Why ‘The Sims’ Trans-Inclusive Update Means So Much to Me
First, I have to confess that I have not played The Sims—any version—in at least two years. While I do own The Sims 4, I rarely boot it up and have not played regularly since I was teenager. So, it has been a while. This, however, does not change how meaningful the game or its latest update is to me.
On Tuesday, Electronic Arts (EA) announced a big update to The Sims 4 that included some ground-breaking transgender-inclusive options. With this new update players can make Sims (teen and older) that wear binders or have top surgery scars. The update also allows players to create Sims with medical wearables such as hearing aids and glucose monitors.
For those unfamiliar with the wonderful game that is The Sims, let me explain what exactly this all means. The first ever The Sims was released in 2000 for PCs and became a massive hit for EA. In the game, players create virtual people called Sims and control them as they go about their lives in a neighborhood full of AI non-player characters (NPCs).
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As the player, you could build their home or pick a home for your Sim to live in for a chunk of Simoleons (Sim money). You also are able to make all the decisions for your Sim like what they eat, where they work, who they date, what they say to someone, etc. In basic terms, it’s a life simulator.
The first The Sims was so popular it spawned three sequels and several expansion packs that allow your Sims to do a bunch of different things like go to college, live in different time periods, etc. And despite being around for over two decades now, The Sims is still one of the most popular video game series in history.
Same-sex relationships have always been a part of The Sims. However, it was all an accident. A New Yorker story in 2014 broke down how one of the programmers of The Sims accidentally put back in the same-sex relationship code after it was initially scrapped by developers. That code led to a very public same-sex kiss that made the game the talk of the town at the 1999 Electronic Entertainment Expo, E3, in Los Angeles.
Since then EA has continued to add more inclusive options for Sims. In July 2022, Mashable reported that EA updated The Sims 4, in collaboration with GLAAD and the It Gets Better Project, to include a plethora of sexual orientation, pronoun and gender options.
The Sims is a game that has so much meaning to me mainly because it became such an important early outlet for my own queer journey. That is why this new update that includes trans-inclusive options made me very emotional. I had top surgery in March 2022 and now I can make a Sim that looks exactly as I do—how cool is that!
Honestly, it is pretty overwhelming to think about, but what really makes me emotional is that younger generations will now have a version of The Sims where they can make a character that is the outward expression of who they truly are. It is something I wish I had growing up—maybe if I did my self-discovery journey would have been different.
The game forever holds a place in my heart. I was an avid player of The Sims, but it was The Sims 2, which released in 2004, that changed everything. I remember rushing home from school to boot up my parents PC so I could transport myself into the world of The Sims. It felt like the only place I could truly be myself was in that world.
I was closeted for a very long time, I didn’t come out to myself or publicly as a lesbian until I was 21 years old. Then, it took me six more years to finally came out as non-binary in 2021. Let’s just say it was a long journey. And when I look back on it, I often note how obvious it was that I was both gay and non-binary by how I played The Sims.
Most of the time when I played, I would create and play as a male Sim so I could both present masculinely and be in relationships with women. Heteronormativity strikes again! At the time, I never really looked too deep into why I did that. I don’t think I would have let myself, to be honest. But, now I know it was my outlet. It was my safe space where I could profess my attraction for women or my desire to present more masculinely and no one could judge me.
I am not the only queer person to find solace in The Sims. In the past several years, many queer people have written about or spoken about how they used The Sims in a very similar way as I did. Before the world was as open and accepting as it is now (to a certain extent, the rise in anti-trans and anti-gay laws is abhorrent), queer people had to find digital outlets to be their true selves. For some it was Tumblr and for others it was The Sims and sometimes it was both.
This is exactly why this new update is so pertinent. Not only does it add some much needed inclusivity to video games, but it also is an outlet for queer players of The Sims who are going through the personal struggle of coming to terms with their identity that lets them truly be seen. Now, anyone struggling with gender dysphoria can create a Sim with top surgery scars or a binder, live a little like that in the game and maybe start to feel a real sense of self. If I had that opportunity before I got top surgery, I would have jumped at it. Yes, it is a simulation of life, but seeing yourself reflected as you truly feel inside in any way, shape or form is life-changing.
While the current culture is much more accepting than in the past, we are at a scary moment in society—especially for those who identify as queer, transgender or nonbinary. It seems as though every day a new lawmaker says a horrifying anti-trans or anti-gay statement or attempts to pass a bigoted law. In this current climate any type of positive moves forward are welcomed.
Now, adding an update like this may not be meaningful to many people, but it is a sign of acceptance. It is a sign that big companies see the need for awareness of queer and trans lives. They see the importance of adding features like this to their products. Gaming is not known as the most LGBTQ-friendly community, but it has made great strides in recent years with more queer characters and storylines.
From games like The Last of Us Part II that not only had a queer female lead but a trans character to the Life is Strange series which has several gay characters populating its world. To be clear, these are just two examples of games with LGBTQ visibility, there are several more both AAA (major publisher games) and indie games that have wonderful representation. The moves to make the video games more inclusive have definitely amped in recent years and this new The Sims update is just another example of the industry moving in the right direction.
This update has been championed across social media for its inclusivity. There have been a few reports of the top surgery scars not showing up as an option, but bugs are usually normal for new updates like this. It is important to note that the scars can only be added on male Sims with either a masculine or feminine frame. While there are pleas for even more inclusive choices for Sims like bottom surgery or less gendered options, this is a big win from visibility.
While the need for even more representation and more queer stories in video games remains, this step by a major publisher is a hopeful sign for the future.
Yes, we need more queer protagonists in games. Yes, we need more facets of queer life explored in video games. But, for now, let’s celebrate a win for the community. For the first time in a few years, I think I’ll boot up The Sims 4 and make a Sim that finally looks like me. What a beautiful thing it is to be able to say that.
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