December 1 is Purple Day, when we celebrate the digital lives of all those Sims we’ve known and loved who have made the great transition after being reaped by the Grim Reaper.
Last year, on Purple Day, I’d just finished Goofy Love, and that long row of thirty-one tombstones at the edge of Cradle Rock cut a line across my heart.
Last year, Purple Day, for me, represented loss and coming to terms with mortality.
This year, with aging off in the New World save where the Boughs live with all the SimSelves who came to help celebrate the legacy’s completion, my heart turns not towards loss but towards what remains.
On the day after Thanksgiving, I visited the garden center, for in late fall and winter we can grow petunias, pansies, snap dragons, and calendulas in the desert where I live.
I came back with purple flowers; purple and yellow flowers always thrive in my garden. These are the favored colors of the fairies that tend this garden while I’m inside playing video games, writing, and practicing the cello.
This Purple Day morning, as I removed the frost cloths so the flowers could greet the warming sun, the scent of purple petunias floated through the air.
This is something I will remember. The scent activates the brain deep within “limbic system, the most ancient and primitive part of the brain, which is thought to be the seat of emotion” (Fox). I was thinking about Purple Day when that scent reached me–and now, the scent of petunias will always be entangled with my thoughts about Sims and the traces their digital lives leave within our neural pathways.
Essayist Lauren Gravitz writes about connected memories: “But memories aren’t isolated in these different areas – they overlap and intertwine and connect and diverge like the tangled branches of an old lilac tree” (Gravitz).
My perception of scent, my thoughts about Sims, both happening in the same moment, hook up within me. Purple Day lives on with every scent of the petunia.
Kate Fox, Director of Social Issues Research Centre, explains scent’s emotional and cognitive intertwining in this way:
Smell sensations are relayed to the cortex, where ‘cognitive’ recognition occurs, only after the deepest parts of our brains have been stimulated. Thus, by the time we correctly name a particular scent as, for example, ‘vanilla’ , the scent has already activated the limbic system, triggering more deep-seated emotional responses.
By the time my cognition registered “purple petunia,” while simultaneously reflecting on the flashing digits of Sims who’ve passed and what of them still remains, my emotions were triggered, too. But it wasn’t grief that was triggered or even sadness: it was awe.
I was reflecting on what continues in our Sims: how Cedar Bough can still be seen in Cypress. How Thymeless’s Lissa carries on in Lor. How friendsfan’s Elsa lives on in Brandon. I was thinking of the traces these Sims have left in me.
Beryl and Mae Cups are ghosts in the Wonder save. But inside me, I can feel the vast networks of synapses that felt joy through the digital lives of these Sims.
While I don’t feel lingering sadness this year over the passing of Sims in my games or stories, feeling instead only gratitude at what each of these contributed to their stories and lineages, I do feel sadness over the relatively recent passing of one Sim who figured largely in one of my favorite works of SimLit, Eight Cicadas. Trip’s Sinbad Rotter played a central role in her story, growing into a father that was kind and supportive. His passing leaves a hole in the lives of the characters–and I know I’m not the only reader who still feels sadness around this.
Today, my usual schedule was interrupted: my car wouldn’t start and I spent much of the afternoon with it at the shop, instead of sitting behind my computer in the office. I took a long walk while waiting for the mechanic’s estimate. It was a beautiful afternoon, with the mountains cupping a blue sky speckled with fish-scale clouds. My path led me along the Rillito River, which is wide and dry this time of year. Verdins darted along the mesquites, hunting for insects under the bark. And all of this, ephemeral as it seems, leaves traces. When I swing back tomorrow to pick up the car, I’ll remember this afternoon walk. Next year, or the year after that, or the year after that, when I bring my car in for servicing, I’ll remember this walk and the flash of red of the vermilion flycatcher against the blue sky.
This temporary experience–it becomes part of my existence.
And what of our Sims? I still sometimes remember TS2 Sims that made me smile. The stories I read of other Sims, these become part of me, too.
Gravitz writes, “Even when a factual memory fades it can leave an emotional trace behind, much the way that the lilac flower still knows how to open once it’s been snipped from the tree. Much the way the flower’s scent instantly transports you to a particular place and time, even if you can’t remember what you were doing or why you were there.”
On Purple Day, when we remember our Sims, it’s not just a temporary experience that we remember: it is something that has changed us, restructuring our very brains.
When we say of someone who’s passed, “They are a part of me,” that is true in a very real sense, for who we are is altered through our interactions with everyone we’ve known. And in that same way, our interactions, through games, writing, and reading, with these digital beings we call “Sims” alters us, too.
There is no fixed self: we are always being changed and altered by our experiences. And, for Simmers and SimLit writers and readers, our Sims, past and current, are a significant part of our experience.
When we say, “Remember our Sims who’ve passed,” we are also saying, “Remember how we’ve been changed. Notice who we are now.” We are more than who we were before we experienced these Sims.
Fox, Kate. “The Smell Report.” SIRC. Web. 1 Dec. 2016
Gravitz, Lauren. “My Spotless Mind.” Aeon. Web. 1 Dec. 2016.