The Sims Team shared progress on the work they’ve done for the upcoming Customizable Pronouns feature coming to The Sims 4 during their Inside Maxis Livestream.
The team collaborated with GLAAD, It Gets Better and EA’s Localization Team experts to learn why Customizable Pronouns are important, as well as what challenges they have to overcome in order to turn this feature into realization!
Since the team shared some valuable insight on the importance, challenges and progress of creating this feature I thought it would be valuable to transcribe the whole interview with the team and share it here!
SimGuruDuck – The Sims Producer (he/him): Back in May of last year you’ll know that we announced our pursuit of customizable pronouns in The Sims 4. We promised to do a fireside chat with you all and give you a status update on where we are on the production process.
Today we’ll share some insights into our process of adding customizable pronouns to The Sims 4. We know that this feature is near and dear to many of you as it is to us as well. In our world today we believe that gender neutrality plays a critical part in working towards a fully inclusive society. The Sims continues to evolve and we as a team continue to learn and work on making our game more inclusive step-by-step, day by day. We need to acknowledge that we messaged you with terminology on non-binary pronouns. We do want to acknowledge that gender neutral pronouns are not just for non-binary people and we’re going to continue to share the work to you on customizable pronouns moving forward.
As you know, this is a work in progress. We’re sharing with you stuff that’s happening as it comes and as we take this journey together we’re really excited to take you behind the scenes today and show you where we’re at in production.
The importance of pronouns for gender neutral inclusion
SimGuruDuck (he/him): In our conversations with you and your team as well as our partners including GLAAD, in addition to It Gets Better, we discussed what it means for The Sims to be gender neutral. Pronouns are an important element of gender neutral inclusivity but certainly not the finish line.
Rae Sweet – It Gets Better (they/them): Exactly. Taking a step back and looking at the society as a whole we can’t just stop at incorporating pronoun usage in our day-to-day. It has to go much deeper than that. There’s an internal process. There’s a difference in memorizing pronouns and unlearing the gender binary, gender roles and expectations, and really understanding the complexity of every human’s identity, expressions and experience. Alongside that internal work in fully understanding and accepting the gender spectrum, we need to continue to implement policies and structures and protections and systems that support this internal understanding. Our society needs to be built in a way that can adapt to this ever evolving realm of identities and the experiences that come along with that. The Sims can work in a really beautiful way toward reflecting that evolution. It’s a virtual world where you get to be who you want to be and I think that’s such a unique position to be in to be a guiding light in how we can build that kind of world in real life.
SimGuruDuck (he/him): …with that being said, we know that this feature will not make The Sims 4 100% gender neutral. We still have the selection for male and female in CAS, even with this feature. As we’ve learned in our investigations with you and working on this game over the years there are many complex systems involved in creating a Sim. Even looking at gender neutral language only, we’re aware that the ultimate freedom would be the ability to combine any binary or non binary pronouns in either gendered or gender-neutral language.
To give an example, let’s say that some might use he/him pronouns, but that person wants to use gender neutral lenguage and refer to themselves as spouse or sibiling versus husband or brother.
Going back to pronouns they are still an important piece when it comes to inclusivity with The Sims.
Rae Sweet (they/them): Absolutely. I think that’s a very important point. Although there’s so much work that we’ll always be continuing to do, pronouns are super important. Our language shapes the world around us and how we interact with the world. Recognizing and incorporating and practicing what I like to call conceous pronoun usage is really a crucial step towards shaping it all. Not only does it include but celebrates transgender and gender-expansive people. At It Gets Better we work with a wonderful of youth voices which is a group of LGBTQ+ ages 13-18 and some of them play The Sims! I just know that they’re gonna be so excited to see a feature like this where they can be reflected in the game and they can be their true authentic versions of themselves in-game. That’s how I personally was able to figure out my gender identity – in an environment that gave me the option to try on new pronouns. The day that I tried on they/them pronouns for the first time was the day I was first ever able to recognize myself in the mirror. Which as you can imagine is life changing. I just know that giving people a space to play in The Sims and play with pronouns and be who they want to be just gives them so much room to explore and find themselves and be their true authentic selves. Especially in a society where they might not be able to in real life.
Rachel Gilbert – The Sims Game Designer (they/them): Pronouns are a really important step for me. At least for just my experience.
I’ve played The Sims for years before I came out. I’ve used The Sims to play around with my gender identity because I wasn’t sure, as I didn’t know for a really long time. Always trying to figure that out and see what would feel different. The core thing I have is when I have a really tough day I unwind and let myself feel better and feel safe and secure. When I go to the save that is me in Henford-in-Bagley and going to see my foxes and chickens I’m just like “I’m safe here, I’m good”. No one is going to discriminate against me, no one is going to be weird, everything is going to be cool and it’s all gonna be fine.
