The Sims 4 update introduces new sexualities and romantic orientations for players

The Sims 4 is set to release its most in-depth update for LGBTQ gaming on July 28, with an all-new way to represent the gender identities of its players and their virtual characters.

Designed in collaboration with LGBTQ organizations, the It’s better Project and GLAAD, the game’s sexual orientation update adds two new customization scales for players interested in exploring a fuller range of sexual and romantic identities. The changes were unveiled alongside the release of the new Sims 4 High School Expansion Pack, which lets you play as a teenager going through the trials and tribulations of high school. It’s not lost that the update and expansion pack combined could more accurately embody a difficult time for many young LGBTQ peopleeven in virtual game worlds.

The new feature can be used so that players’ Sims can experience same-sex or different-sex attraction, experience different attractions naturally during gameplay, feel physical but not romantic attraction (and vice versa), or feel none at all. sexual or romantic attraction at all. To set these parameters for your characters, Sims 4 players will have access to various romantic and sexual (“woohoo”) options right in the game’s Create-A-Sim customization menu, alongside a Sim’s gender.

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The new “romance” options include a simple selection of romantic attraction for different genders (“male”, “female”, both or neither). Users can then select whether a character is interested in exploring romantic partnerships over time in the game (this will determine how your Sim responds to romantic advances from different characters), then whether or not they are interested in “messing around” or “WooHoo’ing” with various other Sims. To play as a Sim exploring asexuality, for example, you can leave all the boxes unchecked or choose only a romantic attraction. The game does not currently allow users to play as non-binary or gender non-conforming characters, although the game recently got an update to let players choose their own pronouns regardless of gender (including the pronouns they/them).

Sims 4 adds romantic and sexual attraction options to its customization.
Credit: The Sims 4 / EA / Jessica Croft

You also won’t need to buy the expansion pack to be able to use the new features. Instead, they’re available to all players in the July 28 update, and the new settings (intentionally) can’t be disabled. If you want to play with your Sims as they were already designed, the game will continue to default to the settings that players have already selected.

The Sims, whose original version was launched in 2000, has a long and somewhat convoluted history with the representation of the full spectrum of LGBTQ identity in its acting. This is partly due to the technical limitations of a virtual world designed around a gender binary and its associated “expected” social interactions, as well as parent companies and developers who have subject to related criticism about LGBTQ inclusion since the initial launch of the games.

Regardless of public opinion, early game developers looked for ways to include same-sex relationships in-game, intending to circumvent early homophobic responses that same-sex interaction between Sims would be illicit, by removing “violent negative interactions” between same-sex characters in romantic storylines and adding LGBTQ Easter” in early versions. Documents from those decades-old conversations, released by programmer and artist Don Hopkins in 2019, showed many advocate for a more complex determination of sexual orientationsuggesting that players could use custom scales to determine same-sex attraction responses and additions to early relationship trees for Sim interactions.

Twenty years ago, this advocacy didn’t necessarily meet radically LGBTQ gaming, but it ensured that the original version offered players representation of same-sex relationships and prevented erecting gendered barriers to actions, careers, and the like. . More importantly, it established a strong gaming presence and identity among LGBTQ gamers, who often used The Sims as an adjacent modifier to LGBTQ online identity.

Now the company and developers, like Jessica Croft, responsible for the design of the update (also known as SimGuruJessica), seem to finally tackle the technical possibilities of Sims’ sexual orientation. In the Maxis Developer Diary released alongside the update, Croft explained that the update is a natural next step in the game’s journey towards creating the most inclusive and realistic game for its players looking to embody. the full spectrum of gender and sexuality.

EA and Maxis, the entities behind The Sims, have gradually added LGBTQ-friendly features to the most recent iteration, The Sims 4, such as a gender customization overhaul in 2016, the addition of gender neutral bathrooms and Pride elements in 2019, a overhauled The Sims 4 key art to include its first lesbian couple also in 2019, and various trans and non-binary non-player characters (NPCs) added over the past three years.

“Many of the team, myself included, are part of the LGBTQIA+ community,” Croft wrote. “That said, each of us on the team represents only a small slice of lived experience. As such, we have worked extensively with GLAAD and the It Gets Better project to ensure that we have captured the broad possible range of views on how to approach this feature in a way that respects and uplifts the community.”

Croft also explained that this update is not a complete fix for many players’ concerns, nor is it the final update. “[The Sims 4] is 8 years old at this point and relies on systems that were originally designed with a gender binary in mind. In the years since, we’ve hit some big milestones like customizing gender, pronouns, and now sexual orientation. It’s an ongoing journey, with many more steps to go. Proper mechanical systems to fully support non-binary Sims is another step in this journey,” Croft said.

This update does what many in the Sims community have already attempted on their own, adding to the bottom-up, player-driven community work to create an even stranger gameplay experience, including Sims Mods that add LGBTQ traits and stories to the base game.

These ad hoc additions can have their limits, however. Efforts by official designers of The Sims and EA itself have more potential (and resources) to embed this LGBTQ identity into the DNA of the game itself, particularly by making LGBTQ Sim stories an integrated part and normal part of The Sims 4 experience and allowing players to explore all facets of these stories without additional work on their part. These actions all validate both the early goals of The Sims, the game’s formative history among LGBTQ online communities, and a future in which queer identities are at the forefront of simulated life gameplay.

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