and from several yards away.

Coffee, the lifeblood of all academic pursuits

Hopefully he won’t strike out too many times. Ah well, go play chess with your dad, that’s cute.

Does nobody in this universe ever let their child win at chess?

Meanwhile, Claudia is going bonkers with the amount of work required to get a toddler to level 5 in all skills before the end of the week. Her two best friends also got a divorce! She’s worried sick, and the only cure is details. Stat!

“How was I supposed to know I wasn’t MALE or DEAD enough for him?!”
“That’s horrible! Tell me more.”
“I’m trying, but there are no good men in this town!”
“Don’t get me started, love.”

Yet, as everyone knows, there are two sides to every story, so the only way to win is to play BOTH SIDES. Hence Sporty/Posh Spice spa day.

“I feel awful, but it was the right thing to do to avoid more pain for both of us.”
“Uh, maybe don’t say that to Aileen.”

What’s Mike doing while his best friends need emotional support? Well…

Recall that my Sims never perform mean or mischievous interactions under my watch, so this Gustavo thing came out of nowhere. He does seem hella cheesed about whatever happened.

We’re reaching the end of nightmare toddler boot camp. Here’s Kendra getting her last darned skill point. I had to Groundhog-Day her last 12 hours as a toddler, using harvestables, to get it.

thank fuck it’s over

Thankfully, it’s time for Kendra’s birthday! Charlie knows some kids, so he threw the party, but secretly sabotaged it by inviting the whole now-defunct Liu family again.

Bottom-left Charlie is happy his sister’s birthday party was ruined by being as awkward as his was.

Kendra is a dream come true. If there’s one thing I enjoy more than giving my Sims expansive out-of-game identities, it’s when they themselves unexpectedly develop a strong personality. What’s magical here is the AI perfectly matching my idea of who Kendra is—her first two actions as a child are to play with her monster doll, and to side-eye the absolute stuffing out of Shu. I couldn’t have planned it better if I tried.

Kendra gets a look stronger than most adults are comfortable pulling off, and to finally go to sleep.

That’s what the androgynous trend needs—green and orange knee socks.

Watching these two grow up is going to be interesting, that’s for sure.

The Liu Family Makes a Tough Call

When we last saw the Liu family, we learned that I accidentally caused irreversible harm to one of my most treasured Sims, and started teetering on the verge of destroying two families at once.

for heaven’s sakes, keep it in your pants

All we can do at this point is damage control. That is, someone’s going to get hurt no matter what happens, but we can help Xiyuan do some soul-searching. Xiyuan has to figure out whether or not he wants to pursue Mike; whether or not he should divorce Aileen, and, if so, whether he should leave immediately or after Shu ages up, or suck it up and go back in the closet.

While he mulls it over, they can eat in separate rooms, I guess.

(By the way, I can’t find who originally built this house. Let me know if it looks familiar to you!)

There’s no immediate reason to leave the house. Aileen and Xiyuan are both good-natured, extremely close, and agree on their priorities.

Shu’s lucky to be a daddy’s boy, because he could very possibly have 3 daddies.

We have plenty of time to consider every possible situation and reflect on the merits of each. First, whether running off with Mike is worth it. Xiyuan calms his nerves as he visits the Jeong-Espinosas for the first time since they almost blew it, using Shu as an adorable distraction.

Let’s stand in increasing order of emotional turmoil and eat our feelings! Yay!!!

Claudia answers the door. Mike is in the kitchen baking cupcakes; would you two like some? Come in!

He was hardly a stranger to having Claudia shove food in his face. She always had to feed everyone, ever since she became the third roommate. Mike was a lot of fun, but Claudia always had this sweetness about her that put people at ease. Xiyuan briefly considered what would happen to her if Mike suddenly up and left, or she discovered he was having an affair—but the pain was enough to make him physically cringe.

Are you okay, hun? Have another cupcake.

He looked around at the house, with Mike’s comedy award next to Charlie’s frog in Claudia’s shiny kitchen, and finally felt like an outsider. Settling down had changed Mike, and he was no longer the unencumbered free spirit Xiyuan knew. There was no possibility of Xiyuan ever convincing Mike to leave or harm his family. He hated to acknowledge it, but pursuing the person he felt closest to in the world would likely alienate everyone else he cared about.

Xiyuan gave his best friend a parting hug, right before Claudia walked up to give Mike a hug in the same spot. That was it; he chose Claudia. Xiyuan was an afterthought. If anything could have happened, it was too late.

