The Sims franchise is a series of four games where you get to build and create your own neighbourhoods, houses and characters (which are known as sims). The artificial intelligence turns the game experience into a wonderful, interactive, large scale doll house. Instead of four separate games, think of it as one gameplay experience that gets updated every 4-5 years with infinitely better graphics and game play mechanics.
The Sims series has always been good in its attitude towards all things LGB. (Sadly I can’t include the T here, because so far in the franchise sims can only be male or female. There’s no reason why sims can’t change between the two or be genderqueer, so EA/Maxis should change this. Although you can have hair, make up and clothing however you want for any sim male or female.)
Right from the start of the series you could direct your sim to romantically interact and fall in love with any other sim regardless of gender. Whilst same-sex couples couldn’t marry in the original Sims game (launched in 2000), they could move in with their loved one and adopt. If they went down this path both partners were listed as parents.
The second instalment was released nine years ago. In this game you can still make your sims interact, flirt, kiss, date and have sex in exactly the same way regardless of gender. They can now have a “joined union”, which is the same as a marriage in terms of game play mechanics. They can adopt and both be listed as parents just as before too. Also when you call a matchmaking service that first appears in Sims 2, you can choose the gender of your date.
One day a few years ago I discovered something that made me love the franchise even more. It’s known as the “boolprop testingCheatsenabled true” cheat. When turned on you have a wide range of benefits, such as being able to fulfil all your sim’s physical needs in the click of a button. Another possibility is the option to show a sim’s gender preference. (Ignore the fact that it says debug in the picture below. There’s nothing buggy about it. You just can’t find out the gender unless you use the cheat!)
When you click on this it makes a little box appear in the corner of the screen. It has a statement from the sim saying “My autonomous gender preference is for females/males/males and females.” This is what makes the game awesome for me, it doesn’t just do the usual gay/straight divide. The fact that this cheat exists is proof that bisexuality is programmed into the game. If you wanted to, you could still make a sim romantically interact/have sex/adopt etc with a sim of any gender (and therefore have a neighbourhood made up entirely of queer families and couples!), but this programming means that if free will is turned on, the sim will romantically interact and develop relationships with sims of their preferred gender if left to their own devices.
I’ve just done a bit of reading on the gameplay mechanics and they’re quite complicated…but apparently in The Sims 2 nearly all the characters start off with a neutral attraction to either gender (which effectively renders them bi by default). They then go on to develop an attraction to one gender depending on the gender of who they interact with. So for example, if a female sim flirts with a woman, she will become more attracted to women. If she flirts, kisses and has sex with a man later on, she will become less attracted to women and more attracted to men.
However in the pre-made neighbourhoods that are installed with my game, many of the characters start off as LG and B rather than all B. In addition, some characters that have only interacted with one gender still have a preference for the other. About a third of the kids my sims have grow up to be LG or B regardless of how I play them or who they interact with. So who knows what’s going on!?
My criticisms of The Sims 1 and 2 (apart from the erasure of trans people and identities mentioned above) is that there are no pre-existing LGB familes when you install the game. Also whilst some sims have been coded to already be in love with someone when you start playing (such as Darren having feelings for Cassandra, despite the fact that she is engaged to Don), no one has a pre-existing same-sex attraction for a specific individual. I suppose one reason why the game was designed that way it is to prevent it from being banned or given a higher age limit in other countries, but it’s still unequal, still a shame, and still a missed opportunity.
In The Sims 2 there is a pre-existing sim who starts the game with a positive attraction to both genders, (rather than no attraction to either gender). Disturbingly she is a someone who uses another character for cruel scientific experiements and in the PSP version of the game she’s cheating on her husband. SIGH.
The person she experiments on is a pre-existing character who starts the game with a negative attraction to females, which would make him gay. In addition, He was also taken away from his mother by social services as a child. This is a bit to close to the “abuse makes you gay/bi” myth/stereotype for comfort.
I will write about The Sims 3 and 4 in another post, though I will mention briefly that “joined unions” have been scrapped and any sim can now marry a man or a women.
The Sims has been such a huge part of my life and I’ve now been playing the game for over half of it. It’s very enjoyable for me because it doesn’t force me into a heteronormative or biphobic gaming experience. My characters can be with who I want them to. I also love using the cheat to find out what the sexuality of my sims is as soon as they grow up to be teenagers. It’s exciting to find out who they are!