I just think adding pronouns to the game are gonna make that game feel even more welcoming and kind and it’s really validating to see your pronouns. I really can’t underscore that enough. It’s reassuring and it’s like a little checkbox – we’re all good here, we know who we are. I’m really excited about that and even more excited to make characters since I’m a character making person with lots of unique pronouns to represent the world that I want to see and surround myself in. I’m really excited about it!
Linguistic considerations of bringing Customizable Pronouns to The Sims 4
SimGuruDuck (he/him): Another important aspect is we need to consider how pronouns work in 18 different languages that The Sims 4 is being translated into. There’s no one solution for all but we need to be mindful of gramatical issues that each of those languages have.
Let’s take the example of the adjective “perfect”. In English you may refer to a non-binary person and say “they are perfect”. However this might not work for other languages that have adapted to the gender of the person. An example of this is in Spanish that there is no gender neutral for the world “perfect”. It’s either “perfecta” or “perfecto” with female and male respectively. “They are perfect” as a gender neutral option also does not translate for languages where the plural pronoun is gender. For example, in Polish, the pronoun for a male or a mix-gendered group of people is “idealni” and for the pronoun for the female group of people is “idealne”.
Veronica Morales (she/her) – Lead EA Localization: There’s no common solution for all the territories. This is the first conclusion that we came to when we started doing some research on how the different langauges work.
It has to be treated and broken down to the specifics of the language because culture regulations and the language itself have a great impact on how this topic is handled in the different regions. Linguistically speaking all different sides of the spectrum are represented in the languages The Sims are localized into. Some languages have an officially accepted and ready to use non-binary pronouns. For instance Swedish – they have “hen” which would work. For other terittories however the problems are not being included in the dictionaries which proves that languages are evolving and accepting of this new language which is changing over time. In case for French with the pronoun “yel” which was recently accepted in their dictionary.
Some countries such as Germany, Spain and Brazil – communities have started using non-binary grammar in the syntax systems. These are not officially accepted but they are being used by a part of the society and they feel comfortable with this grammar and system and syntax systems.
On other side of the spectrum we have terittories with strict regulations and laws which the use of non binary pronouns can be quite challenging. It’s important to point out the reachness of the languages and for those teritorries which face some challenges there are some ways to resolve these. For instance we can use the passive voice in order to avoid referrencing the subject. Instead of saying “they sent me a letter yesterday” you can say “the letter was sent yesterday”.
Another workaround would be to substitude the gender pronoun with the action name of the character or avoid using the pronoun in languages with information and where binaries are present in their form.
These are just some workarounds to name a few.
Overall it’s most important that the linguistic approach that we go for has to sound natural in the context and it has to feel real to the players and at the same time respectful. This is what we are working towards and we have spent some time informing ourselves and also creating some inclusive language guides for everyone involved in the linguistic process. The aim of this guide is to set some basis and some recommendations on how these linguistic challenges can be sorted or can be changed or updated.
SimGuruDuck (he/him): For this first iteration of this feature we will focus on English first. But, rest assured other language support will be added as we continue to update and improve the feature over time.
Work in Progress Preview at Customizable Pronouns
SimGuruFelix – The Sims Experience Designer (he/him): As you all know this is a pretty recognizable screen – this is in CAS. One thing that you probably noticed in the top left is that something is different. As you remember before, currently in the game it says “Hello, My Name Is”. What I’ve changed and added here is “Hello, My Name and Pronouns Are…”. This is because I feel in real life this is how we generally introduce ourselves – to say our name and then our pronouns. It felt like it was really important to show this in The Sims as well.
Going through the clickthroughs – this is obviously work in progress. You can still put and randomize your names, but there’s now a new dropdown section which says “Pronouns”. As you can see there are 4 different options. Let’s say Jessie Apple identifies as she/her/hers – as you can see it steps back and pronouns appear right next to her name. This generally would appear in Live Mode where there’s tooltips or any notifications that would refer to Jessie who uses these pronouns.
Going back to the menu and let’s figure out what this “Custom” section is. Clicking on this option you can see that there’s a new UI that pops up – this is all going to be Work in Progress text. This is generally where you can add Custom Pronouns for your Sim. There are examples of these subject pronouns, object pronouns and possesive pronouns.
Let’s say I want to change “they” to “zi” – “them” to “zer” and “their” to “zirs”. As you can see as I’m changing it here it changes the examples grammatically correct as well. After confirming it you can see it appears next to Jessie’s name.
This is generally an idea we have – obviously a work in progress – but the concept is there.
I know we have a profanity filter. For example in The Gallery where we are planning on having protection on custom pronouns as we do want to be much more inclusive than exclusive.
SimGuruDuck (he/him): We take the profanity filter really seriously and we want to make sure that we’re doing this in the most respectful way possible.
When is this feature going to be available?
As you saw this is still a work in progress and our research and design will continue until we feel the feature is in the good place to be launched into the game. That being said we still have a path ahead of us and we want to make sure to check on you along the way and keep you updated. Once the first version of this feature is out please know that we are continuously working on improving the game and each update brings us one step closer to a greater, inclusive experience in The Sims 4.