There’s something to be said for the power of nostalgia. Many of us over a certain age have grown up with an appreciation for early video games that’s likely lost on the younger generation, and I feel that The Sims franchise is especially notable for this if you don’t identify as straight. The latest expansion pack 'Wedding Stories' offers a host of marriage ceremony-specific features, alongside placing a same-sex couple at the front of most of its advertising, and as a queer woman that's grown up playing the franchise from its first base game, I was ecstatic.
If your eyes started rolling at that, this piece probably isn’t for you – the Sims franchise is, of course, beloved outside of the LGBTQIA+ community, but it holds a special place for queer and curious kids who were able to explore their sexuality, and I’m not going to shy away from that.
This isn’t to say that heterosexual people can’t also resonate with how the various editions of The Sims has grown with us as a society though, as I'm sure we can all share a collective outrage over base game features that were present in the original Sims released back in early 2000, slowly becoming paid-for content in DLC packs as the series has evolved (Hot tubs EA? Really?).
It’s not all bad though – The Sims franchise has consistently provided great representation for the gay and bisexual community that was generally lacking elsewhere. While you couldn’t get ‘gay married’ in the original version of The Sims, the simulation game never prevented you from having same-sex couples or allowing them to move in with their partners.
There were very few games that allowed that kind of interaction at the time, mostly being a handful of RPG titles where the sexual identities of NPCs are swept under the rug – for example, the male protagonist in Fable is able to romance and marry an NPC regardless of their gender, but while a union between him and a female character is treated legitimately, marrying a man is comedic and seen as ‘just a couple of blokes being blokes’.
Remember kids, it’s not gay if it's just you and The Boys™ joking around.
Things have thankfully moved on a bit in the last two decades though, with The Sims 2 introducing a ‘Joined Union’ that was identical to a regular heterosexual marriage in everything but the name, and gay marriage being officially introduced in the Sims 3. Before this, you could install mods that would forcibly introduce gay marriage into the game, but that’s not ideal for those who only like to play with approved game content.
There’s also plenty of queer characters within The Sims lore (yes, this franchise has established lore to follow), such as Dela Ostrow and Mia Hayes, two women in a relationship who feature on an updated version of The Sims 4 box, and many of the expansions have at least one same-sex couple pre-made for you to play with.
Still, Wedding stories is the first DLC pack for the Sims that places queer relationships in the spotlight, with a marriage between two women being the focus of most of the marketing material. This wasn’t representation shoved to one side, instead proudly displaying it right in our faces.
The content for the pack itself has very little difference regardless of if heterosexual or same-sex couples are the ones planning and throwing a wedding, but seeing sexual diversity so openly represented by a mainstream game franchise really hit me.
I was a few glasses of wine down, having a chill evening and playing around with the expansion and a few tears were shed. I didn’t feel like EA was queerbaiting its player base at all with the advertising angle it took which was refreshing enough, but it made me smile to think that this is how far the simulation franchise had come. Jump back many years to when I would try and hide my queer characters from my parents on the family computer, it’s so nice to feel like folks like me are actively considered when developing a game rather than as an afterthought.
Great marketing, shame about the gameplay
That said, I headed into playing the most recent Sims 4 expansion Wedding Stories with a handful of concerns. There was already controversy that the game wouldn’t be sold in Russia due to the country's restrictive laws on queer content, which was met with some hefty backlash from long-time fans of the series. That decision was eventually rolled back after EA announced that all versions of the game would be released on February 23, albeit with updated cover artwork that will remove the images of women getting married from the cover art in Russia.
The expansion itself has also had some heat, and honestly, that’s understandable. The game is pretty buggy, not to the point where i’d say it’s unplayable but it certainly made the experience a lot more frustrating than it should have been. Wedding guests ignored dress codes you set and refused to stay seated, and brides kept changing out of their wedding outfits to name just a few issues I experienced.
It was announced on March 3 that a patch was in the works that should fix most of the issues blighting players, but to have put the game on sale in this state in the first place is certainly questionable.
Sul Sul Simmers! 👋 We've got a Laundry List full of love and fixes. ❤️🛠 Check out the latest list for My Wedding Stories that we aim to resolve in an upcoming patch! 🧺📝 : https://t.co/PKZoqhsbUN pic.twitter.com/0Sb3r649LCMarch 3, 2022
Here are a few of the changes being introduced, courtesy of the official Sims 4 Laundry List:
- Please Take Seats update for receptions and prevent blocking of other player-directed activities
- Walking Down the Aisle adjustments
- Invite Sims from both sides of the wedding, regardless of which Sim is planning the event
- Guests arrive in their proper clothing
- Guest attire stays selected after closing and reopening Wedding Planner
- Improvements to Sims gathering for dessert time
- Improvements to Sims gathering around the cake
- Improved the amount of time needed before Wedding Cakes spoil
- Cake toppers no longer floating
- Cake model looks correct after cutting and serving
- Adjustments to the Passionate Kiss animation
- San Myshuno’s Myshuno Meadows Center Park appearing in the wedding venue list
- Paired dancing improvements
Sadly, with the actual game being so buggy, it’s hard to recommend it in its current state, so if you have your heart set on picking it up, I'd recommend you give it a month or two for all the issues to be ironed out. You can also count on correcting a few of the issues using The Sims 4 cheats.
You can see where The Sims has really, really tried to meet the representation standards expected of its fans, with some non-western outfits and wedding traditions included alongside the typical white dresses and exchanging of vows, but given I’m whiter than mayonnaise, I can’t really speak with any authority if they’re accurate or well-received.
I am happy about its allyship though, and that feels more important than ever with the backlash that queer folk face when they’re granted representation in popular media. Sure, I had to be drunk to actually enjoy the gameplay, but I’m so incredibly happy with how far we’ve come to walk a same-sex couple down the aisle without needing to fish around online for mods.
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Jess is a former TechRadar Computing writer, where she covered all aspects of Mac and PC hardware, including PC gaming and peripherals. She has been interviewed as an industry expert for the BBC, and while her educational background was in prosthetics and model-making, her true love is in tech and she has built numerous desktop computers over the last 10 years for gaming and content creation. Jess is now a journalist at The Verge.