Xiyuan drew distant from Aileen as he tried to mourn his lost love in private. But both families were still best friends, so when Mike invited the Lius to Ghost Night at the bar, he shoved his feelings deeper into the closet, past the Halloween costumes and winter coats, and prepared for another unbearable night out.

That’s when he did The Thing.

The Thing that instantly shot him straight to the top of my list of best Sims of all time, beating out every colorful character, legacy founder, self-insert and local legend that I’ve made over decades of simming. The Thing that was an optimal combination of being a total fucking idiot, and, at the same time, so brilliant that he actually outdid the planning of a real human. The Thing that must be phrased as a multiple-choice test question.

Imagine, for a moment, you recently discovered you’re gay and are handling the delicate situation of balancing self-actualization with the needs of your beloved family. You see a beautiful stranger while at the bar with your wife. Do you:
a) Trick question! I stayed home because going to the bar seems irresponsible.
b) Keep to yourself and have a talk with the wife when you get home.
c) Throw all caution to the wind and introduce yourself all sexy-like.
d) Option c, but also the stranger is a 19th-century ghost.

XIYUAN YOU MAGNIFICENT FUCKING BASTARD.

(Let me clarify here that, unlike with Aileen, I had no part in establishing this relationship whatsoever. He just walked over to the ghost, showered him with rose petals, and then kept flirting. This screenshot was taken after the fact because I wasn’t even at the computer when it happened. This does explain why I had so much trouble finding him a romantic partner in the first place, because on top of being a deeply repressed gay man, Xiyuan is also apparently a massive freak.)

Nobody’s wife was happy.

YES, THE GHOST’S WIFE WAS ALSO THERE. SHE SLAPPED HIM TWICE. This happened ages ago and I can’t look at these pictures without choking on my tea from laughing so hard.

This is the second time Aileen caught Xiyuan flirting with a guy. She managed to keep from slapping him, but was too angry to even look him in the face.

She stormed off and tried to calm herself down in the mirror.

When that didn’t work, she dragged him out of the club, where they had a huge fight.

Nothing could save it.

yeah buddy, something tells me that wasn’t going to work anyway

The Hot Ghost Situation is what led to Xiyuan and Aileen sleeping in separate beds, Aileen keeping the master bedroom because she wasn’t an adulterous piece of shit and Xiyuan sleeping in the bed he got as a career reward (why?! What are the logistics of that?) in his old upstairs bedroom.

doop deedly doop doo science, la la la

Shu has absolutely no idea what’s going on. He continues to play the perfect little angel, duct-taping the rapidly fraying string holding his parents together. He wants nothing more in life than to play with his friends, play with his toys, play the violin, and do homework. Oh, is his homework done? Can I do the extra credit, please? Just an all-around studious little scamp who lives to make his parents happy.

And it’s working! That’s autonomous busking, btw.
It’s not the Spice Festival without a kid playing the violin while his parents yell at him. He earned 17 Simoleons, so he just paid for his parents’ drinks.

Xiyuan, having been banished to the upstairs portion of the house, spends most of his time hiding in the studio until Shu comes home. He waits until Aileen leaves for work to eat or shower.

So, totally different from before?

At some point, he had to decide between staying long enough for Shu to grow up or leaving. Patching things up with Aileen was no longer an option—he didn’t so much come out of the closet to her as run out screaming, light the closet on fire and walk away in slow motion while it exploded. Perhaps he needed to know what he’s missing in order to make that choice. That’s how he ended up going out to meet some guys.

Where do we go? The haunted house! BECAUSE THIS IS WHAT YOU LIKE

Unfortunately, he miscalculated: the ghosts must have been sleeping. But then!

IT’S HIM

Well, now, this is interesting.

At first, he’s is put off by the man’s intensity, the culture shock, the size of the house. But the ghost recognizes Xiyuan! The ghost says to call him Bernard. Bernard asks, do you want to know how I died? He joyfully pantomimes himself being burnt to death, hamming up his own suffocation until he finally goes limp. “Eh?” he gestures, looking for a reaction. Xiyuan doesn’t have one at first, but then laughs nervously at the realization that this man has been dead for over a century and still gets a kick out of disturbing tourists. Fascinated and charmed, Xiyuan finds himself being drawn in—but the guilt drives him to leave. He walks back home feeling more alive than he’s felt in years.

The pain of staying in his house becomes unbearable, and Xiyuan starts to have nightmares about withering away in his second-story prison. His love for Shu is the one connection left he has with this place. But Shu is a fast learner, and needs his dad’s mentorship less every day.

