Sexually Transmitted Information

One of the charms of The Sims franchise is its ability to allow me to control much of its world and meaning. As I stated in my last post, this all does exist in a boundary and rules must apply, and it’s those that have caught my attention through my last playthrough (even though I was particularly interested in using it as comfort gaming–critical failure or success?). So, what does one do with sexuality in this series, and why has it succeeded where many others are afraid to tread?

Effectively, all Sims are pansexual. You can tell a Sim to make out with another Sim, and if there exists an attraction, a suitable relationship score, and their needs aren’t all in the red, the Sims will proceed to lock lips. Even if my Sim goes through most of his or her Sim life married to the opposite sex, I can tempt said Sim with a member of the same sex and there you go. The opposite is also true.

Does this make the Sim bisexual? Perhaps gay? How are we to tell?

The answer is quite simple, though still confusing in its simplicity in a medium that does not usually have many options as such: it depends on the narrative we, the player, wish to provide. This is an example of game design that puts meaning in the player’s hands, and is not represented fully in the game. If it were to be wholly transcribed by the game, we’d have to examine things much further, and the ability for everyone to be sexually attracted to everybody would likely be a confusing mess. Instead, what might happen is a further customization option that makes us choose sexuality of our Sim, much as we choose their turn-ons and -offs when they become teenagers.

In this capacity, we find a very progressive model of sexuality. We still are not entirely sure of what comprises sexuality, the whole nature vs. nurture argument still raging. There also exists sexuality that is fluid and changes in a lifetime, and The Sims 2 allows for such switching, if I choose to provide this meaning to it. Of course, I also have the option to just say, “Nah, they’re all pansexual–I can’t be arsed to think that hard about it.”

However, notice how I said that the Sims are effectively pansexual, not bisexual, until we provide meaning to their sexual attractions? Sex, that of the male or female variety, has also intrigued me in The Sims (much as ‘race’ did in the first title, for many of the same reasons I’ll be discussing). Sex in the game is extremely functional. Males can urinate standing, women can have children (without the aid of alien abduction), and that is effectively the difference between the two.

Have two Romance Sims who happen to be male and female? Neither one of them is less ‘horny’ than the other, and both will want to Woohoo with increasingly more Sims. Pay and positions in a career are equal, there exists no difference in ability to gain body points, and neither is effectively better than the other in skills. So what grabs my attention?

The clothing and hair options that the default game packages. Beyond pregnancy and the ability to copulate effectively with each other based on having two Sims of opposing sex, there still exists coding to make sure that female and male Sims cannot select each others’ clothes to wear. While it would be amusing to dress up a drag Sim occasionally, the female fashion is what typically annoys me (female fashion in a game I find annoying? How shocking!). Thankfully, the modding community exists, and if I wanted to do so, I could learn the tools myself and make my own clothing.

No, what is noteworthy is that there exists a barrier between males and females purely based on fashion akin to how we typically associate babies with either blue or pink based on their sex (though it isn’t quite as dire in this game). Females are allowed skirts and dresses, men aren’t (though they do have kilts). Otherwise, the Sims are quite egalitarian of their treatment of each other–again, unless stated to act otherwise.

There is also no prescribed behavior for any of The Sims. Males are not all macho, females are not all obsessed with fashion and babies. It varies, and left to their own devices, I find it hard to distinguish their behaviors as attributed to their sex. If they have a gender, it is again up to me to provide that particular function of their personality.

Which makes me ponder again the success of the franchise. Many have just waved it off as a ‘female game’ that appeals to those who played with dolls at an earlier age. Beyond the sexist implications in this assertion, it seems to just write off its success with a simple solution. Considering what I’ve said thus far, I wonder if perhaps some of this success can be attributed to the fact that it is a game where the player, regardless of sex, is fully in the control of the character, and not some script that includes a role for a busty lass.

In other words, you have to tell the story–the game does not provide it for you, nor the baggage that can come with it. After all, by their lonesome, can Sims really said to have a gender or sexuality? Are these concepts purely action driven in our own world? Food for thought.

