There’s a little person in my computer! And I have to feed him!
Imagine a sim version of the Sims, but back in 1985 before the Sims had been invented, and before the word ‘sim’ had entered the English language.
It’s a tricky one, but your reward is Activision’s quirky Little Computer People. This was one of the very first games to use digital DNA, which would predetermine the personality of the little chap who was going to come and live inside your computer. Him and his dog, actually, and the blurb accompanying the floppy disk – which was fourteen foot in diameter – explained that the Little Computer People were always in your pc, and that the software you had just spent sixpence ha’penny on was merely the vehicle which enabled you to see them.
It’s a cute premise, plays to the mothering/meglamaniacal instinct in everyone, and is the emotional bedrock upon with the whole Sim – and for that matter, Tamagotchi – genre is so firmly built. After loading the software, you find yourself looking at a cross section of a three storey house. This has two bedrooms, a dining room, a bathroom – well, it’s a house. It has house stuff in it. The computer person sleeps, reads, has baths and generally hangs out, often enjoying the company of his dog. The dog was genuinely endearing, scampering about the place and curling up by the fire when it was tired. The computer person had a television, a record player, a piano and a computer for amusement. Of particular relevance were the piano and the computer. Using keyboard commands, you could ask your computer person to play requests on the piano, and the computer would be the means by which he would speak to you. It was important to be polite to your digital pal by saying Please and Thankyou, and also to be prepared for sulking if you beat them at poker, which was the only game you could actually play together. This last point is significant, as there was – somehow – a huge array of character types, to the extent that some players found it impossible to coax any jollity whatsoever from particularly surly computer people. For the first time, it was possible to buy a game that didn’t like you.
On the whole, though, computer person and computer owner got on well enough for the game to enjoy a brief flowering of popularity. It was always going to be a limited format, as the technology simply wasn’t around to create add ons or extend the game significantly further. You carried out feeding and watering duties to prevent illness. Neglecting him also caused illness, and if he felt that he wasn’t having enough attention bestowed upon him he would tap the screen and dash off letters of complaint to you. You bought him a book to read now and then, and petted him to make him feel loved. That was pretty much it, and how much you played really depended up how attached you became to your little person. But this is perhaps being a bit harsh on grandaddy of the Sims. It was a charming game, and the whole format was a real head turner at the time. Rest assured, there will be someone, somewhere who is still setting an alarm clock every day for a 23 year old computer person. Conceptually brilliant and oozing with geeky cool, the Little Computer People played their understated part in gaming lineage to the full, and can now be found living happily ever after on Kooky Street, in the historic district of the great gaming metropolis.