This is Shu reaching level 10 in violin skill. It’s the same first maxed skill as his dad.

This is when Xiyuan is convinced Shu will recover. They can spend weekends together in the city. They’ll go to the museum together, busk in the parks, and spend hours painting next to each other. The kid absolutely idolizes his dad, and one day he’ll understand why he had to leave.

Xiyuan leaves the house and all of the money with Aileen, taking only harvestables, masterpieces and treasured items. He leaves a few things for his son: the Starry Night bed, the portraits of Aileen, the canvases. So with a goodbye sad painting,

and a goodbye hug,

Xiyuan prepares to actually move on.

Shu doesn’t know that when he comes home from school, his dad will be gone.

It’s going to take some time to get over the trauma, but this was the right decision for everybody. None of this was actually a mistake: Xiyuan needed a hard push to find himself, Aileen was removed from obscurity to live the life of her dreams, and Shu came into existence. Nobody had bad intentions. Nobody wanted to be mean.

All three members of the former Liu family are faced with individual challenges: to acclimate to life without Dad, to find an identity outside of “Xiyuan’s wife,” to possibly convince a century-old ghost with surprisingly nuanced views on gay interracial relationships to leave his wife and mansion to move to uptown San Myshuno. It’s not even clear whether we’ve figured Xiyuan out yet, or if he’s using his obsessive artistry to hide even deeper secrets.

But now, looking out of his penthouse window, Xiyuan’s life is actually beginning.

EPILOGUE: He’s ok, folks.

Hell yeah, apple painting

The Jeong-Espinosa Family: Hitting the Juice

Previously, we were launched into the middle of the story of the Liu family, which is very likely to immediately fall apart right after their introduction. We now meet the other half of this dual legacy: the best friends and social foils of the Lius, the Jeong-Espinosas.

I’d remind you to focus on the details, but the current family conflict is hardly a detail. See if you can spot it.

An average family breakfast of lobster tortellini.

The epicenter of the Jeong-Espinosa household is the kitchen. Not only because it’s a classic family hangout or large enough to have other kitchens orbiting around it, but because of the family’s strong connection to food. You see, Claudia Espinosa immigrated from (the Sim version of) Mexico before she became a chef, and found herself in a world where no one has heard of pupusas, pozole, enchiladas, chilaquiles, elote—no, not even a single tamal. Her current dream is to convince Newcrest that Mexican food is more than just tacos and burritos. Mike and Charlie are faced with the grueling task of making space in the fridge, but they somehow manage.

After breakfast, and before dinner, Mike and Charlie leave for the ol’ nine-to-five/to be another brick in the wall, respectively. This leaves Claudia alone for hours at a time. Let’s see what she chooses to do with her day.

A glimpse of the master bedroom, with its statement wall and fancity bathroom. I *did* design this house, which is why the layout is awful, everything is too big, the landscaping screams “just put a green thing somewhere,” and there’s no living room.

When I say “all day,” I mean all of these screenshots were taken on the same day. Ready?

Heads for the bar right after making breakfast. Woo! This woman knows how to live!
Second drink, but only because it’s a great way to entertain your kids before they have to leave for school.
Wow, those last two drinks were amazing! Let’s have another.
Take a shot every time your husband and kids leave the house. It’s the rules.
Make yourself an EAPA, which is hardcoded as your favorite drink, and then complain about how low-quality the drink is because you’re a foodie. She pulls this shit at least once a week.
Husband’s home. And you got dressed! Drink!! (Also serves as proof that she doesn’t only make drinks when inspired.)

Simister and I had a day where all we did was cook, day drink, and exercise, and we joked about being like the housewives in the movies. Claudia is just this except turned up to 11. If you can come up with a job that requires keeping yourself sauced all day, tell Claudia, because she’s already made a career out of the other two.

Charlie is completely oblivious to all this.

“Charlie can see all sorts of age-inappropriate things… but can he see why moms love the taste of pitchers of juice at lunch?”

Charlie’s top priorities are learning, doing well in school, and, for reasons I will never understand, Cruz Greenwood.

Cruz is the blue and purple one in the foreground

Charlie became one of the popular kids despite his lack of apathy towards school. Clockwise from the left: close family friend, that weird kid who bites the heads off worms, this Goth kid who dresses like how everyone feels inside, Charlie’s cherubic first childhood friend, the epicenter of Charlie’s attention now and forever, and some old dude who I really hope is the caretaker of one of these kids. Elsa is somewhere, but she’s a girl and has cooooooties.

