Coded green.

Tuesday 9 January 2001

Screenshot Sims

Pic of the day: Spontaneous clean-up craze. Screenshot from The Sims.

Gifted youngsters

OK, this may get a bit complicated. But you are smart, you'll get it. The screenshots these last two days are from one game I'm playing, The Sims.[1]. I'm currently playing a house that is not a traditional family, but a school for gifted youngsters.

Fellow comic geeks will recognize Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, the home of the X-men (now of movie fame) and some other mutant hero groups. The uniform worn (or not) in these pictures is the one of the Young Mutants (or was that New Mutants? I keep forgetting.) But being me, I have of course made my own unique cast of 8 characters, including the ones above: Glassy, Scowler, and Dazzler Jr. Here caught with the built-in game camera during the outbreak of a spontaneous clean-up craze, in which suddenly all three characters decided at once to clean up the dirty dishes lying all around. Yes, things like this happen in The Sims. There are limits to realism, obviously ...

But as for Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters, I was recently reading the journal of a fellow comic geek and sci-author and philosopher, Al Schroeder's Nova Notes. He asked his readers: Who was their favorite villain? (In fiction, it was implied). I chose Magneto, arch-enemy of the X-men. (Though I shall admit that Milton's Lucifer was a close runner-up.) Magneto does not really come into his own in the movie, as is so often the case. So, here is my case for Magneto.


Magneto is my favorite villain because unlike most villains, I believe he is right. Magneto, whose civil name is Erik Magnus Lensherr, was a child during the Nazi regime and survived the concentration camps, where his family was exterminated. Later he married and even had children, before he discovered that he was a mutant.

(In the Marvel universe, mutants are not just people with some random mutation, like red eyes. They are what in other dimensions would be called wizards or mageborn, that is to say they have in their brain a function that lets them influence the physical world in some seemingly supernatural way. Unlike wizards, most mutants have a very spesific "power". It is unclear how their power locks into one special form, like Magneto's ability to manipulate magnetism. Some particularly powerful mutants have more generic powers, while others are limited to changes to their own bodies, such as supernatural strength or hardness. Presumably also these changes are of psionic origin. Children of mutants tend to be mutants too, but their powers may be very different from their parents, particularly if they grow up apart from their mutant parents. This happened with Lensherr's two children.)

When Lensherr discovered his mutant powers, later in life than is common in the Marvel universe, he found that people - including his own wife - reacted with fear. His wife left him and took their children with her. When Lensherr later discovered that there were other mutants in the world, he realized that the normals would react with the same irrational fear and hate that the nazis had shown toward the Jews and other outsiders. To avoid this, Magneto decided that the mutants had to strike first; not to exterminate their lesser brethren, but to enslave them. Only if mutants had the reins of power, could they live safely among humans.

(It should be noted that while Magneto can be ruthless against those he consider a threat to his race, he is also a gentleman with high ideals. At times his heroic side outweigh his instinct to grab for power, and he has been known to fight for good and against evil repeatedly in his life, sometimes together with his arch enemies the X-men.)

In contrast, Charles Xavier (founder of the X-men) believes that humans and mutants could live peacefully together, with mutants doing tasks they were better suited for. And in order to secure goodwill among the normals, his X-men have fought and vanquished various evil mutants. But the history of the Marvel universe so far seems to give Magneto the right: Despite their continued heroics, the X-men are hated and feared by the world they are sworn to protect. I personally am convinced that the same would happen wherever human nature is similar to ours.


I base my view in part on a similar evidence that Magneto used: The way our civilization has treated the Jews. Regardless their miraculous origin or not, Jews have always been a people apart. They are grossly overrepresented in many sciences and arts, and not least in the higher circles of economy. Envy of the Jews and fear of their power was prominent in the nazist propaganda, as it was also in the many pogroms against the Jews from the middle ages onward.

I have also noticed that on a lower scale of animosity, particularly intelligent children and teenagers are often harassed by the normals. Having been such a "gifted youngster" myself, I had the opportunity to feel this on my body. Of course this could have been moderated somewhat with a higher social intelligence, but the experience seems to not be particular to me. A large number of nerds and geeks can tell you the same story, of years filled with relentless bullying up to and including physical violence from the less gifted. It seems to be more or less taken for granted - a part of life like winter storms and bad gas days.

In a future where the rich can buy genetic improvements for their children, we are likely to get to study this phenomenon more closely. I'm not at all certain that being genetically perfect will be as pleasant as we could imagine. Especially not for youngsters.

[1] I've written about The Sims in the past, but most of that writing is in a my Sims Tribute pages. For information from the game publisher, free add-ons and lots of links, go to the official The Sims home.

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