The Sims and Progressive Sexuality


The Sims series has always been much more progressive than it often gets credit for, despite its fairly tame image. Even from the original Sims game, released way back in 2000, it already catered for non-normative relationships. Whereas many game franchises are, for some reason, still finding the idea of non-heterosexual gaming characters unthinkable, every sim is technically bisexual, something which has been expanded on throughout the sequels. The most recent release, The Sims 4, has taken this progression of sexuality further. In previous incarnations there was a fairly strict monogamy system, in which sims would become jealous and hate one another when discovering the object of their affection was “woohoo”-ing with another. If The Sims can be turned into a reflection of life, then obviously this is not particularly useful if you want your sim to be polyamorous, or even date around before committing. Like its predecessors, The Sims 4 has pushed forward to reflect what are usually brushed off as “alternative relationships”.

A little look at The Sims’ history definitely demonstrates that this isn’t particularly new for the series. In the original game, sims could be directed equally easily to have a crush on and fall in love with other sims of either gender. Compare this with the controversy that Nintendo garnered with Tomodachi Life, and you have a stark difference between the two very similar games. In Tomodachi Life, released in 2014, you are encouraged to create an online “self”, and can pursue romantic relationships and marriages with others who have done the same. That is, as long as you’re straight. Nintendo maintained that they were trying to avoid a political statement by not allowing gay marriage within the game, although evidently inadvertently did the opposite, as The Sims have continually proven that this is not an issue for a life simulation game.

The discovery of infidelity in The Sims 2
The discovery of infidelity in The Sims 2

It’s no secret that that the 1950s stereotype of a gender normative heterosexual couple with a few kids on the side is no longer the most prominent family unit, nor is it the most desirable. While non-heterosexuality is by no means a norm, over the past few years it has become infinitely more accepted than ever before, at least in the western world. Sexual fluidity seems to be much more commonplace, in that people who may generally identify as heterosexual or homosexual can accept that there may be a point where they fall for someone of a gender that they may not necessarily have expected. A similar phenomena is happening with polyamory. Whilst many people have been, and are, open to dating several people at once, usually this kind of behaviour is stereotypically limited to young blokes who shag around. However, the act of having more than one fulfilling and emotional relationship simultaneously – with the others in the relationship in full knowledge of this – is slowly becoming more and more common, and more and more accepted (emphasis on slowly).

The acceptance of “alternative” relationships, and particularly bisexual and homosexual relationships, within video games has been a rocky road. Bizarrely there still seems to be some residual belief that only white heterosexual boys play video games, despite consistent and vehement opposition to this assumption, and so for some LGBTQ gamers it has felt like an uphill struggle. In recent years though, increasing numbers of games – both RPG and life simulation – that have started to include same-sex relationships. These relationships are treated as a non-issue, and are always an optional extra (as in, the player could choose to engage in a heterosexual relationship instead, if they wished to engage in a romantic relationship at all).

One could argue the point that, whilst The Sims does have the option to contradict the heterosexual and monogamous “norm”, compulsory heterosexuality is present throughout the games as a standard. The families that you meet in-game are all heterosexual bar one, so unless the player themselves decides that their sim isn’t going to maintain this “norm” then you wouldn’t really have contact with someone obviously non-heterosexual. This doesn’t seem to be advanced in The Sims 4, despite Russia taking umbrage with this particular incarnation of the game above any others. However, this latest game does now have a mod that allows same-sex couples to biologically reproduce, when they were only able to adopt previously. While there still seems to be a fair amount of ground to be covered when it comes to homosexual relationships being part of the “norm”, as well as how The Sims games represent non-cisgendered people, this is definitely a good platform to start with.

