Representation & Inclusivity In The Sims Franchise

By Simone Barbolini

The Sims is considered as one of the most influential pieces of media in the world. It is one of the most famous video games in history, with millions of players invested in this unique experience at life simulation. It is also one of the best selling game franchises ever, with more than 200 million copies sold through the different iterations of the game.  The franchise just celebrated its 20th Anniversary on the 4th of February and it does not seem to want to stop! The Sims 4 is the latest main title game and it recently surpassed the 10 millions copies sold, placing it just under the original The Sims as the best selling game of the franchise. With all these numbers to back me up, I can confidently say that The Sims franchise is very influential, in both the gaming industry and other mainstream media. Since its release in the year 2000, The Sims has been considered a very innovative title. Its lack of a main objective and being largely a sandbox game was an innovation, and the public loved the casual experience, solidifying the franchise into a staple of gaming. One of the most unique characteristics of the game is the ability to play with same-sex couples, something that has been present in almost every iteration of the game. Even in the original The Sims it was possible to play with same-sex couples and develop homosexual relationships, something that wasn’t common in games of the early 2000. This aspect of inclusivity in the games has always been positively remarked by players, who are able to develop stories and create characters without many restrictions, but has also been openly criticized by many conservative communities and countries. For example, just recently The Sims 4 has been banned in 7 countries: China, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar and Egypt. While the publishers of the game did not reveal the reasons why the game is unavailable in these countries, it is speculated that the same-sex relationships, gay adoptions and the introduction to the game of advanced gender options are the reason the game has been banned. It is obvious that the developers rightfully ignore this criticism and continue to create content that includes more and more kinds of people in the game. This effort towards an inclusive game is definitely one of the most praised characteristics of the franchise. Especially the players are in favor of this content, since they have many other options to be realistic in creating their Sims. The inclusivity in game does not stop at LGBTQ+ related topics, since the games try to be culturally and ethnically diverse, with The Sims 4 introducing many ethnic and traditional clothing options, objects, festivities and much more. 

Because of my interest in this characteristic of the games, and since it has been a constant throughout the entire franchise, I wanted to ask the community its opinion on inclusivity and representation in The Sims Franchise. To ask the community I decided to create an online survey with 10 questions in order to get the most information about this topic. The questions ranged from which adjectives describe the franchise the best, what is the general opinion on the Create A Sim tool, what is the opinion on the free updates for CAS in The Sims 4, and much more. In this article I want to summarize the results of these 10 questions to show what the community really thinks when we are talking inclusivity in the game. The results come from more than 700 unique responders, an astonishing number that I would have never thought I could reach. Since the number of responders is high, I am very confident that the final results can represent a big chunk of the Sims Community online.  

With the first three questions, after establishing which country the player is from, I asked if they are part of an ethnic minority in the country they live in, and if they are part of the LGBTQ+ community. The results show that with 700 answers, 18.9% of players (134/707 total answers) considers themselves as an ethnic minority in the country they reside, while 52.7% (371/704 total answers) are a member of the LGBTQ+ community. These numbers explain how necessary is the amount of inclusivity we already can find in game, since a consistent number of people are able to see themselves represented accordingly. The fourth question I asked is related to which versions of the game each player has tried. My idea was to get a general understanding of which titles are the most bought and played, since these are probably the most appreciated for their characteristics. The results put “The Sims 4” in the number one spot, followed by “The Sims 3” and closely followed by “The Sims 2”. To my surprise, the original “The Sims”, the other main title game, found itself in sixth position, behind both mobile versions of the franchise. While this does not directly correlate to how inclusive each game is, it is an interesting piece of information which shows the evolution of the franchise from a strictly PC-based game into a multi-platform phenomenon. The easier access to the mobile versions of the game might be indicative of more players from around the world being able to access the games, indirectly pushing the search for inclusive content even more. 

In the fifth question, I asked to decide how many different adjectives describe The Sims Franchise as a whole. The results show that the majority of people questioned, agree that the franchise is fun, partially agree that it is inclusive, innovative and overall satisfactory. They also partially agree with the statement that the franchise can be disappointing and a bit stale. The majority of answers disagree with the idea that the franchise is not fun or not inclusive. These results really show the general feelings the players have towards the franchise, with a possible bias towards later iterations of the game since those are easier to recall. I can easily tell that overall the players see the franchise positively, but are not afraid to highlight the flaws they feel are present. In regards to the theme of inclusivity, thanks to the answers to the two adjectives “inclusive” and “not inclusive” it is obvious that the community thinks the game is a good tool to represent themselves and others alike.

