Gamers have been calling out the racism in The Sims 4 for years, and I have often wondered when EA's day of reckoning will finally arrive. Let's break it down:
How is The Sims 4 Racist?
The gaming industry has long failed to adequately represent Black individuals (see my Patreon-exclusive editorial "The Importance of Inclusivity in Gaming"), and Black gamers have been calling it out for years. In her most recent YouTube video titled "The Sims 4 don't care about black people," As Told By Kenya talks about her experience playing The Sims 4 as a Black gamer. She says, "It's not even a sense of saying, 'Oh, we are an afterthought,' because to be an afterthought you have to be thought about." (1:13-1:19). She goes on to mention inconsistencies in the quality and range of skin tones offered for white Sims as opposed to Black Sims. Custom mods are necessary, she claims, to create good-looking Black Sims. She also points out that Black gamers have been calling for more/better skin tones since 2014 and that EA only listened to the demands after Sims players with large platforms called it out. Many Black gamers share Kenya's frustrations, and she is far from the only person to call out the problems with representation in The Sims 4. In the article "How Does The Sims 4 Handle Gender and Racism?", former Forbes contributor Michael Thomsen criticized, "...It's hard to believe sensitivity to real world suffering keeps depictions of racism, or at least racial awareness out of the game's simulations. It feels like the game has a blind spot about race, creatively paralyzed by conceiving of it as anything other than a superficial customization." He's right, and it leads one to wonder if any Black developers were involved in the making of The Sims 4.
Why This Matters
Aside from the obvious reasons that Black gamers matter and deserve to feel included, the failures depicted in The Sims 4 speak to larger issues in the gaming industry regarding inclusion. Kenya and Michael both touch on a point that hits gamers from marginalized groups close to home: failure to be inclusive detracts from overall game quality and limits the number of people who will enjoy their experience with a given game. That's why more game reviewers should use inclusion as a measurement of game quality. As Kenya mentions, the lacking representation in The Sims 4 constitutes blatant racism. Both developers and gamers/streamers who refuse to acknowledge the racism involved in The Sims 4 contribute to gaming culture's tendency to ignore the voices and experiences of Black gamers. Kenya continues, "You can't sit up there and say you care about Black people, but when it's time to make content for your channel you blatantly ignore the fact that Black people don't have skin tones. Or you come up with all types of excuses as to why Black people don't have skin tones." (11:45-12:01). And she's right - non-Black gamers' failure to acknowledge feedback from Black gamers is racist, regardless of how much non-Black gamers may insist they care about Black gamers.
Recently, a petition calling for more skin tones in The Sims 4 received over 86,000 signatures, which prompted Lyndsay Pearson, the Executive Producer of The Sims, to make a statement on Twitter. She acknowledged that there would be fixes to existing Black skin tones and additions in terms of skin tones and hairstyles. However, many individuals, including Kenya, feel as though this acknowledgement happened far too late to feel genuine, given that players have been requesting the additions/changes since the game's release in 2014.
What You Can Do
Advocate for greater inclusion in games. While games are still in development, tell the developers which features you'd like to see in order to make games more inclusive.
Boycott games that do not meet your inclusion standards.
Support Black streamers/content creators.
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Indie Game Atlas. "The Importance of Inclusivity in Gaming." Published August 17, 2020. https://www.patreon.com/indiegameatlas.
As Told By Kenya. "The Sims 4 don't care about black people." YouTube, video, published August 16, 2020. https://youtu.be/D4qKzWToYF4.
Thomsen, Michael. "How Does The Sims 4 Handle Gender and Racism?". Forbes. Published August 15, 2014. https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelthomsen/2014/08/15/how-does-the-sims-4-handle-gender-and-racism/#3555af6f15cd.
Shelly SavvySweet. "A Color Wheel and More Skintones for The Sims 4." Petition. https://www.change.org/p/ea-games-a-color-wheel-for-the-sims-4?redirect=false.
Lyndsay Pearson (@SimGuruLyndsay). Twitter. Posted August 11, 2020. https://twitter.com/SimGuruLyndsay/status/1293339102981402624?s=20.