Growing up queer with The Sims | Feature | Chicago Reader

Growing up queer with The Sims 

“Za Woka Genava” means “I think you are hot” in Simlish, and I think that’s beautiful.

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click to enlarge "On Sims, I could—and still can—live out my queer fantasies. There were no rules for me and my Sims. We could live happily, freely, and gayly."

"On Sims, I could—and still can—live out my queer fantasies. There were no rules for me and my Sims. We could live happily, freely, and gayly."

S. Nicole Lane/Electronic Arts

I was ten years old when the virtual world of The Sims was released. After popping the CD into my desktop computer in my parent’s basement, hours would easily pass by, whole lives would be lived. Reality moved fast in Sims time. Building my dream house, making my fake family (with the occasional murder by fire), and forcing everyone to “woohoo” are some of my fondest memories.

The Sims was released in 2000 which means I’ve been playing Sims for 20 years. This franchise, in all of its various expansion packs and releases, has been a constant source of entertainment for me to escape reality. You essentially play God in Sims as you instruct your avatars to use the bathroom, cook food, go to sleep, and find a job. Sims can catch on fire while cooking french toast, piss themselves, get robbed, and yell at you if things are in their way. It’s a tough job being God. Lizzy Dening writes on iNews, “The Baby Boomer-designed world of The Sims seemed to guarantee concepts such as a ‘career ladder’ and homeownership which, two decades later, seem quaint to the majority of millennials.”

In quarantine, we all seem to be reverting back to childhood hobbies or interests. Whether it’s puzzles, coloring books, crafting, painting, or video games, we have all unlocked an area of our brain that’s hunkering down, investing time in a project, and watching the hours pass by. For me, and for many other folks, video games were an obvious option to indulge in.

As a kid, I was never interested in boys. I had an Alanis Morissette poster on my wall because I wanted to have sex with her, not because I idolized her. On the other hand, my obsession with dudes like Gavin Rossdale were because I wanted to be the disheveled rockstar, I didn’t want to kiss him. I wanted to run around with my shirt off playing guitar, too! But at such a tender age, in the conservative south, I never considered acting on my queerness. My first kiss was, in fact, a girl. We brushed it off as just practicing. But then I kissed a few more girls. In Sims after school, I would move to third base with my neighborhood Sim love interest (closely modeled after a real-life crush). For those of you who don’t know, it’s called woohooing in Sims world, and in the earlier game version, it all happened on a heart-shaped vibrating bed. I was officially a gaymer. Making out with a same-sex character on Sims was revolutionary for my child-brain. Queer moments with girls my age brought on feelings of shame, guilt, and confusion. I never talked about it with any of them, it’s almost as if it never happened. Even now, I’m viewed as a totally straight girl to almost all of my peers, coworkers, family, and friends. On Sims, I could—and still can—live out my queer fantasies. There were no rules for me and my Sims. We could live happily, freely, and gayly.

Electronic Arts released its cover art for The Sims 4 last year which featured the first same-sex lesbian couple. This new release also includes gender-neutral bathrooms and Pride month options in build mode. In my newest game on Sims 4, my child (named Strudel after my IRL cat) has a rainbow flag hanging in her room. Recently, Russia added R18+ onto Sims 4 due to their law restricting same-sex relationships to minors. The history of queer evolution in Sims has been growing. During the game’s original creation, openly gay engineer Jamie Doornbos went into the game’s code—totally rogue and without consulting anyone—and programmed the game to allow same-sex relationships. In the 1999 E.A. Expo, a demo of the game premiered an unplanned wedding with two same-sex characters who had fallen in love. They passionately kissed in front of a live audience and essentially changed queer characters in gaming forever. In 2009, The Sims 3 allowed gay marriage, preceding the legalization of real-life marriage equality by six years. Essentially, every Sim is bisexual. They can marry, cohabitate, woohoo, and have kids together. All of this is to say that The Sims franchise was radical in video games as the early 2000s were still uneasy about queerness. But it’s a queer world, after all.

Being gay was safe in Sims. Making my same-sex Sims ignite a relationship gave me the same feeling that I got when looking at the connection between Xena and Gabrielle (for reference, in case you forgot). It was thrilling to explore my sexuality and also just live a normal-ass life on a video game. What I think is so special about the game is that all of this queer living is happening in a cookie-cutter landscape, a suburban domestic lifestyle where Sims are assigned jobs, make money, and then die.

In my newest quarantine endeavor, I’ve downloaded the Hoe it Up mod which allows my Sims to be sex workers and perform sexual acts for cash. I’ve performed oral sex on a same-sex ghost who keeps lurking around my house. I’ve received compliments on anal play. And I’ve pole danced with a plate of spaghetti in my hands. My sex-positive queer identity is totally being gratified in my Sims paradise.

As an adult, I do consider myself a queer cis-woman who happens to currently be in love with a cis-man. I’ve experienced real-life woohooing with women so making that magic happen in Sims doesn’t carry the same weight of excitement that it used to. But every now and then, I find a new avatar to kiss and I’m brought back to the early emotions in my sexual awakening.

Whether it’s Sims Medieval or Sims Get Famous, you can catch me making out with the new hottie next door and getting into a brawl with my lover (polyamory isn’t entirely accepted yet). Sims not only creates the queer utopia I’ve been searching for, it includes the drama I don’t want IRL. The game offers any identity to pursue whatever lifestyle, appearance, and relationship they desire. The digital sphere has always been a safe haven for millennial queers, and I have The Sims to thanks for my early introduction.

Bow love depwa, Sims (translation: I love you, Sims). v

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