As a confused, queer kid, I found solace in an unlikely place: The Sims. I don’t think any other game – or any form of media – was as comforting to me as what The Sims was.
I spent a great deal of my weekends in my brother-in-law’s shed-turned-office in our backyard, creating families, downloading mods, and building dream houses. My cousin and I even took videos of our Sims and edited them together on Windows Movie Maker to create a soapie called ‘Days of our Sims’. It was equal parts cringey and damn awesome.
The bottom line is that I loved The Sims. It was a huge part of my childhood. It helped me imagine myself as an adult, one with a happy career and a beautiful house. More importantly, it helped me imagine a world where I was allowed to be queer.
Sims were never coded to have an orientation, which meant they could be romantically and sexually attracted to anyone in their age group. In simple terms, all Sims were potentially bisexual. For someone who grew up thinking that heterosexuality was the only option, this detail blew my mind.
When I got into The Sims 2, I was around 11 years old. I kind of knew what it meant to be gay. I was already exploring the idea that I might be queer. I was in primary school, and while I could imagine a life with a husband, I could also imagine a life with a wife. I didn’t know what bisexuality was until much later, and even then, I struggled to imagine myself being bisexual.
Remember, this was 2005. This was an era before Pretty Little Liars, Glee, and even Skins. I was too young to watch The L Word, and queer celebrities seemed to be pathologized by the tabloid magazines I read. There were no blueprints for me, no celebrities or characters that helped me imagine what my life could be like as a bisexual person. I felt like my feelings were invalid. I felt alone.
The Sims was one of the only forms of bisexual representation that was available to me.
Many people used The Sims to act out fantasies. They could be rich, have a dream career, own a house, have children, and get married. For me, The Sims allowed me to act out the fantasy of being bisexual.
In my universe in The Sims 2, things were wild. Mary-Sue Pleasant, a pre-made Sim, left her cheating husband for Cassandra Goth, her childhood best friend. They had a happy life together in a beautiful home with Mary-Sue’s teenage daughters. Both of those teenage daughters grew up to date both male and females Sims. I created many simulated versions of myself, some of which dated men, some of which dated women, some of which dated both. I nearly always had children, and I nearly always pursued a creative career path. It was pure bliss.
What’s more? Nobody in The Sims cared if one woman dated another. In this fantasy world, where I could escape and create a life that was anything I wanted it to be, I could also be free. Discrimination wasn’t something that existed in this universe.
I’m not saying that games should never touch on real-world issues like heterosexism, racism, or sexism. However, I learnt something by creating a life in a world where oppression didn’t exist. It made me realize that the world we live in – that is, an oppressive one – didn’t have to be this way.
The Sims is moving with the times. In an update in The Sims 4, gender becomes more customizable. One can effectively change their Sim’s from one gender to the next, basically making the Sim transgender. You get to choose a Sim’s physique, voice, fashion preferences, based on your own ideas and not the gender binary.
It’s so queer- and trans-friendly, it was given an ‘adults only’ rating in Russia. For kids who are gender non-conforming, trans and/or non-binary, this sort of representation can be amazing. It’s still not perfect in terms of representation, but it’s certainly way better than many other games.
The greater lesson here is that representation matters. Games influence us, and as a queer kid, it meant the world to me to have some kind of representation in the games I played. The Sims showed me what the world could be like if we rejected heteronormativity and oppression.
Sims are simple, and humans are unfortunately less so. We can’t type ‘motherlode’ into a cheat box when we’re broke, and we can’t put our arch-nemesis in a ladder-less pool to make them disappear. We certainly have inherent biases, conscious and unconscious, which means that discrimination and oppression exist.
But we can learn from The Sims.
I have hope that my generation, who grew up with The Sims and other queer-friendly media, will create a world where things are a little easier for queer people.