The sixth and seventh questions were more directly pointed to one aspect of the game: the Create a Sim tool. I wanted to see how many people want to create realistic Sims in their games, how many people actually create themselves and if everyone can create themselves or whoever they want without compromises. The results highlight how the players actually use this tool that is in almost every game from this franchise. While the majority of the players stated how the tool is useful to create realistic Sims, with realistic personalities, different skin-tones, different ethnicities, a loud minority also stated that CAS is not always good.  With almost 300 votes combined, two out of three of the negative options were chosen. 

What peculiar with these options is that they did not state that the player does not like CAS just because they are not a fan of the mechanic (since that was the third option, voted only by 15 players). These negative descriptions of CAS, highlight how the tool is still not perfectly developed, and lacks some additional things to cater to all. In fact, 164 players say they can’t always make the Sims they have in mind, while 105 directly state that the tool just does not have the right options for them. This definitely shows that, while CAS in the games is appreciated by the majority, not every player feels rightfully represented. With the eight questions, I went more into the specific details of what is liked and what is not liked by the players when talking about items that make CAS in “The Sims 4” more inclusive. The four things I choose to focus on are four free updates to the Base Game of “The Sims 4”, all implemented by the developers with the obvious intention to make the game more inclusive. In order, these free updates are the Advanced Gender Options, the new dark skin-tones, the Pride apparel and clothing, items and clothing for the Lunar New Year/Diwali/other festivities. Overall, there is a very positive attitude from players towards each of these updates. The most appreciated one is the introduction of Advanced Gender Options, with 40.6% of answers finding it “great” and 29.5% saying it is “good”. The free Pride apparel also has a generally positive reaction to it, with 35.4% and 23.8% of answers being “great” and “good” respectfully. The festivities items are generally slightly more neutral, but still have 31.6% of answers being “great”. While these three updates are seen as mostly positive additions, the new skin-tones received the worst results: only 25.3% of players find them “great” and a strong 17.5% actually describe them as “unsatisfactory”. This criticism for the new dark skin-tones that were added later to the game are the lack of consistency with the skin texture, which looks patchy and weird in some parts and the unnatural undertones, that look way too red or way too blue. 

The last questions I added are a way to talk about what the developers can do to be more inclusive with their game. The ninth question asks is the player would be pro or against the introduction of choosing your Sims’ pronouns, a topic that has been heavily discussed in the online community of the Sims and something that some players are asking the developers to add to The Sims 4. With almost 60% of answers being in favor of this addition to the Base Game, I can clearly see that not only this would be an incredible way for the developers to make the game more inclusive than it already is, but it is also something that a strong majority of people that play the game would actually love to see implemented. If a developer of the game is actually reading this, I think that the community would totally love the possibility of changing Sims’ pronouns in the game.With the tenth question I decided to directly ask the players taking my survey to describe what would make the game more inclusive in their opinion. There were more than 430 personal answers, and while I can’t talk about every single one, I cherry-picked some ideas that seem to resonate with the majority of players. Something that was asked for a lot, and directly correlates to the answers I found to the eighth question, is the introduction of more realistic dark skin-tones. Not only darker skin, but also with different undertones. Plus, new skin-tones were usually related to the addition of more textured hair and hairstyles. Another thing asked many times is the addition of more skin details, like freckles, moles and body hair. In regards to more LGBTQ+ related things to be added, many players asked for more gender options like the ability to be neither male or female or the possibility of choosing a sexual orientation as part of the Sims’ personality.  Again, players asked many times for more Asian-inspired items, especially more traditional-oriented clothing and hairstyles. Finally, some players also brought up the idea of adding disabilities, both mental and physical ones, in order to make the game more realistic.

In conclusion, with this survey I definitely gathered a lot of information about what The Sims Community online thinks about representation and inclusivity in the games. Overall, I can say that The Sims franchise is regarded as one of the most inclusive, not only by the media, but also by the players themselves. While it is obvious that not everyone is pleased with what has been added to the game, many people appreciate the process the developers go through in order to make the game more representative for everyone. There are things that can definitely be improved, and I suggest listening to the community to understand what is lacking, because the players definitely know what they want.

I was pretty surprised by the sheer amount of support I received by this community when people discovered that I was writing this article on representation in the franchise. I can tell that it’s seen as an important topic, and I can also tell that the developers know how important it is for everyone that plays The Sims. I would not be surprised to see more and more updates to “The Sims 4” to add more things to make it more inclusive. I also have to point out how much more inclusive “The Sims 4” feels than its predecessors, thanks to all the updates and content that has been added with the intention to make it representative of more and more people. I’m very thankful for this community and the developers, even if sometimes it feels like they don’t listen attentively. I also want to thank all the participants of the survey, everyone that retweeted and liked the link and made this thing possible. Also thank you for reading this article, I hoped it helped show how this community can be when it wants to do good things.

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