Simulation games are sold on the accuracy of their representations, but it’s as much the parts they fake that define them. Few games try to simulate more than The Sims games, which recreate every progressive euphemism we have about love, work, and family. And few games feel as self-consciously fake either. The Sims 4 is an extension of the beloved fantasy about life in America, a fandango of shopping, working, defecating, and making woohoo in a suburban utopia where Simolians and skill points make the block go round. In The Sims world even being sad is a source of happiness, with abjection transformed into a slapstick pantomime.
At a demo of the much-anticipated sequel, I asked Maxis ’s PR Manager, Charlie Sinhaseni, about how the studio determines what’s appropriate for inclusion in the game. “We’re not really looking for realism, we’re looking more for believability,” he told me. “It’s kind of a model of life with things like death and aging, but we don’t do things like broken bones and bleeding. It’s just not the kind of thing our game demands.”
One of the special areas of focus in The Sims 4 is improving the Create-A-Sim feature, adding more details to alter the appearance of a Sim with a less stereotypical ways of representing different ethnicities. As he showed me the tool, creating an Asian character that does indeed appear less cartoonish, I wondered if there’d ever been discussions on coding racial awareness into the game systems themselves. Has racism or ethnic group identification ever been something the team has considered building into the game, I ask.
“It gets to the point where it crosses a line,” Sinhaseni told me. “Our game is kind of a caricature of life. We don’t really have a message—there’s no racism message, there’s no tolerance message. We have same-sex marriage in our game. Our Sims will not discriminate based on gender preference whatsoever. But there’s a line where it becomes too real. The only manner of hatred we have in the game is between incompatible Sims, something that’s driven by the traits of the Sim—a hotheaded Sim, or a Sim who hates children.“