The Lius are a happy family. They’re a segmented family, where the individual members usually split up and do their own thing, but a happy one.
For example, let’s take a time-walk through a normal day. Xiyuan and Aileen get woken up at bumfuck A.M. by Shu, who probably saw a monster under his bed and decided to rob his parents of precious sleep.
Their morning routine consists of leftovers whenever they feel like it, followed by mandatory Child Enrichment as dictated by she who has consciousness.
Let me clarify: before Shu came about, Xiyuan and Aileen spent all of their time in front of the easel and computer, respectively. Now Xiyuan is responsible for both working nonstop (by choice) and Child Enrichment. So rather than being a set of disorganized legos scattered on the floor, Aileen is an individual lego and Xiyuan and Shu are like when one of those really thin legos gets stuck to another lego and you break a nail trying to get it off.
As a natural consequence, Shu excels in his father’s areas of expertise. Painting, violin, and piano lessons are a daily occurrence.
Here, we get a glimpse of the second-story Art Room: Xiyuan’s home-inside-of-home, his sacred space, where his soul comes alive and will eventually wither and die. (The rest of the house is really quite lovely, because it was designed by someone else.) The door behind them leads to Shu’s room. Both Liu boys spend most of their time in this room, in a near-constant state of extreme inspiration.
Before we leave the Art Room, allow me to share Xiyuan’s most expensive painting, Toast Cat.
The extra parental attention is paying off: Shu has the willpower of someone who is going to go to an honors middle school, then a competitive magnet school, spend every summer at band camp, do 100000 extracurriculars, and eventually end up at the Sim equivalent of Juilliard.
At some point (because these dudes are Sims and get up at 4 AM regardless of employment status, mental health, age, or circadian rhythm), Shu goes to school, leaving his parents to exist in their separate, non-intersecting bubbles.
These two occasionally have to have breaks, and, aside from being all lovey-dovey around each other, choose between two extremes in their downtime. Extreme 1 is butchering utthita trikonasana:
Extreme 2 is pretending to be social:
While his parents are out doing whatever, Shu is a model little boy: he can’t do his homework because it’s already finished, so he tends to practice instruments or paint until it’s time to put himself to bed. At 4 AM the next day, the cycle begins anew.
Now is a good time to clarify how this works. When we say “black comedy-drama,” it’s not black in the sense of spooky vampires running around murdering people, or having a main character whose tragic backstory maybe involves dead parents with some abuse thrown in for good measure. It’s more like, imagine a woman whose understanding of love changed after her wedding, and realizes after the honeymoon phase that she never really loved her husband, and grows to resent him more the longer she’s stuck in the relationship. Then she has to choose between finding a coping mechanism before she wastes away or getting a divorce for reasons she can’t really articulate, and either one of those might lead to her purposefully shutting herself in a sauna until she keels over. Or she could discover some deeper purpose and be fine; who knows? That’s more the general mood. If someone’s backstory involves dead parents, the parents are people you’re already intimately familiar with, and their death is going to happen right in front of your face, not in the background somewhere, and we have to watch them (the person with dead parents) deal with the death before we know they’re going to be okay. And nobody’s purposefully causing problems for the sake of it. Conflict only arises when someone’s actions suggest they’re unhappy, and they can then figure out a solution and decide whether to take action.
If the solution causes massive upheaval, so be it.
(And one more thing—every interesting bit of conflict in the story is completely autonomously driven by the Sims themselves; I just respond to it. That’s the power of SimLit! It’s a genre where the characters have agency outside the author’s imagination.)
With that being said, let’s forget the big picture and zoom in on the details. Here’s one you already know: Xiyuan had an inordinate hell of a time finding a partner. While Mike was running around the club, he demonstrated interest in no one. He flirted with no one. No. One. He eventually ran into a randomly generated woman with somewhat compatible traits, and, even then, I had to force him to court her.
Xiyuan did eventually open up to random romantic socials after he got married. He autonomously flirted with Aileen, and never flirted with any other women. But one day, when Shu was a toddler, Aileen caught Xiyuan autonomously hitting on a guy. (He was completing the Soulmate aspiration, by the way.) Yet the game categorized Xiyuan as 100% straight, so I wrote it off as a fluke.
Household life remained relatively stable for most of Shu’s childhood, aside from the huge fight. Then, I get up to pour another cup of tea during a routine hangout with Xiyuan’s best friend, Mike, and come back to Xiyuan being a little too complimentary about his quad progress. I had to spend the next hour practically tearing them apart from each other. That’s when it finally clicked.
Xiyuan wasn’t incapable of finding love. He was desperately in love with Mike! The source of jealousy had nothing to do with him being alone, and everything to do with the fact that Mike was taken. In context, then, his marriage to Aileen was a complete sham, something I forced him into, something that was never quite right. He was a deeply closeted man learning his mistake too late. But to end his torment, we would have to cause a lot of collateral damage in the process.
We were left with a tough decision to make: can he hold it together long enough for Shu to age up, or is it better to rip the adhesive medical strip off early? Will this situation be handled with the grace and tact of a human, or the lack of thought of a Sim? You already know the answer.