Skip to main content

The Sims’ Grant Rodiek on 20 years of inclusivity: ‘Everyone has their own thing’

It’s the year 1999, and E3, a still relatively new conference, is underway with David Bowie performing at an afterparty. Same-sex marriage is illegal throughout the United States, and would remain so for another five years. This is where The Sims introduced itself to the world with a presentation featuring two female Sims sharing a passionate kiss.

That single kiss – which wasn’t even intended to be included – was the start of The Sims’ legacy as a quiet ally of inclusion.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Sims, and its subsequent sequels, offer options that support inclusion. That ranges from the types of relationships Sims can have, to physical features like skin color, hair options, and body types.

Later, Sims 4 added gender-neutral bathrooms and opportunities for gender non-conformity, such as making all clothing accessible to all Sims, and letting any Sim to get pregnant. It also features Diwali and Day of the Dead celebrations, new outfits to reflect cultures outside the game’s U.S. focus, and a hijab swim cap.

These options take the place of official statements. Rather than taking a formal stance on gay marriage or transgender issues, The Sims makes it possible to have a relationship with any character, regardless of gender.

“We are merely recognizing that we need to give you the option to define yourself and to tell your story as you see fit”.

“We make a game about options. We’re not making a statement one way of the other,” Electronic Arts Senior Producer Grant Rodiek says. “We are merely recognizing that we need to give you the option to define yourself and to tell your story as you see fit. As a result, we need to understand what people want, and why they want that, so that we can do our best to reflect that.”

The Sims’ inclusive stance has made it a good example of how inclusive options can expand a game’s appeal. Yet there’s still room from improvement.

Despite its gender-bending options, each Sim does have a designated gender; male or female. Asexual or non-binary players can’t tell their virtual story. Simmers have the option to let characters form relationships with any other pre-made Sim, but selecting that means no character has a sexual preference.

The Sims 4 screenshot 5
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The game dances on a fine line which, for the developers, it feels like dancing on a tightrope suspended in the air while balancing a set of fragile fine china on their heads.

“Would we do it the same way again?” Rodiek pondered, reflecting on Sims’ fluid sexual preferences. “Because in some ways it implies that it’s just a choice, and it isn’t who you are.”

“In the human experience, everyone has their own thing that is deeply important to them.”

Rodiek, who’s worked on the series since 2005, notes he added chest hair in a previous iteration. If brought back, it would likely be changed, as it was limited to male Sims the first time around. That example illustrates how the developers have updated their approach over time.

The game offers a multitude of skin tones, facial features, and hair options. However, players of color note how few options there are for tightly coiled natural hair compared to the straight-haired locks and loose waves. The Sims 4 also struggles to realistically depict darker skin tones.

Rodiek is sympathetic to these problems. “When you make a game about humanity. Nothing is too small. And in the human experience, everyone has their own thing that is deeply important to them,” he said.

So, what’s a player to do?

There’s custom content other users make and share online, and the developers are happy to allow it. Players can find mods for stretch marks, cellulite, skin conditions like vitiligo, traits for mental illnesses like social anxiety or autism, traits for other health issues including Crohn’s disease, and varied ways to customize the game.

Mod The Sims

However, these don’t work for console players, and require in-depth game knowledge. That makes them inaccessible to many and shows the limits of the game’s approach to inclusivity.

As The Sims celebrates its 20th anniversary, it will go down in gaming history as one of the most inclusive games created, and one that stood ahead of its time. But as fans and developers alike already think of the next improvement, one thing is clear. The game, much like society, has come a long way since the kiss that rocked the gaming world.

Editors' Recommendations

Lisa Marie Segarra
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Lisa Marie Segarra is the Gaming Section at Digital Trends. She's previously covered tech and gaming at Fortune Magazine and…
Best Xbox Series X deals: consoles, games, and accessories
Xbox Series X on a table.

The Xbox Series X, Microsoft's flagship video game console that's competing against Sony's PlayStation 5 and the Nintendo Switch, offers phenomenal performance with an extremely efficient cooling structure that allows it to remain surprisingly quiet while pushing out 12 teraflops of processing power. The Xbox Series X works amazing with an Xbox Game Pass subscription, which grants access to a massive library of titles that you can play as long as your membership remains active. If you're interested in Xbox Series X deals for the console, as well as its games and accessories, we've rounded up the top offers below, but since we're not sure how long they'll remain online, it's highly recommended that you make your purchases quickly.
Best Xbox Series X deals

If you don't own the Xbox Series X yet, you're missing out on a powerful console. Discounts don't happen often, so the offers that we've rounded up here aren't expected to last long. Whether you just want the console, or you prefer getting it with a bundled game or an Xbox Game Pass subscription, you're going to get great value, especially if you're able to pocket the savings from below.

Read more
One of the year’s biggest sleeper hits is now on Xbox Game Pass
Three characters shoot at a boss in Remnant 2.

We've learned about which games are coming to Xbox Game Pass between now and December 15, and it's an awesome batch. Some titles are hitting Microsoft's subscription service the day they launch over the next couple of weeks, but the biggest standout in this group of games is one of 2023's biggest sleeper hits: Remnant 2 from Gunfire Games and Gearbox Entertainment. The best part is that it hit the service today.

Remnant II is a multiversal Soulslike shooter that was released on PC and consoles in July. Although it flew under the radar before release, Remnant II was a surprise hit, selling 2 million copies within two months of launch. In particular, we praised the game's compelling boss design as well as its first DLC pack for going bigger and bolder in scope. It's also a looter shooter with rougelite elements, so if you're looking for a new game that will keep you engaged for dozens of hours during the holidays, this sleeper hit is a great choice. Its predecessor, 2019's Remnant: From the Ashes, is also available via Xbox Game Pass now if you want to see where this series began.

Read more
Baldur’s Gate 3 Patch 5 adds new modes that can make the game easier or harder
Minthara in Baldur's Gate 3.

The fifth major patch for Baldur's Gate 3 just dropped. It's a literal game-changing patch, as it adds a new (extremely difficult) Honour Mode and a Custom Mode that will allow players to customize the difficulty of their adventure.

Honour Mode is essentially a hardcore version for Baldur's Gate 3. It disables save scumming, removes some exploits, increases the difficulty in combat and conversation, and implements a new Legendary Action system to the game's boss fights. Players technically only have one life to beat Honour Mode with, as they'll be presented with stats from their perilous journey and forced to disable the Honour Mode difficulty additions if they die at any point. Those who make it all the way through will get a Golden D20 in-game.

Read more