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It's a...Girl?: Gender Variance and the Sims This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

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The creator of The Sims PC game, Will Wright, once said, “The human imagination is this amazing thing. We’re able to build models of the world around us, test out hypothetical scenarios, and in some sense, simulate the world.” With The Sims games, players can indeed simulate the world. Players can create customized characters in entire families and then dictate their lives. In fact, players can even set a house afire, steal, or neglect a child. However, The Sims does not allow character customization in one vital area: gender identity. Characters cannot even wear clothes of the opposite sex, though their character traits have no such limitations. This inability to create characters to mirror themselves may leave gender-variant individuals feeling isolated. Not having this option also limits game play. Its absence even prevents The Sims games from making an impact on gender identity issues. The Sims games need to allow gender variance because not doing so alienates gender-variant people, hinders possibilities, and prevents society from making much-needed changes.


Part of the beauty of The Sims series lies in the fact that players can do anything within the confines of the game. A player can create someone in their own image or someone new. The former option remains off-limits to gender-variant individuals. But what exactly is gender variance? Though it can be reflected in numerous ways, gender variance generally refers to not fitting into preconceived notions of gender. For example, a gender-variant young boy might enjoy playing with both action figures and dolls, and feel confused if his class in school must separate into boys and girls. Where does he belong? A different gender-variant boy might prefer dolls alone. Gender variance remains impossible in The Sims, forcing many gender-variant people to choose one gender or the other, even for a character designed to represent them. This flaw could not only alienate gender-variant people, but also lower their self-esteem. For example, in The Sims Social, the Facebook variation of the original PC game, a player creates one character that could represent them. If later they decide to change their gender, they may, but they may not be able to wear some of their old clothes. After all, they may not “appropriate” for their new gender. Statements such as these could only lower a person self-worth and make them feel ostracized for an unalterable aspect of their personality. The lack of gender variance in The Sims also prevents players from creating characters reflecting their mentality. Someone can create a character who, like they, rides the gender binary, but this person may never cross it. They will never rise to act in a manner that their society demeans inappropriate for their gender, even at the threat of ridicule. A female character may like playing sports and wearing baggy clothes, but, unlike her creator, she may never decide to go to school dressed as a boy. The characters in these video games cannot be designed to take a stand. In fact, they will never be able to feel that a stand is necessary because they will only want to act in ways of their biological sex, unlike in the real world. Since The Sims does not allow for gender-bending, gender-variant people cannot create dynamic versions of themselves in the game, which could only make the game itself less dynamic as well.

Without the opportunity for gender variance in The Sims, game play is sharply limited. At first glance, this idea seems a little nonsensical. Wouldn’t adding the ability to let “girl” or “boy” characters dress and act like the opposite sex just confuse people, thus limiting game play? It need not be that complicated. A change in game play might be simple as allowing players to choose from clothes among either sex. That way, players who wish to follow gender norms could choose the clothes they desired for their characters, and even try other clothes on a whim. In addition, players could act out more storylines with gender variance involved. For example, what would happen if a character created a gender-fluid teenager? Whom would they date? Would their dates be concerned with this? How might their lives progress? (A better question might be if the game would sidestep that issue entirely.) True, some of these questions could be asked regardless of The Sims character’s gender identity. Other questions, however, cannot. Players should be able to determine that for themselves. Perhaps, if the once-wary person were to create a gender-variant character and begin to ask these questions, this game could affect not only The Sims world, but the real world as well.


Including only two genders in The Sims games prevents the real world from making important changes. Media helps make some issues more socially acceptable. For example, the rise in popular, positive images of homosexuals in the media should eventually lead to more acceptance of homosexuality. Showing people on the fringes of society in a positive light teaches people that others with varying lifestyles may not be so different after all. In that way, including gender-variant people in The Sims games could help raise awareness about the existence of the gender spectrum. Playing through the daily life experiences of a gender-fluid person could make people question traditional gender boundaries and also make them more tolerant of those who do not fit within them. Perhaps The Sims could start yet another gender revolution. Better yet, The Sims games could lead to other changes in the video game world involving diversity. With a popular game such as The Sims setting the tone, other video games might begin to add more diverse characters, like racial and religious minorities. Without using any of the violence that comes with protests, maybe The Sims could quietly change the world.

The Sims should try to avoid accidentally marginalizing people and start to allow gender variance. Without this choice, gender-variant people can feel left out of the iconic The Sims experience. Possibilities in the game, as in real life, remain limited in a two-gender world. Without media such as video games leading the way, the world might never change. Will Wright once said, “I think [imagination] is probably one of the most important characteristics of humanity.” He was right. Unfortunately, this very game sets limitations upon both humanity and its possibilities. Change may be hard to create in the real world, and it may be thousands of years before the world acknowledges gender variance, but in a game it is different. With a video game, the ability to revolutionize the world is not wrapped inside toil and bloodshed. Instead, change can be as simple as the click of a mouse.




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nerdyO said...
Mar. 21, 2012 at 7:49 pm:
I always wondered why there was no one was allowed to be gay on the Sims 3. I do believe that is an issue also.
 
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