One might expect that conservative gamers would poorly receive these simulated same-sex relationships, but in fact there has been very little backlash. Unlike TV shows or movies, which may receive a preemptive warning when gay material will be shown, The Sims has an ESRB rating of â€œT,â€ a reflection of the mild sexual behavior in which characters can engage. This is roughly equivalent to a PG or PG-13 movie rating and is a minor victory considering the way lesbian relationships and sex scenes are usually rated.
The one inequitable difference in the entire game is that characters will not pursue same-sex relationships (including flirting and physical contact) while they are on â€œFree Willâ€ (a mode of game play that allows the computerâ€”rather than the individual playerâ€”to control each character).
Tracy, co-founder of the women's gaming site ThumbBandits.com, believes this was the right choice for the developers to make. â€œIn an ideal world [the characters] would act the same way as the heterosexual couples, but it's a good positive move to have it included at all,â€ she says. â€œThey got the game out there to the masses, and perhaps if the same-sex relationships were easier then they'd have been faced with a lot more opposition.â€
But even if it is not stated outright, all of the characters are inherently bisexual, and with the right mix of personality, they have the potential to fall in love with any other character at each gamerâ€™s whim. While they still chance romantic rejection, it will never happen on the basis of sexual orientation or bigotry.
At the very least, this offers lesbians and bisexual women the chance to escape the uncomfortable situations that they often face in dealing with real life social expectations.
Because of this open-ended equality, The Sims has received a cult-like following among many of its players. Long game playing sessions are flaunted like a badge of honor, and 12-hour marathons are not uncommon among the gameâ€™s hardcore fans. Many gamers have even created photo albums and websites for their Sim families to share in their day-to-day activities, and these sites are designed much like real family websites that can be found online, sharing innocuous details as well as important events with the rest of the world.
An online version of the game is also available so that gamers can interact with each otherâ€™s characters in real-time, and now The Sims can essentially be controlled as one big neighborhood.
This sense of community has been fundamental to the continued growth and success of The Sims, as progression through the game is nurtured among its players. Like real relationships and families, little details in the game are not always easy, and disaster stories abound on gaming message boards and within Sims communities.
â€œBy the time I got the family to go to bed it was 3 a.m., then when it was time to get up, it took me until noon! By then, everyone was hungry, late, and sleeping in the road!â€ posted one Sims newcomer eliciting help from some seasoned Sims players via a message board.
It is this sense of a large, diverse, open community that has set The Sims apart from other video games.