Bad Attitudes: An Uninspiring Podcast About Disability

Episode 45: Dear EA, It's Time

June 27, 2022 Laura Stinson Season 2 Episode 22
Bad Attitudes: An Uninspiring Podcast About Disability
Episode 45: Dear EA, It's Time
Show Notes Transcript

This is a message to EA Games. It's time to add disabilities to The Sims franchise.


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[rock guitar music]

MALE VO [00:03]
This is Bad Attitudes.

[rock guitar music]

LAURA [00:20]
Hello friends and strangers! Welcome to another episode of Bad Attitudes: An Uninspiring Podcast about Disability. I’m your host, Laura.

Today, I further cement my status as a bona fide nerd. I’m cool with that.

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As always, I want to remind you that disability is not a monolith. My experience as a disabled person is going to be different from the experiences of other disabled people. I am one voice for the disabled community but I am not the only voice.

I am not a gamer. I didn’t grow up with a console, although we did briefly have a Playstation and then a Wii. Video games were just not a central form of entertainment in my life. The most I played video games was when I spent time in the hospital and they rolled one of the pediatric ward’s games into my room.

There was one exception. The Sims. The Sims is a series of life simulation games from EA Games. The first iteration launched in 2000, and I have been hooked ever since. Through The Sims 1, 2, 3 and now 4, graphics and gameplay have improved, but the central theme has stayed the same: The player is basically God. You create virtual characters (“sims”), build their houses, and direct their lives through careers, relationships, and parenthood. You can watch your sims grow from infancy through old age and, eventually, death.

Every player has a different style. Legacy challenges require players to get their sim family through 10 generations on the same lot, expanding their wealth and their home as they grow. Rags to Riches challenges require players to start with no money and no possessions and find creative ways to earn money. Some players focus almost entirely on building residential or community lots. Typically, I play in a general sandbox style. I create a sim or a family of sims, and play through their lives as I see fit. I’ve recently started doing more challenge-style playing, because the one downside to playing The Sims is that once you reach a certain point, it’s no longer very interesting. Especially in The Sims 4, it’s too easy for your sims to get rich and with no real big-ticket items to purchase, you basically earn money and have nothing to do with it.

I started playing The Sims again recently after a hiatus of more than a year. I never got as much enjoyment out of The Sims 4 as I did previous iterations, for multiple reasons. One, I have to play on my Macbook, which is my main computer. I would much prefer to have a dedicated PC just for The Sims and any other games (like Hogwarts Legacy, coming soon). Two, The Sims 4 didn’t come with story progression which was a pretty major component of The Sims 2 and 3. Without story progression, nothing happens outside the household you’re playing in. All that happens to all the other Sims in your neighborhood that you’re not playing with is they get old and die. WITH story progression they can get jobs, have relationships, have or adopt children — basically have their own story that adds more interest to the neighborhood at large. They finally added story progression within the last year. Three, like I said before, it’s just too easy to reach any goals you set for your family. There’s no challenge to playing. And while you are ultimately trying to set up a good life for your sims, without any need for problem-solving, it quickly becomes repetitive and boring.

The Sims has been surprisingly good about listening to feedback and keeping up with societal changes over its various iterations, but especially with The Sims 4. In The Sims 4, they made it possible for all genders of sims to wear all clothes rather than limiting masc clothes to masc sims or femme clothes to femme sims. They made it possible for sims of any gender to get pregnant, which is great if you want to play a story involving a trans sim. They updated the available skin tones to more realistically reflect the beauty and diversity of the real world. And, most recently, you can now customize the pronouns for all of your sims, and that customization is reflected in game.

Something they keep talking about but never seem to make any progress on? Disabled sims.

Conversations about adding disability to The Sims franchise has been happening FOR YEARS. Sim Gurus (their term for team members who work on the franchise) have said multiple times that they want this to happen. So, where are they? Where are the disabled sims?

I’m not going to pretend I know all the ins and outs of developing and working on a game franchise like The Sims. I am well aware it is beyond the scope of my understanding. However, we have Sims community members who make all kinds of custom content, including highly advanced mods that alter the way the game is played and they don’t even have a fraction of the resources available to the actual Sims team. But still there is no evidence that the Sims team has made any progress on adding disability to the game or that their talk about wanting to include disability is any more than just that — talk.

Disability is nuanced, but it would be too much to expect disability in the Sims to be as nuanced as it is in real life. But certainly we could have wheelchair-using sims, sims with prosthetic limbs, or sims with hearing or visual impairments. We already have custom content creators creating assets that make it possible to LOOK like some sims have disabilities, but those assets are basically accessories. A static chair that looks like a wheelchair. An earring design that looks like a hearing aid. I am in no way diminishing those contributions because custom content creators really step in to fill major holes left behind by the creative team, but I want the Sims team to incorporate actual disabilities into the game.

It doesn’t have to be one hundred percent realistic. Anyone who has ever played The Sims knows that “realism” isn’t priority number one. The most recently released game pack is centered on werewolves, after all. Maybe instead of having to rejig every lot to be accessible, they could fudge a little on accessibility. Find a creative workaround like levitating wheelchairs. For the Sims, that’s not far-fetched.

But the possibilities for expanding gameplay are pretty cool to think about. If the Sims included deaf or hard-of-hearing sims, that opens the door for sign language. That could be a new learnable skill and being a sign language interpreter could be a new career path. If visually impaired or blind sims were included, you could now train dogs to be guide dogs. Wheelchair-users or amputees (as well as other included disabilities) could participate in accessible sports or become para-athletes. They could have a physical therapy career path if they wanted. Even though I definitely feel some kinda way about this, it would even be feasible to add to the robotics skill so that sims could create exoskeletons for disabled sims. I’m sure y’all could come up with even MORE ways that The Sims would be even more interesting by including disabilities.

We can all pretend we believe that The Sims teams hasn’t figured out how to include disabilties in gameplay, or we can acknowledge what is likely the real reason disability has yet to be added: Money. Not to be overly cynical, although that is sort of my selling point, it almost always come down to money. Either EA Games can’t see the value of adding disabilities to The Sims franchise or they don’t think the costs will be recouped because they don’t think enough people would be interested in purchasing an expansion pack that would add disabilties to the game.

This is ignoring the fact that, really, including disabilties should be a base game update and not treated as an expansion back, but that’s a different conversation.

Realistically, EA probably doesn’t see disabilities as being worth their time or money because society continues to devalue individuals with disabilities. Never mind that the Sims player community has been clamoring for this addition for YEARS — from both disabled and non-disabled players alike. So I think it would be a good bet that, yes, there is definite interest in including disabilities in future Sims gameplay.

Will we see disabilities in The Sims 4? Never say never, but it’s unlikely. The Sims 4 is nearing the end of its cycle — as typified by previous Sims releases — so we’re probably going to be looking toward The Sims 5 in the near-ish future. That’s a few years out to be sure, but still within our ability to foresee. Will EA add disability into The Sims 5? I can’t be sure, but they would be extremely remiss not to. Of course, Sims players have been asking for a farming expansion pack literally FOREVER, and Cottage Living wasn’t released until last year. And it still isn’t what a lot of players would consider a pack about farming. Let’s not hold our collective breath.

Look, EA, it’s time. It is time to add disabled sims to The Sims franchise. If you want to make a game whose tagline is “Play with life,” you’re missing out on a whole lot of life to be had.

Thanks for listening and I’ll talk to you in the next one!

Sul sul!

[rock guitar music]