The 4Chan of ‘The Sims’

I was a cyberbully in a community for “The Sims,” and I feel really, really bad about it.

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May 7 2015, 6:45pm

Image: Blog Epistolar

"Go kill yourself," I furiously typed in response to someone's simple question about a video game. I gleefully hit send and laughed as the person on the other end of the internet probably cried.

This is who I was in secret for several years. A cyberbully.

Who was addicted to The Sims.

It all started in 2000 when my boyfriend brought home a copy of the newly released people simulator The Sims. I had grown up playing video games like SimCity, and I quickly fell in love with being able to control digital people's lives. I bought a copy of The Sims for myself and spent entire days playing it. I spent hours poring over websites looking for custom content for my Sims, and I could hardly contain my excitement the day EA announced the upcoming release of The Sims 2.

I bought The Sims 2 on release day in 2005. I was enthralled with the new features of the game; the improved graphics; and the living, breathing Sims. I had no idea that The Sims would lead me to cyberbullying.

Some of my most egregious acts included taking over a teenage girl's forum just because I could; participating in the incessant verbal abuse of one user in a chat room, and suggesting other members should kill themselves for being "stupid."

Yes. I joined a teenage girl's forum, pretended to be her friend, and then pulled the rug out from under her by taking over her forum. I gained admin access and started talking trash about her until boredom set in. She was naïve and trusting, which made her easy prey.

I participated in the verbal abuse of one user of our chat room. This user would reveal something personal about herself, and we'd all use it as excuse to lambast her. We called this game "harpooning the whale." I made fun of her late husband and his criminal past; mocked her for her use of social security, food stamps, and disability (even though I believe in the social safety net and have applied for disability myself in the past); called her special needs children "retards;" and took every opportunity to publicly humiliate her. If it was vicious, slightly true, and mean, I probably said it to her.

I called for suicide when new users dared to ask a simple question. Even if I knew the answer to the question being asked, I felt that abusing innocents was more important than being helpful.

The forum I did this on, More Awesome Than You!, expected, encouraged, and actively sought this type of behavior. The official motto of the site was "MOAR FIGHT," and we were known throughout the community as "the 4Chan of The Sims sites." However, many of us—myself included—took things too far most of the time.

I had two goals when I joined: to make friends with one particularly mean user, and to join the Senate

After The Sims 2 was released in 2005, a user on the game's official forum discovered a serious bug. When a character in the game (a "Sim") acquired over 200 memories it would stop responding to commands, give a little jump, and reset itself to idle. This "jump bug" was discussed on the forum, and a fix was created by the community member who had found it. EA quickly banned discussion of the "jump bug," and this user set up his own forum for fixing other bugs he found. To separate his site from other Sims sites, he encouraged fighting, but his abuse was never as cruel as the abuse the favored members of his site heaped upon every newcomer. He was usually helpful, with a side of snark.

Forum board names included "Retardo Land" and "Be Less Stupid," where off-topic threads were created or moved to. Boards like "The War Room" and "Peasantry" were where we discussed strategy related to the game, like AwesomeSpec—the supposed ideal layout for a house. Creative misspellings, such as "strategery" and "learnings," were encouraged; LOL cat speak and memes peppered threads. Despite this, the forum had a Grammar Police that looked for grammar infractions and lambasted users for misplaced commas.

People came to the site for many reasons. Most people came for the fixes, which were available free to all, no registration required. Others came to abuse people, or to bully the bullies. I came for the fixes first, but stayed for the bullying. I had two goals when I joined: to make friends with one particularly mean user, and to join the Senate.

The Senate was where the meanest of the members congregated. They'd pass punishments and "congratulations" on the peasants. A "congratulation" was the same as a punishment, just snarkier. Punishments were usually crude, NSFW, cruel, or silly avatars that were affixed to the user's account by the admin and could not be changed. I was inducted into the Senate in January 2011—three years after I joined the forum. I was elated to have been accepted by the cool kids. I didn't realize we were nothing but tyrants, hardly "cool."

The forum wasn't all abuse and snark, though; we often had deep discussions on topics such as religion, politics, and feminism. These discussions were surprisingly civil, despite covering such hot-button topics. When they weren't bullying others, most of the regular members were highly intelligent and presented ideas that made me think long and hard about my own beliefs. I made good friends with good people, and over the years, we have reconnected on more civil sites. I mostly limited my outbursts to More Awesome Than You. Occasionally I'd lambast people on my Facebook, but having my real name attached to my comments kept me from going too far.

Most mental health professionals will tell you that bullies, whether in cyber or real life, are sad individuals who tear others down to make themselves feel good. I can't speak for everyone who has ever bullied, but I can say that this was true for me. I felt powerful and important by knowing something others didn't. My cruelty to others made me feel better about my own past when people had been cruel to me. I had a lot of pent-up anger and frustration that I didn't know how to deal with in a healthy fashion.

I don't know if even my husband knows how cruel I was to these strangers

I kept my cyberbullying habit a secret from most people in my real life. To the world, I was still the sweet, kind, but moody individual I'd always been. It was vitally important to me that my two worlds never met so that I could maintain my real life image of being a good person. I don't know if even my husband knows how cruel I was to these strangers.

These days the site is mostly dead. Time moves on, interests change, and people come and go. Some left because the abuse was too much. Others left because they quit playing the game. I stayed around because I couldn't bear to leave. A handful of users still post, but I'm rarely one of them. I remain as a lurker, a ghost from times gone by.

I do regret my behavior as a cyberbully. I have apologized to some of the members that I abused while on that site. The teenager whose forum I ruined is doing well. I have befriended the "whale," and gained forgiveness for my actions. Never again will I suggest someone kill themselves.

I've spent several years in therapy learning how to deal with my anger and stress; I'm not there yet, but I'm working on myself and trying to change for the better. I have faith that with hard work, these issues will be conquered, and I will look back at my days as a cyberbully with the knowledge that it is part of my past instead of part of my now. I still play The Sims sometimes, but mostly out of nostalgia. I no longer spend days at a time playing with my little digital people.

Perfect Worlds is a series on Motherboard about simulations, imitations, and models. Follow along here.