I was first introduced to The Sims as a ten-year-old in 2002. It quickly became one of my favourite games – a fact that remains true to this day. I’ve clocked up 700 hours on The Sims 4 to date, which is surpassed only by time spent on The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (over 1000 hours, in case you were wondering).
For a long time, The Sims franchise was nothing more than enjoyable games that killed time, and provided a temporary escape for a youthful self, but as I grew older I realised two things: 1) they’re a strong source of social commentary; and, 2) this provides the games with political undercurrents.
The most obvious sites of social contestation are the inclusions of controversial sexual and romantic relationships and interactions; it thus works to normalise them as alternatives to the status-quo. This is amplified by the franchise being easily accessible to younger audiences, considering: a) its cartoonish aesthetic; b) a ‘TEEN’ rating (by ESRB standards); and, c) the fact that many younger children play it despite its rating.
With no further delay, here are 4 inclusions in The Sims franchise that challenge romantic and sexual social norms:
1. Same-Sex Relationships
Same-sex relationships, both romantic and sexual, have been a staple feature of The Sims since its debut in 2000. In the first game, same-sex couples operated almost identically to hetero couples, excluding the interactions relating to marriage and biological conception. From its inception, The Sims has been a game that celebrates our differences, and the inclusion of sexual fluidity is a core component of portraying the reality of human diversity. Whilst the Sims doesn’t necessarily present same-sex relationships as ‘the’ social norm, it does operate in normalising same-sex relations as an acceptable alternative. Additionally, the ability for your Sims to be sexually and romantically involved with whomever, implies a natural state of bisexuality.
2. Same-Sex Marriage
Whilst The Sims 2 brought in the ‘joined union’, same-sex marriage wasn’t made available until The Sims 3 was released in 2009. Its introduction came at a precarious time and before it had seen much legal progression*. It was a topic that inspired debate and mass opposition, which continues to be true. The Sims was among the first (shout-out to Fallout 2 and Fable) to include same-sex marriage, yet it was particularly risky for a game with a young audience, making the decision all the more brave. Its presence in the game was not merely an inclusion of what already existed in society, but a strong expression of what should exist in our society.
One of my biggest frustrations whilst playing The Sims was enforced monogamy, where the only alternative was relationship-ruining affairs. Even flirting with another Sim could put one’s relationship on the line. The Sims 4 saw an increased ability to create polyamorous relationships. Now, a Sim can have multiple lovers without too much drama. Additional relations trigger less jealousy and there’s a reward trait that allows a Sim to kanoodle with whomever, without generating any jealousy at all; they can also have multiple established relationships (such as a wife and a boyfriend). While there remains room to grow in terms of providing alternatives to monogamy, The Sims creators continuously remain ahead of the crowd.
4. Teen Sexuality
I’ve always found the romantic interactions provided for teen Sims slightly limiting and prudish – but I could understand why a game with a young fan-base would opt out from including it. And yet, to my surprise, The Sims 4 introduced a ‘mess around’ option for teenage Sims, which hints at teen woohoo or sexual happenings that aren’t quite woohoo (I believe it’s the former).
The teenage experience is generally defined by sexual development and exploration, and yet social, political, ideological and legal forces often seek to repress sexuality until the late-teens, adulthood or marriage – this has thrust teenage sexuality into the realm of the taboo. I’m not sure if the inclusion of teenage sexuality in The Sims 4 was intended to be a political statement, so much as an inclusion of what is already prevalent in our world, but I welcome the acknowledgement of its normality.
I can’t say whether these features are political statements, social observations, strategies to draw in buyers, or something else altogether. While I encourage these inclusions as positive steps towards accepted diversity and freedom, many others will view these additions as unnecessary, inappropriate or altogether wrong. Regardless of the intentions behind these decisions, or our opinions of them, The Sims games can’t help but be inherently political and socially significant – all we have to do is look closely.
Tell us what you think below! Please be respectful and thoughtful in your comments.
* Prior to 2009, only three European countries had legalised same-sex marriage, while Australia still rejects it. The United States wouldn’t legalise same-sex marriage on a federal level until 2015.