In The Sims 4, representation is a journey, not a destination

Since its inception, The Sims franchise has been a beacon of inclusiveness for gaming, a space that has allowed players to create and simulate their own characters in great detail.

As the series has evolved, the choices on offer have become increasingly granular, not only giving players ways to change hairstyles, clothes, and personalities, but allowing them to form open relationships. with characters without borders.

But while The Sims 4 offers players this unparalleled freedom, expression can’t happen if everyone is a blank canvas. The latest update seeks to address this issue by giving users the tools to give their Sims preferred pronouns and specific sexual orientations.

John Faciane, Maxis

Talk to GamesIndustry.bizMaxis associate producer and feature lead on pronouns John Faciane said conversations about how to implement the options, especially updating the pronouns, had been ongoing since before he joined. company four years ago.

“The customizable pronouns tool was created by our team updating the live game itself, and then the sexual orientation happened on the game pack side,” Faciane explains. “But even at the beginning, I was communicating with Jessica [Croft] and the team she worked with, to collaborate a bit and share knowledge about the representation of sexuality, gender and games in the industry in general.”

Croft, senior game designer at Maxis, nods to The Sims’ long history of being at the forefront of same-sex representation, and notes that the desire to see that representation has always been there, both internally and within the community.

“It felt like something that was a bit late in The Sims,” she says. “We’ve been wanting to do this for a while now, it’s just the question was, ‘where did it really seem to line up with what we’re releasing?'”

Last month, EA released The Sims 4: High School Years, a new expansion pack focused on creating a deeper educational experience for teenage Sims. Croft is also the lead game designer for this expansion, and says it was the perfect time to introduce the new pronoun and sexual orientation features.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t have many plans for what a healthy same-sex relationship looked like. The power of the media is that they are able to give you those plans”Jessica Croft

“When we talk about high school years, it’s teenagers, right? That’s where a lot of people go through this journey, so it seemed like the natural fit for this pack and the right time for the do,” she said.

“When I was growing up, I didn’t have many plans for what a healthy same-sex relationship looked like, so I didn’t have the framework to commit to wondering who I was. The power of the media is that they are able to give you these plans to better understand how you might live your life.”

While The Sims has always given players the freedom to choose, the Maxis team wanted to make sure that in their quest for inclusion they still featured strong representational views, which is one of the concerns that the betting update on sexual orientation aims to alleviate.

“John and I both identify as members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and if everyone is a blank canvas where everyone is everything, you’re not representing anyone,” Croft adds. “That’s what we wanted to get away from; we really wanted people to feel seen by The Sims.

“One of the most common stories I hear is of a young LGBTQIA+ person seeing themselves reflected in the media for the very first time in The Sims, and because of that they know who they are, c It’s normal, and everything will be fine. And that’s really powerful for me.”

A similar story is echoed by Faciane about the functionality of pronouns, and it was his own past experience working in the games industry that led him to explore how The Sims can improve their inclusivity efforts.

“I’m an openly gay man in the gaming industry, and just knowing that and seeing my presence in the industry, and talking about it, I think is really important,” he says. . “In a previous job, I wasn’t out there, and I got kicked out, and it didn’t feel great. But then, as I started to be more open about it and talking about who I was around people, not only did it make me happier, I felt like I could really be myself at work.

“Knowing all of this in my background and knowing how important The Sims is to so many players who want to recreate their own authentic in-game experience, we felt it was important to push the pronouns feature forward.”

The Sims 4 does not impose restrictions on relationships or gender, but this update allows players to express a specific choice

While The Sims has made strides in how it allows minorities to express themselves, one area that has been overlooked in the series’ 22-year history is disability. As it stands, there is no representation of the disabled community in the game, and the omission is something players with disabilities have long requested.

Faciante’s role is part of a team focused on core game improvements in The Sims 4, and he ensures that depicting and showcasing different lived experiences is a crucial task for them. The hurdle he faces internally is resources and while they don’t have anything specific to share regarding the representation of people with disabilities in The Sims 4, they say the conversations are still happening.

“Accessibility is something very important to us as a team, we have internal resources that we partner with at EA to research ways to improve the game, whether that’s through ads for accessibility to the game itself, or simply representation of the content in the game,” Faciane tells us.

Croft adds that Maxis itself is a diverse company in terms of life experience, and it often comes down to resources and conversations about what the team can do that they aren’t currently doing or can do. in the future.

The Sexual Orientation feature was released alongside the High School Years Pack, providing customization options for young Sims

Some of the obstacles include issues related to technology; The Sims 4 is now eight years old and constantly being updated. Another limitation is putting omitted factors at the forefront of the development pipeline, which is what Faciane is working on.

With a game that aims to simulate real life in an ever-changing modern world, there’s always a demand for something new, and that’s what Maxis takes into account when planning and prioritizing new content for The Sims 4.

“I hate to say we’re data-driven or data-savvy, it makes us feel so corporate, but we’re data-savvy,” Croft says. “And we have giant lists of things that players ask for and that we try to accommodate because at the end of the day we want to give players what they want, I think that’s a no-brainer.

Jessica Croft, Maxis

“It then becomes a question of what we haven’t done yet? In what area could we expand our catalog? And it also becomes what the team feels strongly about, because it’s a very collaborative team.”

While there’s still work to be done to bring more content to The Sims 4, Faciane and Croft are both incredibly happy with the efforts made so far.

“What I’m most proud of is really seeing the amount of change we’ve been able to make with the sense of community representation in the short time since I arrived,” Faciane said. “Maxis has always been a studio that has been associated with representation, diversity and inclusion, and seeing all the work we’ve been able to do as we’ve taken a more proactive approach, especially in my team who engages with what the players want, that’s something I’m really proud of.”

Croft also shares that she’s also proud of sexual orientation features and pronouns and how they’ve been executed, but adds that internally there’s never been a struggle to even put that kind of inclusive upgrades on the table.

“When I brought up the topic of including sexual orientation in the high school years pack, the conversations were never ‘should we?’ it was ‘how could we do it?’ “, she tells us. “There wasn’t really any resistance against doing it or why we do it.

“There are people like me in the gaming industry, there are queer people, transgender people, non-binary people, and having that visibility in our industry is just as important as it is for our fans.”John Faciane

“Here it seems like the right thing to do, so how do we do that? The internal tone shift to not doubting it’s the right thing to do, but instead focusing on to make sure we do it right, is so fundamentally uplifting that I really feel seen here.”

She adds that this isn’t the end of Maxis’ representation roadmap – there’s always more work to do and more features to create.

“We view performance as a journey and that is still being mapped out,” Croft adds. “We’re always charting what the next waypoint is, and we want to take the community on this journey with us because ultimately it’s to serve them, as well as to represent the wider world. , more inclusive and safe.”

And when a studio makes a real effort to showcase inclusivity not just in its products, but within its own walls, it’s reflected in all of the games, Faciane points out.

“Over the past few years, we have come to an inflection point with how our industry was perceived in the past and what the reality is, and there is a wide range of different lived experiences in game development” , he said. “We’re not the only ones, but I’m extremely happy that we’re one of the studios that’s really pushing to show that. There are people like me who are openly gay in the gaming industry, there are queer people, transgender people, non-binary people, and having that visibility in our industry is just as important as it is for our fans.”

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