A joined union in The Sims
A joined union in The Sims

Out of all of the games, The Sims 2 probably furthered this idea that in-game homosexuality is not an issue most by allowing both heterosexual and homosexual couples to marry or enter into joined unions. In addition to this, in The Sims 2 package files, which were accessible via a cheat, you could see whether each individual sim had a preference for men, women, or no real preference at all. This made the game a much more authentic experience in terms of a sim’s autonomous personality, and made it almost as much of a trait as the personalities you could assign. While all the non-playable sims present as heterosexual (in that they aren’t in pre-programmed homosexual relationships), this showed that the player then would be in contact with a non-heterosexual sim without knowing it (much like in life). That being said, if you wanted a sim to sleep with – sorry, “woohoo” with – anyone of any gender, you still could enforce it with a few jokes and flirts, regardless of built-in sexual preference.

Making this kind of fluid attraction is one thing, but The Sims 4 has now taken this a step further. In a move that makes the Sim world even truer to life, The Sims 4 has changed the relationship dynamic of compulsory monogamy that was implemented in the previous games. In the past three incarnations, if your sim had any kind of romantic attachment to another sim then they would become extremely upset if they saw said sim involved in romantic behaviour with any other sim. This would mean that their previous relationship with the original sim was often damaged almost beyond repair. However, now there is the relationship status of “lovebirds”. The sims are not in a formal relationship, and if their other romantic activities are witnessed then there is only a minor jealousy penalty. There is also a reward trait for the serial lover aspiration that a sim will never make another sim jealous, so if you want to make a fairly serious Don Juan then you now have the freedom to do so.

Other games that allow the player to pursue romantic relationships often have a similar monogamy remit to the other Sim games, in that your character can only have romantic relations with one other person. In The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim, you have a huge selection of characters (male and female) that you can marry – but that’s all you can do. If you decide to commit to another character in game then you’re committing for life. Of course, if you change your mind you can kill off your beloved, but that can be a little awkward, especially if they’ve grown into a particularly powerful follower.

A wedding in Skyrim

Fable 2 is one exception to this rule. You can romance anyone and everyone to your heart’s content with kisses, dates, and a bit of thrusting. Outside of being hounded by lovesick villagers wherever you go, there is no penalty for this kind of polyamory. BioWare also recently announced plans for both polyamorous and asexual relationships, and the possibility that in-game relationships could fail. They stated that the only thing in their way was scripting, and so it seems like this could be a very real possibility in the next generation of games.

This kind of dynamic affords the player a lot more freedom. As in life, relationships are not always clean cut, and whilst there may be small amounts of jealousy if someone you sort-of dated gets with someone else at a party, it’s not going to entirely destroy the friendship between you. Sims can still only have one spouse, but it is possible to have multiple other partners without the world ending. This makes for a much more realistic experience and, let’s be honest, is great for the vicarious living which is exactly what games like The Sims are for. What’s the point of living a lavish life of fast cars and elaborate mansions if you end up getting a tongue-lashing and your bins periodically kicked over because you flirted with somebody in front of someone you forgot your sim had “woohoo”-ed with? It’s this vicarious living that is also so important for life simulators like The Sims. The game provides a safe space for LGBTQ+ exploration, and potentially polyamory exploration, without fear of discovery from internet or Netflix history, or being caught somewhere or with something that could attract gossip and could potentially be quite dangerous.

The Sims has shown again and again that gaming doesn’t have to be behind the cultural norm. Where Tomodachi Life felt that allowing a same-sex relationship in a life simulator would be a political statement, The Sims takes it as an unspoken option. No sim has to engage in homosexual behaviour, but the option is there. Now, with The Sims 4, no sim has to have multiple partners, but the option is there. This is in no way an attack on Tomodachi Life (or other games like it): Nintendo and EA come from different places with different cultural norms, and so it makes sense that their development and sense of these relationships may be different. However The Sims has consistently (and quietly) maintained a progressive movement in terms of sexuality. The genders may still be binary and the identities still quite restrictive, but The Sims is definitely in the lead with video games – and most other mainstream media – in terms of progress and acceptance for relationships that don’t necessarily conform to either heterosexuality or monogamy.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

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  1. tchortsunk

    It’s good to see all sexual orientations is becoming more socially acceptable across all platforms of media.

