The Sims come to life

Frans and Marian Sturkenboom shared their 29th wedding anniversary with a handful of onlookers, a few journalists and the entire world wide web, in a curious case of life imitating a computer game.

Crowded into a cube-like trailer with two glass walls, the Sturkenbooms, along with their two sons, are living on display for four days, monitored via webcam and in person around the clock.

To computer game aficionados, the story is all too familiar. The family is posing as a human version of The Sims, a popular game where players control a virtual family.

Similar to their animated counterparts, the Sturkenbooms are instructed to perform tasks. But unlike the virtual Sims, whose survival depends on players’ instructions to exercise, eat and shower, the Sturkenbooms are also assigned more playful chores by Redwood City, California-based game maker Electronic Arts.

People logged on to the game’s Dutch website can also monitor the family and send suggestions via e-mail, said Joyce Homma, spokesperson for Electronic Arts in The Netherlands.

On one occasion, the family, who moved into their glass home on Wednesday, had to have a gold fish delivered from each of the 12 provinces in The Netherlands.

The exhibition on the outskirts of Utrecht, 40km from Amsterdam, is a publicity stunt for the Dutch version of Sims II, a sequel to the original game.

The Sturkenbooms seemed pleased to be living on a website, even though they celebrated their anniversary on Thursday.

“So far so good,” said 17-year-old Roy, the Sturkenbooms’ oldest son, in an interview held inside the house. “We like the Sims, and we like the idea of being in a house for four days.”

Homma said the Sturkenbooms are under surveillance around the clock to ensure they carry out the company’s instructions. At 10pm, a curtain is drawn to give the family privacy, but the house can still be seen on the web, and everything but the bathroom is fair game.

The trailer, though small, is equipped with a flat-panel television, a computer, video games, black leather couches and an exercise machine. It is decked out in black and white, creating a futuristic feel. Plus, if the Sturkenbooms stay all four days and at least attempt to complete the company’s assignments, they receive €2 500 to spend on electronics.

The Sturkenbooms say staying the full term is no problem. They are due to stay until Sunday.

“Four days is just fine,” said Roy, who spoke for the family. “If it was a week, I would maybe decide to leave.” — Sapa-AP

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