As I grow into the queer nerd boy I should have been, I’ve rediscovered an escapist pastime I last savored during the George W. Bush administration: The Sims. My 10-year-old tries in vain to teach me to play Minecraft together on our tablets. Invariably, after five minutes of hearing me exclaim “Why am I underwater?” or “Oops, I broke another wall!” he takes over both our iPads and plays our characters simultaneously, like Tom Cruise coordinating his array of touchscreens in “Minority Report”. Unlike most parents, I can’t wait till he gets his driver’s license. His spatial sense leaves mine in the dust. The car will be in better hands when he’s 16.
To stay in the gaming-together zone, I downloaded The Sims Freeplay to my tablet. I’m amused by the unintentionally radical things that can happen because the gameplay is so simple. In the full-blown game (The Sims 4) that you buy for desktop or gaming console, the characters have complex emotions and social relationships, which means they can feel jealousy and anger when someone else kisses or WooHoo’s (has sex) with their sweetie. Not so in the free iPad game. These innocent little creatures will “Be Romantic” with anyone they know well enough, but don’t fight about their polyamorous exploits unless you select the “Be Rude” interaction. Thus I was able to make a Sim woman fall in love with a man and a woman simultaneously, move in as a threesome and raise a baby together.
Another simplification of the free game is that your Simoleons (game money) go into a single account, whereas each household in the computer game has a separate budget. So in Freeplay I can send some characters to work, earn money, and spend it on building a house for other characters. Not to worry, though: iPad Sims live by the Marxist principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” They freely drop in on each other’s houses, eat their food, and fall asleep in their beds, whether or not the owner is home.
The free game is not all that interesting after awhile. Quest actions take too long unless you pay real dollars to speed them up. But it would open up some great possibilities if you could make your Sims 4 characters play in communist mode, or set possessiveness and monogamy as sliding-scale traits when you create a character, with some preferring more open-ended lifestyles than others.
Notably, all Sims are default bisexual. The Sims 4 lets you create custom pronouns, decide whether your character can become pregnant or impregnate others (“both” and “neither” are also options), and sort-of design transgender characters by dressing male-template bodies in female styles and vice versa.
One thing they will not let you do, unfortunately, is be a thot. Sims do not WooHoo on the first date, nor for some time thereafter. This fits the game’s structure of hierarchical goals, where putting in time on smaller interactions unlocks higher-stakes ones. To me as a fiction writer, however, it feels constraining and judgmental. A demisexual/slutty axis for character creation would be a lot of fun. The game developers have already put some thought into making it queer-friendly. Let’s go all the way!