  2. Travis Ferdinand

    I think that with all the sexual orientations in the SIMS games it is still a great game where you can have a lot a fun.

  3. Having the same sex option left in there is probably the best thing that could have happened to the game, and there’s no doubt in my mind it contributed, at least in a small part, to the long term success of the series.

  4. This made The Sims that little bit more real…

  5. McBride

    Say what you will about EA, they’ve stuck by their games with marriage equality.

    I know Mass Effect 3 is controversial to a lot of people because of its ending, but EA also received a lot of flack and hate for standing behind the game when it was revealed ME3 would have same-sex relationships in it.

  6. Felipe Diaz

    Can’t wait to spend hours creating dozens of gay Sims all over again.

  7. Do you have a favourite depiction of homosexuality in videogames? Mine’s the gay firemen in Harvester (1996).

  8. Gil Mul

    Interesting article – I wonder what effect the ‘Russian’ rating of R+ had on sales in that country. Do we have Russian sales data on other games that feature homosexuality either as an option (mass effect) or in background references (borderlands 2)?

  9. The thing about the Sims is that samesex relationships and interactions between Sims have been feasible all the way since the very first instalment of Sims. This is because essentially, what the writers and coders of the Sims effectively did wasn’t to add code to permit same-sex relationships, but rather to leave out code prohibiting them, presumably in the original interest of keeping the codebase manageable and capable of fitting onto a single CD.

  10. One of my favorite things about Mass Effect and Dragon Age was my realisation that homosexual relationships were possible – even if I did not pursue them I liked knowing they were there.

    However, on the other hand, it was disappointing that Mass Effect allowed lesbian romance through all the games but didn’t add a gay option until the third.

    This (being more open to lesbian or bi women than gay or bi men) has been a trend across gaming.

    • Mainstream media in general tends to favour intimacy between two women than two men due to the women being a male fantasy.

  11. In the first game when I had two Sims of the same sex in the hot-tub and accidentally clicked on the option to kiss. I expected the other one to say they weren’t interested but I was wrong. I was more surprised than anything else, because I hadn’t done anything to try and pair them up in the first place. Apparently they must have just had hidden homosexual interests.

  12. mlopez55

    I enjoyed how your article touches on representation in games; it is a powerful tool that the game industry should take advantage of. Not only will big companies make us happy and include a wider audience into this lovely world of gaming, but they will also get what they want; which is a buttload of money. Being Mexican-American, I won’t mind a Mexican protagonist that isn’t a stereotype Mexican. More Women, More genders, more ethnic backgrounds woould only help the Gaming community!Your article really got me thinking, THANKS.

  13. Quote fascinating how a game community that does not consist mainly of teenage boys can be so mature about homosexuality.

  14. It’s weird to think when you have homosexual relationships in a simulated reality then it’s perfectly fine but introduce it into someone’s favourite fictional world then there might be problems.

  15. TYon Ryn

    I am wondering… is it really only a big deal on certain games because the creators of said games felt the need to announce the inclusion of same sex relationships?

    I mean, it shouldn’t need to be announced any more than heterosexual relationships are.

  16. I am surprised that people still make it some kind of big deal… it was “just there” in Sims since Sims 2 (in fact, with the right programs, one could see the preference a sim had for the genders. Default was a slight favor of the opposite one)

  17. Well, the thought that The Sims has always included same-gender relationships and (practically) no one has ever commented on it has always made me feel a little bit better about humanity.

  18. Buuuut.. Where’s the option to play a trans sim? With all the pills and surgeries and genetic lotteries and interaction difficulties that go with it?

  19. I wish you could choose sexual orientation in the sims. It is kinda frustrating when a sim based on yourself goes and hooks up with a sim based on your best friend when you aren’t looking…

  20. Mette Marie Kowalski

    This is so interesting! I used to love playing the SIMS when I was younger and yeah, I guess it was sort of helpful in exploring sexuality. I don’t remember my SIMS making out with same gendered ones but still, we used to make them flirt even though they were in relationships. I never realized it but it’s actually a very progressive game.

