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Why We Need Disability Representation in 'The Sims 4'

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I’ve been a fan of “The Sims” game series for quite a while and recently began to play “The Sims 4.” Although it’s been out a while, I tend to wait for more features to be added before getting into a game. I was quite surprised at the amount of skin tones, facial features and body types you can achieve in the latest version of the game. You can even start to see the beginnings of the game playing with gender, since you can alter a male Sim’s body to look quite feminine and give that Sim feminine clothes to wear.

But something feels increasingly missing in “The Sims,” especially now we have such a variety of options to choose from, and that’s disability. “Sims 4” is a game about life, and although it has fantasy elements to it like vampires, disabled people are nowhere to be seen, which feels a little off.

Maxis, the makers of “The Sims” have recently confirmed they are actively looking into adding disabled Sims into the game, but they seem cautious and want to do it properly, which I believe is a good thing. They seem to not want it to come across as a joke and handle it with sensitivity in mind. Sim Guru Grant Rodiek says they have ideas on how to do Simlish (the Sims’ spoken language) in sign language, adding different social options into the game to represent this. He also said they would not charge for it, which I feel is important in trying to do this with some sensitivity, adding to the game via an update rather than as an expansion or game pack.

Many fans of the game seem quite interested in the idea of disabled Sims, with a lot of enthusiasm for the idea. At the moment a lot of players of “Sims 4” seem disappointed at their lack of options to represent themselves and the lives they lead. As someone with fibromyalgia, I want to be represented. I know having my condition in the game would be difficult since it isn’t the most visual disability, often being referred to as “invisible.” Perhaps making my Sim walk slower, needing to sleep more, or find mundane things painful could be enough to fulfill this representation. They could also add crutches and walking sticks as options.

Some Sims players aren’t too keen on the idea of disabled Sims being added, saying that they are more into the fantasy side of the game and use it as an escape from their real lives, including their disabilities. I can certainly respect that point of view, but here’s the thing, you can still do that with disabilities included. It would merely be an option, and not one you’d have to include in your game.

Some people also worry that regardless of how much thought is put into it, people would still see disabilities in the game as a joke. Browse through the “Sims 4” gallery and you can find silly uploads from many creators, many just fun and games, but some could be deemed offensive and perhaps disability would merely add fuel to the fire there. However, I feel the benefits of disability options would far outweigh these possible drawbacks. Anyone who is going to make a joke at the expense of disability will do it using their own mods with or without “Sims 4” designers including it in their game. That’s a problem for that individual to square with themselves, not an excuse to deny representation to the disabled community.

Moreover, looking at the gallery for disabled Sims at the moment, you can already find some creations people have made out of the available options, including blind Sims and service dogs for them, stationary wheelchairs and disabled friendly homes (with ramps and bars on the walls). None of these are done insensitively or as a joke.

Something else to consider is whether the game should or could represent mentally disabled Sims in a way that isn’t offensive. Again, I think they should concentrate on symptoms if they do want to go down that road, although I recognize it is a difficult road to tread. “Sims 4” can be modded and there are already mods available to give your Sims depression or put them on the autism spectrum which are done pretty well. The developers could look at these and the user feedback on them for ideas.

Another worry is that there are so many disabilities it would be difficult for a game to represent them all. While that is true, many disabilities have similar symptoms that overlap with other conditions, so perhaps the game developers should concentrate on those. For example, wheelchair use is the result of many conditions and could be implemented easily to represent a wide variety of disabilities. The game might not be able to represent every condition down to every symptom, but with thoughtful planning I feel a wide variety will be able to be represented.

People have also brought up whether Sims would able to be born with disabilities, and again this is a difficult issue Guru Grant says he’s unsure how to address. While it would be closer to life and give representation to families with disabled children, others could find it upsetting if they play for escapism. Since this could happen more randomly, they might not get a choice in whether to experience it. But they could create an option to turn this feature off, just as you can turn off aging if you wish.

I feel including disabilities in “The Sims 4” would be a positive step towards representation. I respect that the steps towards this goal are being taken slowly and carefully. I would love to represent my life more accurately in the Sims and also have more options for others. I feel like the lack of disabled Sims, the fact I never see someone rolling down the road in a wheelchair or holding a cane is bizarre, and there’s a hole that needs to be filled.

“The Sims” is a game about life and disabilities are a part of that, for better or for worse, so they should be an option for players to choose. I am really excited for the prospect of disabled Sims in my game. Make it happen, Maxis!

Photo via Maxis.

Originally published: March 27, 2019
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