From the first installment on – way back in the year 2000 – The Sims has had a venerable history of giving players choice in how to form relationships, shrugging off the restrictive heterosexual-only mechanics that have hamstrung more recent games like Tomodachi Life. It turns out, however, that not all parts of the real world have been progressing in the right direction either, resulting in The Sims 4, the series’ latest installment, running afoul of Russia’s infamous “gay propaganda” law.
EA, the series’ publisher, recently disclosed that – due to the game’s openness to same-sex relationships – The Sims 4 has been slapped with the equivalent of the ESRB “M” rating, prohibiting the sale of the game to minors. This has only happened with this iteration in the series as Russia’s games rating system has only now been aligned with a 2013 amendment to a child protection law that prohibits the perceived promotion or celebration to minors of anything queer.
Rather than altering the game so it would be accessible to a wider (and younger) audience, EA has told Polygon that it has no intention of editing out the ability for players to have their sims dabble in a little same-gender love. According to Deborah Coster, a spokesperson for the series: “One of the key tenets of The Sims is that it is up to the player to decide how to play the game. We provide the simulation sandbox and player choice and creativity does the rest.”
This statement comes as a refreshing and welcome counter-point to Nintendo’s recent, now corrected, and widely criticized commitment to avoiding “social commentary” in video games. The prohibition and erasure of queer identities are just as clearly social commentary as inclusion is, if not more so in this millennium. On this issue, EA appears to be happy to stick to principles of openness and freedom and let Russian authorities force a controversy over an issue – and a entire segment of its own population – that they seem intent to edit out of public view.