After school, he often heads across the street to visit the Lius. Uncle Xiyuan is nice but has a lot of opinions.

Note the intrusion of Cruz Greenwood.

Charlie and Shu spend a lot of time together playing outside or making up stories with the dollhouse. One time, the baby killed the grandfather and hid his body under a rug, then repeatedly ran over the rug with a car to get rid of evidence, and had to lie to the parents so they wouldn’t go in the house. Then the parents punished the baby with no dessert, so the baby killed the parents, too. Then ran them over with a car.

Homework is really an excuse to finish early and spend time basking in the aura of the greatest person ever to exist.

I learned that if the game bugs out at the right time, two little boys can stare into each other’s eyes for hours.

The last member of the family is Mike, whose daily schedule is boring and businessy, and who is also the hardest to read.

He does love making fun of engineers, which is correct.

Mike is the sort of person who spends a year mastering a certain hobby, then forgets about it completely and moves on to the next thing. He has several unfinished novels, speaks bits and pieces of languages other than Simlish, and hasn’t been really happy at any of his jobs. At least being a comedian prepared him for some truly incendiary dad jokes. So, there’s the Jeong-Espinosa household: two drifters, one by choice, and one blob of constantly buzzed glue holding the ship together.

LET’S COMPLICATE THINGS

WOOOOOOOO

Fast-forward through an entire day of Charlie learning, Claudia drinking and Mike doing whatever he wants. The next day, Claudia seems a bit nauseous.

It’s probably just the 5 glasses of juice she drank yesterday. Eh! Hair of the dog.

This is the point where we get concerned for Claudia, enough so that maybe it would do some good to leave Charlie at home and run off to a bar with some friends. Something nice, not too fancy, and let’s invite Aileen and Xiyuan for a double date, why not.

Oh, hi, I like your anachronistic sweater because Dolly forgot she actually documented this.

So, a couple of old friends catch up while Claudia is at the bar. How’s the new job? How’s the kid? You look really good in that suit, by the way.

MIKE. NO.

Keep in mind that we’re being thrust into the middle of the story. These two started together, spent all their time together, became successful together, and only moved into separate houses once Shu entered kindergarten. During that time, they proved to be a strong team, inseparable, the yin and yang. It’s been 17 years. Now, they’ve suddenly chosen to start a game of chicken where they’re barely holding in their feelings. I was forced to cancel several of these in a row to prevent these guys from forming a romantic relationship.

It’s also awful timing. Terrible.

The first thing she did was beeline over to Mike to share the good news.

Let’s give Mike a day or so to mull over his emotions, and come back later.

Pay for Your Sims: The Gnome Dome Begins

Would you say that the machine was CRaZY???!!! – DIANETICS Informational DVD

Chastity Keck was raised in the purity of the only true Truth: the Church of the Latter Day Saints as the realization of the gift granted to Joseph Smith directly by the angel Gabriel. Of her 24 sisters, each of whom has been named for the cardinal virtues by her father and mothers, Chastity was the most committed in heart and mind to propounding the doctrines of the LDS Church, so much so that she did not marry but took instead a vow of celibacy, achieving Christian holiness by singing modestly melodic hymns in the soft palette of white and pastel of one of Salt Lake City’s churches and contributing 75% of her income to the Bank of the Latter-Day Saints. Chastity’s favorite hobbies include spreading the word of the one true Church, gardening, baking casseroles, floral print dresses, youth Outreach, and guarding against impure thoughts.

Chastity Keck welcomes the Girls’ Virtue Watch as part of Youth Bible Outreach Night for a night full of fun song-singing in Joseph Smith’s name

Chastity gives a sermon while Paul plays “Lead Me Not Flesh”. Paul finds himself slightly off tempo, however, as the subtle throbbing of Indian trap music pulses up through the floor, vibrating the piano legs at their resonance frequency. He pauses and looks around, yet the sound seems to be coming from nowhere but the ground. Paul ignores the synthesizer warped sitar music and orgiastic thumping bass by playing a bit louder on the piano.

“And then the Lord sayeth that HE gave intercourse unto the production of children forthwith and not for the Lust of the flesh. Women be ye modest lest ye provoke the LUST of the flesh.”

As Chastity was instructing the girls in how God tells wives not to be jealous of other wives, she too, like Paul, was briefly distracted by an unwelcome dissonance. A true elected woman of Christ, Chastity ignored the unsettling with an endless beaming smile.

Play on Paul, ye loyal member of the fold!

