The Sims “Race”: A Look Through Time

Whether ethnicity is absent, an afterthought or excessively stereotypical and borderline racist, I find the topic of race and its presence (or lack there of) in digital media/cyberspace to be very intriguing. After reading the various articles that covered the topic of race in videogames and cyberspace, I couldn’t help but associate every topic we’ve discussed with The Sims. However, I am going to focus my blog post on how The Sims has changed “racially” over the years. (If you are unfamiliar with The Sims visit the following link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Sims)

I can still remember the very first version of The Sims game released in 2000. I begged my parents relentlessly to buy me this life-simulation computer game, and on my birthday my wishes were granted. My favorite part about The Sims was the “Create a Sim” mode. Where you could make a Sim in your image, or in what ever image you wanted. Granted that image came in one shape, one size, and three different colours; white, tan, and black. (To see what I mean, visit the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffzt12tEGpY)

In comparison to the newly released Sims 3 game, the original Sims seems somewhat ignorant and a little barbaric. The Sims 3 allows you to configure your Sims weight, muscle mass and skin colour (down to the exact number of red white and yellow). You can even create your very own blue Avatar! Not to mention the fact that you can adjust the placement of your Sim’s forehead, the angle and size of their eyes, and the width, depth and height of their nose. (It gets a little intense to be honest!) To see what I mean, you can visit the following link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uf2UgN4MmQ8. An Asian Sim was never possible in the first edition…

With The Sims 3 are we moving forward in terms of the representation of race and ethnicity in video games? Or is this just a plus based on our advancements in technology? Or perhaps this is only typical of games that are solely character based (though I don’t know of any other life-simulation games). What do you think?

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5 Comments

  1. oops… typo here! I meant to say Red, Blue and Yellow. (Not white) Sorry guys!

  2. I completely agree with the above poster that Sims is a great example of how the issues of race in video games can almost completely be avoided. As mentioned, you can design your character to resemble you or anything or anyone you would like to be. This is a very positive change to the alternative of being defaulted to the usual exaggerated female body that appeals to the white male, or to the stereotypically racialized “look” of your ethnicity that is there for exotic flavour. But not only does this omit the problems associated with exoticized looks, but The Sims 3 also lets you create character traits. This is huge, since often the way your chracter acts in a game, there mannerisms so to speak, are already determined, and often even their lines. Within the Sims it is your own world you are creating, and race and gender can be whatever you would like it to be.

    I would not say that this is only typical of games which are predominantly character based, as this “design your player” element tends to help in the “magic circle” effect of losing yourself into the game (as it is you there, no startling mannerisms or looks to be distracted by), and so is beginning to be used by many non character based games. One great example of this would be in the game “Guitar Hero World Tour” where you are able to design your own player (example here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=97dUHhdB-q0), yet the object of the game is to play the instruments well and gain fans. I would say that we are moving forward in terms of the representation of race in gender in the means of applying this model to more and more games (omitting exoticized characters), but that the racial and sexist problems that occur through cyber bullying in online play where there is chat capabilities will take a lot more time and careful consideration to find a solution to the problem.

  3. There are certain aspects of the create-a-character aspect I agree with you on and others I don’t. I think that a large part of them allowing the a larger range of colours for people to choose from is that they HAD to.

    Ten years ago, there was a lot less immigration than there is today. “The Sims” is a game that everyone is drawn to, not just the gamer population. So in that case, the game have to appeal to everyone who would be interested in a character game.

    What I find is that there are still stereotypes that are in place. For example, when you can’t decide what type of character you want, or if you need a point to start from, you’ll allow the computer to create a random Sim for you. In the effort to create them as close to realistic as possible, certain stereotypes are still perpetuated. They would give the Asian small eyes or make a white person relatively larger. And while some of them are funny, you’ll be drawn to the person that seems the most realistic– unless you’re playing with a less serious goal in mind.

    This is not to say that there hasn’t been any improvement at all! Of course, we’ve moved a long way from where we were before, but I don’t think we can conclude that the race discourse within the game is completely free from idealogical influence.

  4. I found your post to be very interesting because The Sims is indeed a highly relevant example for the topic of race and stereotypes in games, and digital media as a whole. It was important that you compared the differences between the first Sims and the most recent, effectively examining its changes over time.

    These changes over time have produced remarkable advances in technology, and I would say that our expanding technological capabilities contributed heavily to the more intricate character development available in The Sims. Therefore, yes, Sims 3 is an example of how we are moving forward in terms of race and ethnicity representation in video games, and this progressive movement developed alongside technology. During the lifespan of The Sims franchise, as new versions were created they undoubtedly needed to expand and improve the previous game. Naturally, for a game that is about life, expanding equals creating more options, and more options extends into more character creation options.

    As well, in order to deliver a more advanced game, EA Games needed to demonstrate that it was advanced in its understanding of changing social expectations. Meaning, for a game such as The Sims to be about ‘life’, it needed to have as many similar aspects to our real lives as possible: the game needed to incorporate multicultural representations. To me, it seems only logical that The Sims 3, as the newest version, should further its capabilities in character design to allow for the depiction of as many races and ethnicities as possible.

    However, as a side note, I do not think that the issues of race and gender, and the varieties of stereotypes that can follow, will ever be completely avoided in video games, and neither in real life. After all, if I do not believe it can ever be completely resolved in real life, it certainly will not ever be completely resolved in the video games that are designed by real life people.

  5. Wow–some good discussion going on here, group. I’ll add a discussion point to the pot:
    One of the biggest criticisms of the Sims is that, above all, it doesn’t so much satirize consumerism as glorify it. Your Sims are always out to accumulate more: more furniture, more toys, more space. If that’s the cultural context of the game (and if you think it’s not, we should discuss that too), then whose culture is it embracing? And whose culture is it marginalizing? Does being able to purchase a menorah or kinara make the game multicultural, or is it just forcing everyone into a single unified category of the consumer?
    –MH


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