  21. When I first discovered you could have homosexual relationships in The Sims, I was surprised for a moment, but only in that it was a feature, but also that it’s so bloody seamless.

  22. If these video games are going for accurate life portrayal, then by all means former partners should be upset when they see you with another. Sure, its just a game, but taking out the negative aspects of sleeping around reinforce a cultural norm that I believe is destructive. I understand that these games seek entertainment value, so that has to be factored in as well.

    • NiniYeah

      Why in the world would a former partner be upset if they saw you with a new spouse? Also, it is clearly stated that there is an option where two people who are not exclusive can flirt with others sims with only minor jealousy occurring, which is a realistic average of what could happen. And while there are enough close minded people out there, it is really about time that poly relationships are made possible, because it is happening in real life often enough.

  23. Jessica M Farrugia

    This is such a relevant article, thanks Hannah!

  24. Jemarc Axinto

    I was always more of a SIMS city fan myself. But I’m intrigued that the game can be so progressive. Great article

  25. The real problem here is not if there is heterosexual/homosexual relationships within a game but that to many game developers that need to lay of the porn. The whole cover of “it’s realism” is such a crock. To many games these days are over sexualized and really take away from the game’s story rather than add to it. What is sad is that we are more interested in having sex/relationships in a game rather than having a well told, and well written story.

  26. Fascinating article. An avid Sim-er myself, I never really looked into the larger LGBT ramifications of the game before. But the vicarious nature of simulated life is certainly something I can relate to. And I agree that this simulation does serve as a safe space for those in question.

  27. This is great! I’ve been a Sim-er since age twelve and have always appreciated the game’s openness to different lifestyles. Looks like they’re making more progress with every new addition. Maybe next, all clothing will be available to both genders? Or there will be a non-gendered option? It would be cool since many people do not identify as typical male or female.

  28. Very interesting article. It seems that all sexual orientations are becoming increasingly accepted in more areas than one. Funny that video games is one of those areas, but still, I enjoyed the thoughtfulness in this article.

  29. I definitely think the cultural norms do vary per video games. Mass Effect 3 is another example of a game that allows homosexuality. I definitely think this is a progressive move and one that should be more widely accepted.

  30. Interesting article. I liked that you pointed out that the SIMS subtle inclusion of non-heteronormative options was more of a neutral stance than voicing political neutrality like Tomodachi Life. Ironically, this inclusion by the SIMS made a progressive step whereas Tomodachi Life saw backlash with their announcement of exclusion.

  31. This was a thought provoking article and a great discussion board.
    It made me think of how helpful having a game like the Sims was growing up gay in a rural area. Having little or no LGBT influence until I reached college, the Sims was one of the first and only representations of the culture I had seen. While some people may not agree with the morals of the game, for any reason, I think that the less restrictive programming has the potential to allow people to prepare differently for situations much in the same way playtime is good for children to learn new social skills or dreams are thought to play out our concerns during REM sleep as a means of preparation for our daily lives.

    I grew up in a family with ten granddaughters and no grandsons and spent much of my time with my cousins. Is there a difference between my cousins and I taking turns pretending to be the dad or brother in a childhood game of house vs. the different role playing within the Sims?

    Perhaps the focus on ‘woohoo’ in general is a bit much but then there is the social contract to consider. We have ratings for games for a reason. Maturity should be taken into consideration when choosing games for yourself and your children. But, as a teambuilding professional, having a safe space to make miatakes and work out conflict free from judgment is an invaluable tool of the experiential learning process for both children and adults.

  32. Fantastic article! I think it is really great that The Sims has had this feature for quite a bit of time now, and that others can follow in their footsteps. The world is a different place than it was 20, 30, 40 years ago. It is great to see some change throughout games and the media.