About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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5 Responses to Sexually Transmitted Information

  1. I had the same realization about the clothing options in Rock Band. Even in the Goth clothing section there are no skirts for male characters, which seems kind of odd to me. Despite the prevalence of androgyny in certain genres of rock, it’s very difficult to make a truly androgynous male character. (Not sure about making an androgynous female character as I haven’t created a female character yet.)

  2. Denis Farr says:

    Thanks, I keep forgetting I had these thoughts about <>Rock Band 2<>. Additionally, I find the performances given by the two sexes to be fascinating. I need to sit down and just watch them, but always get distracted by the gameplay.It is odd that artists such as David Bowie, Garbage, and the like are represented but any hints to androgyny are really quelled. There are the high-blown fashion items I tend to use, which offer a different look, but not everyone wants to replicate Falco’s <>Rock Me Amadeus<>.

  3. Chris Lepine says:

    This post got me thinking. When we don’t have (m)any constraints for action in a game… ie. when it is a free-for-all… can we still create meaningful narratives for our characters?You mention “I find it hard to distinguish their behaviors as attributed to their sex” – that seems to be pretty important. Because if I can’t distinguish them based on their sex, it becomes a little difficult to ground my sexual narratives in something. For instance, there isn’t any “deviant” or “conformist” behavior in the Sims – they just ‘do’ stuff. I’m happy to wave away the deep-seated ethical/moral constraints that Western civilization has enacted for centuries (ie. chauvinism), but without some kind of boundaries I’m not sure how my Sim’s sexual behaviour is meaningful in any way. I can only tell a narrative about her/him if s/he is “special” or noteworthy in some way – I get the sense that pansexuality does not really make room for really creative behaviour. I’d more prefer my Sim being extremely perverse, vis-a-vis some moral proscription. Or s/he is the ultimate conformist, superficial and emotionally empty inside!Sounds a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it resonates a bit more to real life for me. I don’t *know* anyone that is truly a sexual relativist… they all have their values grounded in some kind of moral framework, even if to only critique it.Thanks for the post. Wonderful stuff!

  4. Denis Farr says:

    @Chris: Is it possible to not bring meaningful narrative to it? My last gameplay has shown me that what I often thought as mindless gaming while playing Sims 2 was merely me relaxing. In fact, I invested a lot in making up reasons for why the Sims were doing such things, and would often relate their stories to friends off whom I’d based them. It seemed somehow indicative of their personalities.As for sex. I suppose it depends on how we wish to view it. Have you ever read Ursula K. LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness? The human who visits the alien planet finds it hard to fathom that in order to have sex these typically asexual beings would take on certain aspects to make it possible: one would be more receptive, the other more of a transmitter (they did not view it as feminine or masculine, but the human did). In what do we have to ground our sexual activity? I feel the Sims could be an amusing grounding point for exploring our own thoughts on the matter.Do we invest anything in the sexual activity? While I cannot invest in their sexuality, the act itself can be meaningful, can it not?Of course, I do find the Sims rather tame in their sexual explorations, so the limit would become quickly known there. This would attribute much to how you stated in the comments of my previous post how there is something to be said for the cutesy attribute they give entire context of the act, even naming it Woohoo! It seems more a purely jubilant view of what sex can mean, not giving it any shades or textures.

  5. Brett Gann says:

    I do find it interesting that sex functions largely the same as reality (perhaps slightly reinforced since hermaphroditism isn’t possible), but gender functions solely as a fashion dichotomy. Sorta weird.Apparently, however, the game design limits lesbian couples from conceiving but permits the homosexual male couples to conceive through the intervention of aliens.Personal story:Sim Me totally got knocked up by an alien and had a son named Darvo. He went on to be a straight A student and quite promiscuous. He later had a child with a women before marrying a man. He was later abducted himself and had a second baby.There is no apparent difference between half-aliens (on one side) and three-quarter-aliens. There are, however, differences between half-aliens (on one side) and quarter-aliens or half-aliens (on both sides).

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