Twitch star Xmiramira battles dull black skin in The Sims
Amira Virgil, known as Xmiramira on Tic and YouTube, felt that something was wrong with The Sims 4. Virgil, content creator and video game streamer, is also a storyteller. His YouTube page is filled with soap-opera style playlists The Sims 4 Let’s Plays in which she crafts narratives to accompany her characters’ actions in-game. She’s like a showrunner, acting as producer, director, scriptwriter, and ultimately God, controlling her characters as they move through a world she created using The Sims 4 and its elaborate library of expansion packs. But something was wrong with the characters she was creating. Something was wrong.
It was the skin.
“There’s like this gray, ashy shade, and looking at it is like fingernails on a blackboard to me,” Virgil told me on Zoom. “Where are the shades? Where is the contrast? Where is the vibe? »
There’s a long and rich tradition in gaming communities to modify a game to add features it doesn’t have. Most of the time, modding introduces a small but impactful humorous element or quality of life change. Black players and players of color have used modding to solve the case where a game does not take into account players who are not white. Fed up with the color of his black characters, Virgil decided to learn how to mod The Sims 4.
The Sims 4 is a life simulation game where players can build and control their own little world. Players can create characters (called “sims”), choose their personalities, put them in homes they can customize and decorate, and give them jobs, spouses, and children. There is no goal, no way to “beat” or “win” the game. It’s a storytelling engine with so many options that there’s no limit to the stories a player can create.
According to Virgil, The Sims 4 has a “shineness” issue, in which a black sim’s skin appears so washed out or gray that they appear to be afflicted with dry or “ashy” skin. It’s a problem that has long plagued the creators of black and brown Sims (known as Simmers).
“We always like to make jokes about how ashen the sims look all the time,” Virgil said.
The Sims 4 has a reputation for being a game that allows players to express their most authentic selves, whoever they are and wherever they come from. It was one of the first games to present homosexual relationships and more recent updates focus on everything from inclusive pronouns to add items of cultures around the world. Although probably unintentional, Virgil thought the way dark skin was portrayed in The Sims 4 didn’t live up to the philosophy of the game. It needed to be changed.
“I was tired of not being able to create the kind of content I wanted to create in The Sims 4,” she says. She wanted to create characters that “match what I know people look like in real life.”
The Sims 4 has a huge modding community dedicated to creating and sharing mods for just about anything a gamer would want in a life sim game. Discouraged by the prospect of having to learn a programming language to modify the game, Virgil was delighted to learn that the modding community had already created tools that would simplify his project.
“I would use Photoshop to edit the skin tones, edit the files, then use the community created programs to export and test.”
With the help of a The Sims 4 modding program called The skininatorVirgil created a pair of mods called the Melanin Pack 1 and 2which feature over 50 different skin tones that players can download and use to create black and brown characters free from the blight of ash.
Ashness is a cardinal sin in the black community. We pride ourselves on the vibrancy, variety and richness of our skin, an emotion born in defiance of white supremacy’s relentless efforts to shame black and dark skin tones. More than the physical condition of dry skin, ash has deep cultural significance for black people. When you want to insult someone, you call them assholes. When we want an expression of joy or health, we refer to hydration.
Virgil didn’t stop with his skin color mods. Make-up is another of her pet peeves and The Sims 4 the makeup options also left a lot to be desired.
“A lot of the makeup wasn’t designed for darker skin tones,” she said. “So for the skin tones that I created, I would create makeup [that went with them.]”
Virgil’s desire to mod The Sims 4 to better reflect black culture and community, moving from skin and makeup to clothing and art. She’s particularly proud of a poster mod she created that features artwork from her favorite black artists.
“I would highlight them, put [their artwork] in the game, and then they got kind of a pull on their stuff,” she said. “It was like an exchange. The mod became so popular that it caught the attention of The Sims 4 developers, getting them to look at the artistic options they offered.
“EA actually revamped their base game with more inclusive art. Now there are black people in the art, there are people of color in the art. There are gay couples in the art .
The problem of video games misrepresenting black skin goes beyond The Sims 4. “It’s damn close to everything,” Virgil said.
You can’t have a dark-skinned character in BioWare Dragon Age: Origins. The game’s character designer offers no darker skin tones than a paper lunch bag, unwittingly creating a video game version of the racist test in which the “acceptability” or “desirability” of a black person was determined by the lightness or darkness of their skin. to a paper bag. What’s worse is that the darkest skin option the game offers results in a character that looks like a blotchy, ashy mess that’s never experienced the sweet touch of a moisturizer.
Even recent titles suffer from the same skin problem. The fall of Babylon attracted attention for being extraordinarily bad and to have character creator with dark skin options which aren’t really that dark at all. Virgil’s quest to add enhanced skin tones to The Sims 4 meant more than fixing unappealing or unflattering colors, it was a matter of cultural significance – a small, personal way to rectify a mistake the game continues to make regarding black players.
“My mother always taught me, ‘Be the change you want to see,'” she said. “So that’s what I do.”