  33. Jess B.

    The Sims has always been incredibly progressive in the area of homosexuality. I will be interested to see how polyamorous relationships affect the game.

  34. kellyfay

    I love the way the Sims 4 did this and it made me extremely happy to see the progression. I wish that Skyrim did allow for more activity and interaction with married NPC’s. I was impressed that they give you free reign over which gender you decide to marry; I think that’s fantastic. I just wish there was more you could do with your new spouse (not even from a sexual standpoint, just in general with social interaction).

  35. Liz Havens

    I loved that this article brought up the evolution of the progressive relationships in the Sims. It is one of those “art imitates culture or vice versa” kind of things. I think Sims is a great example of how positively rlationship and sexuality option can be in gaming. I can only hope that other games will continue to allow free exploration of sexuality in a safe space as the Sims has so successfully done in the past.

  36. In Skyrim, you actually can’t remarry after killing or having your spouse killed. Even if you wear the amulet of Mara, no one will have the dialogue option of marriage. Bethesda has a very limited role in making their games about relationships. In fact, Bethesda’s Fallout series doesn’t even offer you the chance to get married although you do have bigger problems like dealing with the post-nuclear apocalyptic world. Their games are more centered on the story line and quests and it seems Bethesda has no interest in making their games about those kinds of personal life choices.

  37. The Sims has been progressive, always. I think it was more of a joke for some gamers when it first came out but now that society has changed, so has the seriousness of the Sims progressive sexuality.

  38. Jake Pavao

    Having always played The Sims from the very first game on PC I never felt that it was any sort of political statement, it was more just a part of the game. Every good creator leaves their creation up for the interpretation of others, and as a life simulation it only makes sense that Maxis never posed restrictions on sexuality.

  39. I played Sims as a kid and I think that it was part of the reason I was so open to same-sex relationships as a child. Of course I wouldn’t see a couple and think, “this is like The Sims” but it made it normal for me and very easy to accept. So this video game helped give me this way of thinking for a child, I think more casual representation is needed in all forms of media.

  40. Emily Deibler

    Awesome article! I’m a huge fan of Sims 2 and 3, so it’s wonderful to hear that polyamorous relationships are possible without someone getting mad and knocking over trashcans and stealing newspapers. Maneuvering that situation without mods is difficult. I would also be interested in the Sims implementing nonbinary gender options.

  41. I’m pretty sure the whole thing started from a mistake. apparently when they were going to showcase the game at a festival before it was launched they took the old version with them, not the version in which they already had decided to delete same sex attraction. because there was a scene in the promo video of two men kissing, unintentionally there (?) a lot of talk happened around the game really early. might be a reason for its success straight from the beginning. this is just a story I heard 🙂

  42. As a genderfluid, polyamorous person, I am rather pleased with the Sims and its progressiveness, but I think it could definitely go a lot farther than it has so far.

    I understand that EA may not be inclined to add those features in this game, but if they do, then I would certainly be willing to buy that EP at full price (although personally I believe it should just be patched into the base game at no cost, but that doesn’t seem likely).

  43. The Sims 2 was always my favourite game and, with some very careful playing, I did successfully maintain a triangular relationship in it despite the jealousy mechanic. All three Sims living in the same home but none of them married.
    Pushing the boundaries of what is possible has always been my video game play style. As in my real relationships.

  44. Love your article, and thought it was really in depth. I’d love to see more expansion in polyamory and such. Maybe an in-built setting where we can set whether a relationship is exclusive or not?

    I wrote an article on similar themes, but it’s not as in depth. But if anyone wants to check it out, here’s a link:

  45. I think it’s interesting that one thing the author commented on is how there are only binary genders. And now, while still not having a nonbinary option, you can modify the body of your Sims so that it doesn’t match the expectations for a specific gender which is great in my opinion.

  46. Samantha Leersen

    Reading this, it is interesting to see how much more inclusive the game has gotten in the years since its initial release!

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