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A new update makes The Sims 4 more inclusive


In video games, players often have the ability to control the way their characters look and how they behave. And that can be an act of self-expression. That is especially true for a video game like The Sims, a life simulator where the characters look and act like real people. Sims cook, clean, go to work and form relationships with other Sims. And a new update to The Sims 4 expands what kind of relationships are possible, especially when it comes to sexual orientation and romantic attraction.

Ash Parrish is a video games reporter for The Verge and is here to talk more about what this means for The Sims and its players. Hey, Ash. Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

ASH PARRISH: Thanks for having me.

SUMMERS: So I have played The Sims, but it has been a little bit. For those who maybe have not played this game, tell us about how relationships work in The Sims.

PARRISH: So one of the revolutionary things about The Sims is that baked into its code - remember; this game was released back in 2000, so it's a 22-year-old game. And baked into this code is the ability for Sims of any gender to form relationships with Sims of any other gender. This was something that was behind the scenes. It wasn't something that you could control. With this new update, players now have the ability to control how and with whom they express their sexuality. So you can create a Sim, and you can designate that this person is attracted to men and/or women. You can also change how they express romantic and sexual attraction, whereby they can express romantic attraction, but not sexual attraction, sexual attraction without romantic attraction or both.

SUMMERS: The developers of The Sims have stated that this is a feature that cannot be turned off, stating - and I'm quoting here - "LGBTQIA+ identities are a fact of life and not a toggle to be switched on and off." Ash, how unique is it for a developer to take a position like this in this industry?

PARRISH: It's actually pretty unique. When you have a big game that's been around for 22 years like The Sims, one that's sold all over the world, you kind of have to make your game appeal to as wide an audience as it can. It's kind of like a Marvel movie where, you know, they'll say that they have a homosexual character, but they'll make it in such a way where that kind of content can be easily edited out when it's shown overseas. We've seen that before. So it's very interesting and very nice to see that they're taking a firm stance on this - this is a fact of life, we will not change this, we won't let you be able to change it either - and just let the chips fall where they may. If it upsets a portion of their player base, they're fine with that. And that's actually very heartening to see.

SUMMERS: When I think about The Sims and all the ways in which this game has changed in the two plus decades since its launched, it's hard for me not to think about the role that its fans, its players have played in shaping the game and making it more inclusive. Can you talk a little bit about the role that players have played in shaping The Sims?

PARRISH: So one thing you're going to know about the video game community is if you make a video game on PC, your players are going to modify it. That's just a fact of life. And throughout the years, The Sims has curated this robust community of players who have created these programs called mods that have changed or added features to the game.

One thing in particular that I am, like, personally familiar with are mods made by Simmers of color. Women, Black and brown people, they create these mods that are better representative of the kind of wealth of dark skin or ethnic hair choices that are not available in the base game. And because of this robust community that's been built around these kinds of mods, the game developer themselves have started adding in these features to the base game just to make sure that everybody, not just the very narrow segment of people, can see themselves in this game, which its whole selling point is you have this ability to be infinitely creative.

SUMMERS: That's Ash Parrish, a video games reporter at The Verge. Thank you for being here.

PARRISH: Thank you for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Juana Summers
Juana Summers is a political correspondent for NPR covering race, justice and politics. She has covered politics since 2010 for publications including Politico, CNN and The Associated Press. She got her start in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Mo., and also previously covered Congress for NPR.
Christopher Intagliata
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.