I did not wake up this morning expecting a revolutionary Sims 4 patch. I woke up this morning expecting that my day would be filled with things like going to work, poking fun at people getting angry over inconsequential bullshit on Twitter and then coming home and getting angry over some of my own inconsequential bullshit. But then I got on Twitter and found that one of the Sims fansites I followed, SimCookie, was already abuzz with some surprise news. The news, for those who don’t French real good, essentially boils down to this: a new major patch would be pushed later today that added plenty of new gender-related options to The Sims 4.
As outlined in the Maxis press release, less than 6 hours from the announcement, a new major patch was to be released for The Sims 4 that, among other things, unlocks all previously gender locked content. The Sims series has never been particularly bad when it came to gender-locked content, so the only remaining things to be changed were sims’ appearances and reproductive capability. To put it simply, sims’ stated genders can now be completely separated from both their physical appearance as well as what bits they would have if they didn’t all look like Mattel dolls under that pixelation grid.
As far as the gaming industry goes, The Sims has already had a pretty good track record on the LGB side of things and has always been rather progressive for the years the games were released, although, throughout the years, they have definitely changed to reflect the evolution of how society views same-sex relationships. The first game, which released in 2000, allowed unlimited same-sex romantic interactions and relationships, but not marriage. The Sims 2, in 2004, allowed no same-sex marriage but instead offered such couples ‘Civil Unions’, which were, mechanically, the exact same thing and the only difference between the two being what string of text was used to name the interactions. Starting with The Sims 2 sims also had a hidden sexual orientation value that would start skewed slightly towards the opposite sex but could be adjusted via performing romantic interactions on that gender. This value would be used in calculating which genders the sim’s AI would autonomously perform romantic interactions with. The Sims 3, released 2009, did away with all that and just let any two adult sims marry (and have it actually be called ‘marriage’) regardless of gender, a feature which has continued into The Sims 4.
But although the series has always had a nice treatment towards same-gendered relationships, Maxis has always managed to keep radio silence when asked if/how it would handle transgender representation. The standard response to questions about trans or disabled sims has historically been a handwave followed by a point to the games’ inherent capability for cruelty. Maxis let it be known that they didn’t want The Sims to become known as “that game where you can torture and murder $MARGINALIZED_GROUP”. Which didn’t make a whole lot of sense when thought about for more than a couple of minutes because it’s always been perfectly possible to play as (and therefore abuse) sims belonging to certain other vulnerable groups, such as people of colour or those who experience same gender attraction. Throughout the series’ history, the community would make up for this dearth of representation by adding in their own custom content that allowed players to create trans and gender nonconforming sims.
But with today’s patch the hard work to allow to trans, non-binary or gender nonconforming players to create sims that are more like themselves may no longer be on the shoulders of a few hard-working players themselves but on those of the developers. These changes are a welcome addition to the game, especially since, by all accounts, they seem to be well thought out and tastefully implemented. The press release mentions that Maxis worked with GLAAD in designing the new gender options.
Many have suspected for some time now that such an update would be coming. Some weeks ago players noticed that a female sim pictured in a teaser trailer for The Sims 4: Dine Out was sporting a base-game hairstyle that was restricted to male sims only in the current production version of the game. When asked about this, members of the studio on twitter responded, implying that developers have access to special tools that allow them to do such things and that it wouldn’t be a feature with Dine Out. However, Trevor Lindsay and SimGuruDrake both mentioned later on that the teaser trailer did include some teasers for new patch content. On top of this, May’s patch notes included a secret code that implied that Create a Sim changes were, indeed, coming.
I can understand why they’d try to dance around the subject of all these leaks and intentional hints, instead of just announcing the new changes right there when people began to catch on, as the extremely short length of time between an announcement of this magnitude and the patch actually being released allowed little time for transphobic backlash. And once the patch was out here in the world, it was out, where no amount of controversy could get rid of it completely.
Producer Lyndsay Pearson confirmed shortly after the press release went live that the game would not automatically generate sims using the custom gender options and that it would be up to the players whether or not they would like to use them. But if some special souls really do end up feeling persecuted by the mere option of being able to create such sims, parts of the community have been making their own trans-positive mods and content for years now, so I’m sure those with less noble leanings are perfectly capable of doing the same. :^)
Congratulations, EA, you did a good.