This post is part of a series on women-friendly gaming, you can check out the first post here.
Before I start this article, I just want to say that I fully intended for the next game review in this series to be about something hard-hitting, acclaimed, or maybe even controversial! I totally have things to say about Mass Effect or Transistor or Pillars of Eternity or Portal. Yet here we are, and I am reviewing The Sims (with an emphasis on The Sims 4). You might say: “Ashley, surely there are other games you have played recently that are more obviously women-friendly?” I mean, yeah, probably. “Ashley, surely you know that there are games pushing the medium as we know it?” Yep, I’m aware. “Ashley, why have you spent 600 hours of your life in a game where your only real accomplishment has been micro-managing an entire town’s reproductive lives (and where you keep making Sims that look like Will Graham from Hannibal)?” And the answer to all of those questions is: I DON’T KNOW, SEND HELP.
In all (very little) seriousness, dear readers, the fact that I can choose to feed my god complex by populating an entire town with Will Grahams is the exact reason why I wanted to review the Sims franchise—because The Sims means freedom, and in many ways, that makes it remarkably women-friendly.
Some history, in case you have been living under a very strategically-placed rock: The Sims was created by Will Wright of SimCity fame, developed by Maxis, and published by Electronic Arts in 2000. The game was an isometric 3D/2D sandbox game with customizable characters that boasted highly sophisticated artificial intelligence. The original Sims became hugely popular, outpacing Myst in 2002 to become the best-selling PC game of all-time (though it has since been outsold by games like Diablo III, Minecraft, and World of Warcraft). It was unique at the time in both its combination of simulated architecture and people, and in its complete lack of a structure or goal; there is no winning in The Sims. You just…make it up as you go. Maxis and EA have since published many, many expansions, and three subsequent standalone PC Sims games: The Sims 2 (2004), The Sims 3 (2009), and most recently The Sims 4 (2014).
Not offensive to women = 1 pt*
While this was an easy point to give (+1!), I feel that some elaboration and history is necessary here. The Sims franchise, historically and contemporarily, does very well with women. The series’ appeal to women has prompted lots of discussion about why exactly it appeals to girls and women, and also a lot of subsequent dismissal of the franchise as “girl games.” I posit (and I’m certainly not the first to do so) that The Sims appeals to the ‘fairer sex’ largely because its inherent freedom lets you play the game exactly as you want to—which, when placed amidst a veritable plethora of male-oriented games that have dominated the medium for many years, makes The Sims completely inoffensive (and in fact, very appealing) to women.
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2 pts/Passes the Bechdel test = 3 pts
At its very core, The Sims is a very open-ended life simulation game. Through character creation, the franchise obviously lets you play as a woman and create other women characters—heck, you can make your world an all-woman Amazonian paradise à la Themyscira if you really want. And your Sims can talk about all kinds of things that aren’t men, from garbage to llamas to half-eaten chicken. The franchise earns 5/5 points for these two categories combined.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4 pts
Calling The Sims artistic seems somehow ill-fitting, given that they’re not games you really buy to sit down and say “Holy crap, look at that tree!” But while the base games are often somewhat lacking in most things beyond essential gameplay, The Sims series is made very artistic through the modding community it has fostered and actively encourages. Several prominent sites host Sims modders who, since the introduction of The Sims in 2000, create everything from gameplay-overhauling script mods to tiny pairs of Sim shoes. The creativity exemplified by the community around The Sims is certainly a testament to the game’s ability to inspire, but also an indication that women are just as capable of learning to code and create when it’s within an environment that they find encouraging.
And with nearly 600 hours in The Sims 4 and god-only-knows how many thousands of hours in The Sims 3, I have no right to say they’re not entertaining. The Sims games get 4/4 here.
Above and Beyond General Media = 5 pts
I hope I have made my point by now that The Sims franchise, which has been dismissed as the domain of “girl gamers” or even (gasp) “casual gamers,” has perhaps earned this reputation simply because it does something revolutionary in largely appealing to girls and women. And, in keeping with the freedom motif, The Sims games also allow you to enter into a relationship with another Sim of any gender or orientation, and while marriage was technically off limits to same-sex couples in The Sims and The Sims 2, you could still move in, make woohoo, and even adopt a child.
The Sims 4 has even taken some gendered complaints about previous games and addressed them to make the latest edition more women-friendly than ever. For instance, female Sims in The Sims 3 could take maternity leave but no such option existed for male Sims—this has been remedied in The Sims 4 and both partners can take family leave. Another neat addition is that Sims who become mothers now have the option to breastfeed, rather than exclusively bottle-feeding. While trans players might not find the base game options completely fulfilling if self-identification is a goal, the modding community has already been hard at work on mods that allow all clothing/facial hair/hair options to be available to both genders of Sims so that you can make a Sim as close to your self as possible. For all of the reasons I’ve outlined here, I give The Sims franchise a 5/5 in this category.
With all that’s been said above and the 15/15 score I’ve given the franchise, I think it should be obvious that The Sims games have a quality that keeps people coming back and, more specifically, that keeps bringing women into/keeping them interested in gaming. Despite more and more reports indicating that “Hey, shocker, women like games too!”, it seems that there is often something keeping women away from mainstream or AAA titles. Several game companies have now notoriously come out saying that they don’t want to fall to political correctness and desert their true market share, which they perceive to be men. The community I have seen around The Sims, and the overwhelming success of these games time and time again leads me to believe that if consideration is given to what women find appealing in games, they could (and would) represent just as large of a consumer base. Then maybe games with an overwhelming female player base would lose their reputation as “girl games” and just be, you know, games. But don’t mind me, I’ll just be over here making more Will Grahams.
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*This is a category that could get very complicated, very quickly, if we tried to list everything that could be offensive to women. Instead, we use this category as a way of showing our own personal reaction to whatever we are reviewing. All contributors to this site are women and can speak from a woman’s perspective. However, no woman can speak for all women so we do our best to explain our choice one way or the other. We encourage all readers to share their opinions in the comments of every post if they want to express agreement or disagreement with our rankings