Countless hours of your youth (and your adult life) were probably spent playing God on The Sims: Building mansions, throwing wild parties, setting homes on fire, and drowning people in your backyard pool. But its latest update gives you a whole new level of options and introduces gender fluid characters for the first time.
This update has been a year in the making and allows players to create their Sims without the gender boundaries. Want your character to be six-foot-five and built like a lumberjack but dress in high heels and lipstick? No problem. Want a very fem-looking character with the voice and mannerisms of a truck driver? That's cool, too.
The game also lets you change your Sim's gender during the game, as well as switching up whether they can reproduce with other characters.
"The update gives players more ways to reflect the world around them, or in their imaginations, creating the Sims and the stories they want," the game's lead producer, Lyndsay Pearson, told the Verge. Pearson also explained that the update came about largely due to player feedback. "Players have been asking why certain hairstyles, clothing, and other options were limited to one gender or the other," she said.
Sam Lilit, president of Melbourne's transgender youth support organization Gender, is happy about the update. "I think it's very important. This is a company that is willing to recognize trans people exist and that there is a wide range of diversity in the world. It will make a huge difference to unrepresented people."
Lilit also believes the update will help combat the issue of sexism in video games. "Obviously sexism and transphobia is a huge issue in gaming. There are lots of elements involved and many ways to approach fighting it. This makes a strong statement that we're heading the right way."
The Sims has long pushed itself to keep up with evolving attitudes to gender and sexuality—something many video game titles have struggled to do. The game has allowed same-sex relationships since 2000. For this update, the development team worked with GLAAD—an organization which monitors LGBT activity and attitudes in the media—to make sure everything was respectful.
But this hasn't stopped players from mocking the update online. Some people have already uploaded YouTube videos making fun of the gender-fluid characters they create in the game.
But Liam Esler, who co-directs the country's first queer games and pop culture convention, GX Australia, says the update isn't about the detractors. It's about bringing in players who felt previously excluded. Given players often try to recreate versions of themselves in The Sims, he believes that offering gender-neutral character options opens up the game up to a broader audience.
"It's a pretty great move," Esler says. "It gives people an avenue to explore their identities and represent themselves on screen."
He also suggests other game developers can learn from The Sims. "The Sims is probably one of the most progressive games out there. If other titles can take hints from what EA are doing here, we'll start to see some really good things."
Follow Scott Renton on Twitter.