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This game will make you obsessed with rattan ottomans and watercolor whales

Commentary: Home-decorating simulation Design Home has sucked me into its vortex. Teak or mahogany side chair? The difference keeps me up at night.

Glu Mobile

Lately I've been hanging out in Greek villas and Hong Kong penthouses. I also spend a lot of time thinking about the decor that should fill these spaces. Would a simple, woven ottoman look gauche against those marble floors? What sort of luxe side table would best complement the wall's gold inlay? 

In short, I've become insufferable.

Thank you, Design Home.  

Design Home is a free mobile game for iOS and Android that tasks you with designing rooms in much the same way you'd decorate a house you built in The Sims. 

One of my five-star rooms. No, my real home doesn't look like this. 

Screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

The game's not really free, of course, since if you're anything like me, you won't be satisfied until you've found just the right casual, striped accent chair to match the breezy blue curtains in your coastal Maine living room. So you'll drop a couple of bucks on diamonds, one of the in-game currencies, telling yourself this is the only time this week you'll spend $1.99 for a digital throw rug and a plant made from pixels.  

You'll be lying.

Design Home came out in November 2016 and invaded my life a year later via an ad in Lexulous, a turn-based word game a la Words With Friends that I've been playing for a decade. I decorated a few mismatched rooms out of curiosity, but quickly discovered that tracking table lamps is way more relaxing than tracking the day's political mudslinging. I've now designed more than 460 rooms, from living rooms in French mansions to kids' bedrooms in suburban Kansas. Four hundred and sixty rooms. Do you know how many carefully chosen Cynthia Rowley couches and West Elm floor lamps that is? 

Neither do I, but I don't care. It's fun.

The more you play, the more goods you acquire. More paintings, wall clocks, vases, ferns and other accents for your inventory. More choice means better-designed rooms, and a greater chance your fellow players will give your eclectic Florence patio a score or 4 stars or higher. That nets you a piece of furniture as a prize -- and strokes your ego. Five stars and you get the prize plus a bunch of diamonds (15 of my rooms have been bestowed five stars, not that I'm counting).

I designed this Barbados beach villa. Now I want to live in it. 

Screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

And the cycle continues. Spend real dollars on fake furniture. Kick yourself. Justify spending real dollars on fake furniture with reassuring "everyone has their guilty pleasures" self-talk. Choose between solid and patterned sofa. Get jolt of satisfaction when you put together the perfect room. Rinse. Repeat.

I'm not the only one obsessed with Design Home. The app's been downloaded more than 46 million times and has more than a million daily active users, according to developer Glu Mobile. 

On the game's Facebook page, which has more than 2.1 million likes, players from around the world proudly share screenshots of their rooms -- and complain, about everything from glitches to the voting system and price and size of the digital objects. "What's with all the accent tables being so big?! Most seem to be much taller than the sofas," one player wrote this week. "They look ridiculous."  

Every day brings up to six fresh design challenges, and each has a prompt: Design a Renaissance-style living room for this picture-perfect Paris mansion. Or style a industrial bedroom for this sleek, million-dollar house in Belarus. 

A lot of this is aspirational lifestyle stuff. Let's just say you'll never be furnishing the closet Bob moved into because San Francisco rents have gotten so high.

Why are you doing this to me, Design Home? 

I've never been a gamer, so it took me a while to figure out why Design Home has me in its clutches, especially since I'm pretty easy-going about home decor in real life. Yes, I pride myself on keeping my home cheerfully appointed and well-organized. But while Real Me is fine with my sister's college dresser and a living room cat maze made of empty Amazon boxes, Design Home Me has designed $7.5 million worth in fake living spaces I'll never set foot in. (In my own defense, I've only dropped the equivalent of an Ikea Hällen storage cabinet in the process.) 

Now playing: Watch this: This robot builds Ikea furniture
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Most studies exploring the link between gaming and real-life behavior have focused on shooters, not first-person fabric selectors. But Chris McGill, the game's general manager, says he's heard many anecdotes about Design Home influencing players' real-life decor choices. He's also seen the impact firsthand. His wife plays the game.  

"I came home the other day and I had six brand new Arhaus chairs and a new rug straight from the game," he said.   

McGill describes Design Home as a creative learning tool. "It's learning what you like, and you apply that to your real life, whether it's directly because these are real products in the game or you're learning something about your own taste in color theory." 

Another player's creation. The blue teddy bear accenting the formal living room concerns me. 

Screenshot by Leslie Katz/CNET

Designing hundreds of digital rooms has definitely taught me a lesson or two.

For example, tropical floral rugs don't pair well with rustic deer skull wall hangings. Hot pink furniture should be used sparingly. And under no circumstances should a kid's giant pastel teddy bear accent a formal living room. When I see other Design Home players making such choices, I turn into a terrible snob, rolling my eyes and muttering harsh judgments. "Good god, that's hideous."

Real Me doesn't do this when I walk into other people's homes.

But even if Design Home never translates to a better coordinated living room, sometimes it's nice to escape to a space where none of your chairs have been clawed to within an inch of their life by Mr. Destructo Paws. 

In Design Home, you don't have to wipe smudges from walls or pick up your husband's socks. It's a sparkling clean, sun-drenched world where you effortlessly hop between Sydney, Tokyo, Brussels and Key West and the only stresses involve deciding between Taylor Burke Home and Apt2B. Don't we all need places like that? 

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