I’ve been playing The Sims franchise since The Sims 2 era -- just long enough to attribute it to my own coming out -- and I've witnessed firsthand how it has evolved its representation of LGBTQIA+ relationships and identities through the years. The games have always included same-sex romance, with each iteration building on the foundation of the last.
A brief look at history of the franchise’s LGBT inclusion shows us that the incredible new The Sims 4 sexual orientation update has been a long time coming and is a major step forward for LGBT representation in The Sims.
History Of The Sims Sexual Orientation Settings
Sims in the original The Sims could have same-sex relationships and complete a "move in" option together that functioned the same way as the "marriage" interaction, however two Sims of the same sex could not get married. The original game first released in 2000, so it's unsurprising that it was a reflection of the world during the time when real same-sex couples couldn't marry either. However, the early iterations of The Sims were firmly rooted in whimsy, so it does make you wonder why they couldn't include marriage in this fantastical life simulator.
That said, when The Sims 2 released in 2004 there had been a few key changes that improved how same-sex couples were regarded in-game. Same-sex relationships were still possible, just as they were in the original, but now couples could take the next step equivalent to marriage and create a "joined union." The Sims 2 also has a predetermined gender preference for Sims that -- when cheats are activated -- lets players know which gender the Sim is more or less attracted to. Despite being an interesting mechanic, we never see the same chemistry system again throughout the rest of the franchise.
The Sims 3 was by far the most "normalized" rendition of same-sex relationships, meaning they didn't have a lot of special characteristics or actions because they were seemingly regarded equally to heterosexual Sim relationships. It even allowed for same-sex couples to be married, not just a joined union, referring to spouses as "husbands" and "wives" instead of just "partners." This means The Sims 3 acknowledged marriage equality in 2009, but we still had to wait until 2015 for it to become universally recognized in the United States. Talk about being ahead of the times!
Leading up to The Sims 4, same-sex relationships were largely defined in very binary terms, and same-sex relationships functioned the same way as heterosexual ones. Thanks to continuous updates, The Sims 4 has the most robust gender options in Create-A-Sim out of any other The Sims game. Players can customize many different aspects of their Sim's gender presentation, including whether a Sim can get pregnant or impregnate other Sims.
It's important to note that gender presentation, identification, and pronouns don't automatically equal sexual orientation, which is applicable to both Sims and real people. However, The Sims 4's base game updates have made it easier to tell more gender-diverse stories in-game, which in turn can lead to how their players can depict all aspects of their Sims' lives playing out.
The Sims 4 Sexual Orientation Update Details
From the start of The Sims 4, Sims could have their romantic preferences "molded" to that of the same or opposite gender based on player actions. Thanks to The Sims 4 sexual orientation update, players will be able to select their Sims' sexual orientation in Create-A-Sim and customize who their Sim is interested in romantically, who their Sim is interested in WooHooing (messing around with for teen Sims), and even select if the Sim is uninterested in WooHoo altogether.
The Sexual Orientation selection is located in the same box as the Gender selections. Attraction simply means that your Sim is attracted to whatever the selection is, with players being able to check both "men" and "women" or leaving both boxes unchecked for no attraction whatsoever. Romantic exploration has a "yes" or "no" selection, with the option for players to have more mutable sexual orientation journeys.
The options for Sims interested in WooHoo are the same as the Attraction selection, with "men" or "women" available as checkboxes. Players who want to tell an Asexual storyline could leave all options unchecked and never pursue romance or have all romantic actions performed on them fail. Aromantic Sims are now possible as well, as players can leave the Attraction selections unchecked but then check a box (or boxes) for WooHoo interest.
Thanks to The Sims 4 sexual orientation update, Sims will now be able to ask close friends to be WooHoo Partners. This is a way to better represent Aromantic Sims, but can also be a great "friends with benefits" mechanic for more storytelling opportunities. If players are uninterested in setting individual Sexual Orientation preferences in The Sims 4, Sims will continue to keep their previous romance behavior from before the update.
For now, the attraction, romance, and WooHoo selections follow the gender binary of men/women, but Senior Designer and Lead Designer SimGuruJessica explained that this is because, mechanically speaking, nonbinary Sims don't yet exist in The Sims 4. Players can still have nonbinary Sims in-game because of the pronouns update, but there still seems to be some work to be done when it comes to actually implementing nonbinary as a gender identity like man or woman.
Nonbinary identities are precisely outside of the gender binary (hence the name). Though it's technically a gender identity, the whole point is that nonbinary people don't identify with either gender, so putting it next to options like "man" or "woman" is a bit of an oxymoron. It might, however, be necessary for more diverse LGBTQIA+ representation given the limitations of The Sims 4.
Where Does The Sims 4 Sexual Orientation Update Go From Here?
SimGuruJessica has already stated this update is essentially a version 1.0 and that the team wants to hear from players as The Sims 4 continues to add more diverse, equitable, and inclusive options. What's most important about The Sims 4 sexual orientation update is the answer to the question, "Can I turn this feature off?" from the deep dive into the new feature:
"No. While we try to give players the option to toggle certain gameplay features, LGBTQIA+ identities are a fact of life and not a toggle to be switched on and off."
The Sims has always seemed to care for LGBT identities in-game, but The Sims 4 has continually shown its dedication to not only showcasing LGBTQIA+ stories, but doing so in a way that's meaningful and respectful. As someone whose experiences with The Sims 2 helped in exploring and accepting my own sexuality and identity, this is an incredible stance for The Sims team to take and warms my little Queer heart.
There's still a ways to go until all LGBTQIA+ identities are properly showcased in The Sims 4, but the sexual orientation update is a win, and I can't wait to see how The Sims evolves to be more diverse and inclusive.