The Sims 4 allows you to virtually recreate any human being, from their hair colour and whether they walk a bit funny, down to the beautiful nuances of their souls and how their skeleton tastes. The Sims you control can have skills and hobbies that they can practise and improve over time. Besides clicking on a postman over and over again until he has sex with you, improving these skills is one of the few things to do in the game.
But how quickly can you drag a sausage-fingered sim from amateur keyboard smasher to virtuoso pianist? I found out by locking one in a room and not letting him out until he'd learned to play. This is his story.
Here is Mike Brangus, my sim guinea pig for this experiment. He's a plucky young man with boxing on the brain, and boasts a personality type finely attuned to meet the needs of the project at hand. He's creative and musical, so he'll be prone to bouts of inspiration and earns bonus happiness rewards when standing in the vicinity of a piano. He's also a lone wolf, which means he isn't affected by the prospect of a desperately bleak existence trapped inside a featureless box.
Yup, all Mike Brangus needs is his own company and a baby grand to tickle. And a toilet for a-pooin'.
Mike's modest cube contains just the bare essentials required to stop him dying in a mound of his own warm excrement. A basic refrigerator is magically restocked with the bowls of cereal he requires for sustenance. A bin is provided to dispose of the empty bowls, which would otherwise stink up the place and affect Mike's ability to learn to read sheet music. A bed is Mike's only real luxury, a decadent alternative to collapsing on the linoleum flooring.
A single light source allows Mike to gaze upon all that he owns.
Because Mike is musically inclined he derives immense happiness from playing the piano badly. This means that, because I forgot to give him a sink, he can easily keep all but two of his basic needs topped up. With nowhere to wash, and with Maxis having overlooked the option to scrub down individual limbs by flushing them in the toilet bowl, Mike's main problem is his own disgusting human body. He loudly complains about it in the fleeting moments in which he's away from the piano, in that small window before he's commanded to continue practising.
He's also been deprived of social interaction, but this doesn't faze Mike, who openly detests the humans he can often hear scrabbling around on the pavement outside of his piano-box.
In just four short days the tireless Mike has already mastered the piano, going from Chopsticks to Chopin via repeatedly crying on the bed about the stench of his own rotting body. Not only that but he's written a song all about the time he's spent trapped inside his fetid music dungeon, and his suspicions that he will not soon taste the sweet relief of freedom. The game cheerfully notifies me that Mike can license his music by visiting the mailbox.
That would mean allowing Mike to leave his little home, and I'm concerned that the shock of releasing Mike into the world, even briefly, might send him spiralling into giddy open-air madness. So I devise a plan. I extend his prison to encompass the mailbox, thereby granting him the tiniest freedom of selling his music.
Mike jabs his meloncholy song into the mailbox with glum, unwashed sadness still weighing him down. Sims can only have one licensed song per instrument (as is the law in real life, I can only assume), so to continue the experiment I decide to see if Mike's musical ability extends beyond the plonky pianal chimes.
As he scoops cereal into his face and beard, I swap his instrument for another.
Due to a misunderstanding with his energy company, Mike's forced to learn to play the violin in the dark, and with a big sad expression on his face. Our hero's bin is now overflowing, meaning rubbish is piling up all around him and creating such a negative stink that poor Mike often finds it difficult to muster the enthusiasm to learn to play this instrument from scratch.
It's only when his creative disposition spurs him into an inspired mood that it's possible to convince him to pick up the violin at all.
The water company cuts off the supply to Mike's darkened cube. He's off the grid. Mike can no longer flush away his horrid cereal turds, which clog up the bowl and spill out on to the floor. Mike stands next to a dirty pile, the pink noses of his bunny slippers just touching the mess. He stands here for a full day with his back to his violin.
Oh Mike Brangus, you were so close.
Unable to sustain the energy levels required to master his tiny wooden foe, Mike instead focuses on composing one final song. A message from Mike to the outside world. A lasting testament to his best efforts that will echo through the ages.
Goodnight, Mike Brangus.