Sims 4’s latest expansion pack, “High School Years,” is launching on July 28, but it’s also getting a free update with a variety of features, chiefly a new set of sexual orientation options.
Over its history, The Sims has been a haven for many LGBTQIA+ people, and earlier this year they became the face of its “Wedding Stories” expansion with a queer couple featured heavily in the marketing. While there was controversy over the – quickly reversed – decision to not sell the expansion in Russia due to the country’s anti-gay laws, the expansion was followed by an update in May that added pronouns.
Each of these steps reaffirms those who have spent countless hours learning about themselves through the mirror of their Sims, something that SimGuruJessica, the design lead for High School Years, seems to get. On the Sims 4 design blog (opens in new tab), they talked in depth about the new Sexual Orientation feature and how the development team arrived at the decisions they made: “Authenticity is a point that often comes up in regards to features like this, and rightly so … Many members of the team, myself included, are part of the LGBTQIA+ community. That said, each one of us on the team represents only a narrow slice of lived experiences. As such we’ve worked extensively with GLAAD and the It Gets Better Project to ensure that we’ve captured the widest possible range of viewpoints on how to approach this feature in a manner that respects and elevates the community.”
The Sexual Orientation feature will allow you to adjust your Sim’s romantic and sexual attractions on a few axes. The first is who your Sim is attracted to, which will have them automatically reject any romantic interactions with someone they aren’t attracted to – and since the system doesn’t require a check, you can easily represent them being aromantic. Meanwhile, you can check whether or not your Sim’s sexual orientation can shift and change through gameplay, which will either lock their preferences in or allow them to evolve over time, as they sometimes do in life.
The last part of the Sexual Orientation feature is the separate setting for sex, or WooHoo as The Sims affectionately refers to it. You can choose which genders your Sim will go for a tumble with, and similar to the attraction options, you can easily represent your Sim’s asexuality by leaving both unchecked. Aro and ace identities are usually unmentioned or ignored, so the explicit choice to affirm players who want Sims with those identities is a really nice touch.
While SimGuruJessica acknowledges that attraction and gender in Sims 4 are still limited to the binary, they also address it further in the post’s FAQ: “TS4 is 8 years old at this point, and reliant on systems that were originally architected with a gender binary in mind. In the intervening years, we’ve taken important steps such as Gender Customization, Pronouns, and now Sexual Orientation. It’s a journey still in progress, with many more steps to go. Proper mechanical systems to fully support non-binary Sims is another step in that journey.”
Most importantly of all, SimGuruJessica dropped an amazing response in their FAQ, in response to a question I absolutely know someone would (unfortunately) ask if they hadn’t addressed it: Can I turn this feature off?
“No. While we try to give players the option to toggle certain gameplay features, LGBTQIA+ identities are a fact of life and not a toggle to be switched on and off.”