The Sims franchise has seen a lot of changes over the decades, slowly forging a path to better inclusivity and a more diverse game experience. There is still much room for improvement, however.
Inclusivity and Diversity in The Sims Games
The Sims was first released in early 2000 and though limited in what it could do compared to today’s versions, the game quickly became a phenomenon. Interestingly, The Sim’s very first foray into wider representation was a total accident; when the original game was being shown off at a convention, attendees were surprised to see two female sims autonomously kiss. At that time the game was on unstable ground as to whether or not it would even be released, but the fanfare surrounding this event put the game more in the limelight and essentially saved it from being shelved!
Mental Floss has done an informative video on the history of the game, with “the kiss story” appearing at around 9:08 in the video:
This kiss was quite a big deal at the time, as back at the turn of the millennium any sexuality outside of heterosexuality was still seen as somewhat taboo. At that point in time sims couldn’t really do anything past aggressive kissing, so it was still fairly tame despite the “risque” subject matter. Nevertheless, this was a big deal in the gaming community.
As time has gone on the franchise has made attempts to be more inclusive, though it wasn’t until the launch of The Sims 4 that the conversation really got louder. From the very beginning of the franchise, Sims games have offered basics like multiple skin tones and same-sex romance, but many of the things that make it so inclusive today are still fairly recent. And in some areas, there’s still a long way to go.
The Long and Arduous Journey to Inclusivity
With The Sims 4 already almost a decade old, we’re going to focus today on this specific iteration of the game franchise and how it’s evolved over time to be more inclusive and diverse. We’re also going to touch on where it’s still lacking and how it can improve in the future.
On Race: The Failing of Black Sims and A Contentious Conversation about Indigenous Representation
One of the biggest and longest-lasting discussions involving diversity in The Sims 4 surrounds race. Though the game had a range of skin tones at launch, the offerings for darker tones were limited and a majority of the makeup included was clearly designed with lighter-toned sims in mind. Even now a majority of the Styled Outfits in CAS are stacked with bright makeup that looks absolutely gaudy on darker skin tones.
Though the game made progress in 2020 by adding even more skin tones and adding sliders to skin tones and makeup, the Styled Outfits section is still a mess for darker sims and to this day many pre-made looks are straight-up hideous on brown & black sims.
Another area that which the game was lacking inclusivity at launch was hair for non-white sims. This has gotten better over time with new DLC and SDX drops, and if you look at CAS it’s pretty obvious which afro-textured hairdos are from the early days of the game based on how bad they look. There’s still a lot of room for improvement and more options, as the hairstyles worn by POC are varied and diverse.
Another glaring example of where The Sims 4 is lacking in black representation is the noticeable absence of overall content theming. The game features worlds based on the United States/Mexico, Europe, South America, and Asia, but we’ve yet to see content designed with black culture in mind, most obviously by way of African-oriented content. The closest we have is Moroccan-inspired dishes that came with City Living but if you don’t have that Expansion Pack, you’re stuck.
With the release of Horse Ranch and its associated SDX drops, The Sims 4 added content focused on North American Indigenous peoples. This was also met with mixed reactions; some players were excited to see themselves represented in the new content while other players expressed concern with the “fetishization” of said Indigenous cultures. There is a long and complicated history of the indigenous peoples of North America (along with indigenous peoples from other parts of the world), so it’s a sore and sensitive subject.
More on SNOOTYSIMS: Will Wright is a prominent person in the game industry who brought The Sims franchise to the world. Read more about this brilliant game designer.
On Sexuality & Gender Representation: Big Steps, Still with Far to Go
Though a queer kiss originally saved The Sims, sexuality, and gender representation in-game have taken a while to catch up to the modern world. And due to the way the game was originally programmed, some hitches can’t really be fixed.
The first big step was in 2016 when CAS options were opened up to be shared between masc & femme framed sims. This gave players new options for their sims’ gender expressions and while there was some concern and push-back from more close-minded players, it was a big inclusivity win for players who live outside the binary.
Though the game update was mainly focused on non-binary sims it had realism benefits for other characters as well, such as sims who are infertile or those with voice pitches that are outside of what’s considered “normal.” The game also furthered this initiative by later introducing binders and underwear along with top surgery scars in CAS.
Shortly before the release of The Sims 4 High School Years, the game got its next big change in gender representation with the Pronoun update. Players can now choose what pronouns their sims use and can even add or make up new ones if they want.
While this update was huge in the non-cisgender community it’s been far from perfect, with many examples of gendered terminology persisting throughout the many, many text strings that exist within the game files. Unfortunately, due to the way the game is coded, there are some instances where characters cannot be divorced from this ingrained dichotomy, so it will never be fully perfect. There’s also a lot of contention among players who don’t play The Sims 4 in English with difficulties arising from the fact that many languages use gendered words and the initial roll-out didn’t include any other languages.
Sexual preferences have been the latest addition to The Sims 4 in its attempt to be more inclusive, but this has been met with mixed reactions due to the way it was implemented. Before this change all sims were effectively pansexual and thus open to romance with any other sim, which meant that players were free to have their characters form relationships with whoever they wanted.
While it’s lovely to assign a sexual orientation to the sims you create to help tell their stories, players ran into lots of problems with NPC characters being assigned preferences that didn’t work for their gameplay.
Some examples include sims’ romantic partners no longer being interested in them because their new preferences didn’t fit the character’s gender expression, too many sims being generated with no sexual interests at all, or just general issues finding eligible partners for player sims due to a lack of options. There was also straight-up contempt from players who didn’t want this change; unlike the CAS Clothing Options and the Pronoun updates, these new characteristics cannot be ignored. It has definitely been the “bumpiest” of the gender & sexuality diversity updates for the game to date.
On Disabled Sims: Still Incredibly Lacking
Though many marginalized groups don’t get enough representation in The Sims 4, members of the disabled community are by far the most ignored within the game. The closest players can get to playing sims with disabilities is with CAS content that was only recently added which includes scars, hearing aids, and glucose monitors. While it’s great to see things like this finally making their way into the game, it still leaves much to be desired.
Physical disabilities are varied and vast and, understandably, The Sims 4 can’t include them all, but so little effort has been made to even try. Implementing cosmetic things like eye patches or prosthetics should be no different than hearing aids and glucose monitors and require no new programming—in fact, a robotic arm already exists in the Discover University Expansion pack! Wheelchairs are something that players have been begging to be added to the game pretty much since it launched, along with crutches and walking canes.
Mental disability and illness is a wholly separate matter. The only thing of note The Sims 4 has done on this front is renaming the “Insane” personality trait to “Erratic” once it was realized how insensitive using the term “insane” can be. Because of how tricky it can be to properly portray mental disability and illness, the call to incorporate it into The Sims 4 has been a lot quieter.
As you can see, The Sims 4 has gone through a lot of changes over the years to expand its inclusivity & diversity. There has been pretty significant growth in some areas, although in other ways a lot is left to be done. Do you have any ideas on how the game could better represent you or fellow players? Is there a feature you’ve been specifically hoping to see come to the game? Let us know in the comments!