The light fell gently through the colorless window against the pearly blandness of unidolatrous worship as the teenage couple approached Chastity whose celibate life gave her plenty of time to study and instruct the young on marriage. A burst of glossolalic crypto-techno as of aliens performing a hermetic ritual in an opium den suddenly erupted through the floor and then immediately fell into silence. The girl was briefly tempted to ask if anyone had heard something, but she held her tongue lest she be seen as one to deter from the serious concentration in worship that everyone else around her displayed. Other than the slight distractions of noise from nowhere, the club gathering has been successful, as indicated by the many club points Paul accumulated by playing the organ in accordance with approved club activities (see below). Glowies emanated from his body.

Church of the LDS Club is open to everyone!

After Chastity contributed to club points as well by her presence at the pulpit, she then proceeded to another nearby Church to pray.

Chastity still hears the pulsating beats of Indian trap music from beneath.

No pipe organ to overpower it, the techno beats from below only appear more palpably evident when Chastity is engaged in silent prayer against the impurities of Salt Lake City evident in the rise in yoga studios and vegan restaurants. By sheer chance, Chastity recognizes the sounds that penetrate through the solid stone as that Ethnic music she heard inadvertently while walking past a thrift store that was selling ayahuasca medallion jewelry and yoga midi-tops in the window while on her way to the LDS Conference. Unbeknownst to her, a conference of similar appearing acronym, but different meaning, was taking place beneath–the LSD conference.

Yes, an elaborate structure of unknown origin lies beneath the church. How and when someone or something managed to tunnel beneath the temple of the Lord to construct a neon strobe litten psychadelic utopia remains a mystery deeper than any of Strangerville. How the denizens of the acid den could also have known as they carved below ground that they were forming the shape of a heart, remains an inexplicable mystery. Meanwhile,

Chastity lights a candle to ask the Lord to help secure her home sale.

The strange ambiance of a purple strobe light flashes up through a crack in the floor, giving Chastity pause.

So disoriented by the sound, Chastity accidentally steps onto the altar. Knowing that she is responsible for violating the altar with female presence, Chastity immediately pays penance by donating $2500 in charity.

Assuredly, the funds will go to maintaining the infrastructure of God’s house or to one of the many charity divisions. As Chastity busies herself with providing for God’s work on earth, she hears a shuffle on the surface where she has just lit her candle in hopes of securing a real estate payment. Chastity, thinking the church is empty, hurries over.

Chastity stares dumbfound before screaming in horror.

Two stragglers, believing themselves to be following a purple-striped Derpahorn into the 11th astral plane to complete the Lingastakam Tryst on the Bed of the Cosmic Lotus, have accidentally strayed from the LSD conference up into Chastity’s sanctuary! Her scream temporarily orients the Gnomes enough for them to make a mad dash back to the Gnome Dome!

One of the gnomes runs for the secret entrance to the Gnome Dome past the watchful eye of Chastity!
The gnome befuddles Chastity!

As every Sims player knows, gnomes move at .78 the speed of light, giving the regular human eye the sense that gnomes remain static, since they can only be seen when remaining stationary. Thus, gnomes appear to travel in instantaneous quantum leaps. Chastity is baffled by the gnome, which flies past her. She is alerted only when the garden gate slams. She continues the pursuit into the garden!

Chastity is so irritated at her frustrated pursuit that she almost utters “god damn!”

“Gosh darn it!” screams Chastity as the fleeting glimpse of a red cone hat and blue trousers flits in the periphery of her eye, only to seemingly vanish behind a great willow. Luckily, it is winter, otherwise the wide spread of the tree’s leaves would not have permitted even this hint. Having finally given up the hunt, Chastity pays her respects to the dead, unaware of the unorthodox nature of the garden gnomes statues behind her that stand in conspicuous attention on either side of the base of the willow.

A shadow steals behind her!

The gnome sneaks past Chastity

Since it is nearing 9:30, Chastity must leave home, lest her virtue be questioned. Once gone, the gnomes make their way back to the lair, which lies beneath a rose bush guarded by the garden gnomes Weeny and Peeny.

What shall we find as we follow the gnomes?

A neon purple arrow guides our way, despite the fact that we are in a unidirectional tunnel.

The door at the end of the hall promises to lead to astral knowledge since it not only glows in bright teal but is decorated with floral carvings and boasts a welcome mat of a crescent moon and stars. It opens and reveals…

THE GNOME DOME.

What exactly lies inside the GNOME DOME OF OPIOME? FIND OUT IN THE NEXT INSTALLMENT.