Video games symbolize an important fantasy element within popular culture. In fact, as sales soar, academics have begun further examining how people consume and receive the message in the games. But what has struck me as interesting is the sheer absence of sexuality in the academic literature.
Typically, the story arc within video games are quite heteronormative. Save the princess, be a hero, defeat your enemies, etc. But how are non-normative individuals represented? How do queers receive these images?
Mia Consalvo sets out to look into queer sexuality in Electronic Art's popular game The Sims. The reasoning for choosing the Sims, claims Consalvo, is that the Sims franchise is popular with men and women, normative and non-normative players. Actually, more females play the Sims than any other mass-audience produced game offered. As an added bonus, this game has little heteronormative bias unlike in other games.
Starting a new Sims game is quite easy. First, you create a new family. Unlike in traditional families, there is no patriarchal head. Players are free to create characters that are similar to themselves or completely unique. Players choose skin/body/clothing type and gender. But there is no check-off for sexuality anywhere.
The Sims plays as a choose-your-own-adventure game. Its innovative emergent storyline allows players to choose their own interactions. But within this arc lies coding that enables same-sex characters to flirt, kiss, and even romp around in a hilarious heart-shaped bed or hot tub. But remember, as no orientation is chosen in a character's creation, it is safe to assume that sim sexuality, then, is not an identity so much as it is an activity.
Because of this, The Sims plays with the notion sexuality and questions sexual orientation as a core aspect of identity. More importantly, the game questions and destabilizes identity categories as they pertain to sexuality. However, it is deceptive to make a claim of inherent sim sexuality as it is the player that ultimately controls their character's sexual activities.
The Sims main charm is that game play is built off of relationships between characters. Sexual activity only comes about after friendship is achieved. But sexual behaviour (not only the act of sex, but kissing and other erotic behaviour) is available to all Sims characters regardless of gender. The Sims thus raises questions about the fixedness of sexuality to identity and sex and forces players to examine their own thoughts about the idea.
Players are free to control their Sim's desire by simply ignoring the command that appears. But by not barring these homo erotic scenarios, the Sims can be read as queer as it challenges what is seen as normal in the real world. It challenges the fixed nature of the gay/straight binary and of the insistence of gayness as a birth right.
The Sims is revolutionary as it acknowledges that while normative behaviour is the dominant one, alternatives do exist. Whether normative or not, a wider spectrum of people are now being represented within the wonderful queer world of the Sims.