'The Sims' traces cultural arc of LGBT movement

A new update to the popular video game The Sims allows characters to cross gender boundaries with clothing and style – not a surprise, considering The Sims' history with LGBT rights. 

Electronic Arts/AP
This image released by Electronic Arts shows the new characters that will be available on 'The Sims 4' the latest edition of 'The Sims' video game.

Since its inception 16 years ago, "The Sims" video game series has been on the leading edge of cultural depictions of the LGBT community, allowing characters to partner romantically with members of the same sex. 

And the latest update for "The Sims 4" is no different. The free update, released Thursday by publisher Electronic Arts and developer Maxis, will allow players to create virtual characters without any gender restrictions.

"For the first time, you’ll be able to customize your Sims without the gender boundaries previously set in place. This means you can now create Sims with any type of physique, walk style, and tone of voice you choose – regardless of their gender," writes Maxis, the publisher of all Sims games, in a press release Thursday.

"We've also made clothing, hair, jewelry, and other visual options available to all Sims. Over 700 pieces of content previously only available to either male or female Sims, have now been made available to all Sims regardless of initial gender selection."

When the game first debuted in 2000, characters in "The Sims" video game could date other players of the same sex – mirroring the state of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender affairs at that time in US legal history. In 2000, Vermont became the first state to institute civil unions in the United States via the decision Baker v. Vermont. 

And while Massachusetts became the first state to allow gay marriage in 2003 after the state's high court ruled that a marriage ban violated constitutional rights, gay marriage wasn't legalized by legislative means until Vermont did so in 2009.

That same year, "The Sims 3" was upgraded to allow marriage between two characters of the same gender.

And now, as states across the country are disputing transgender rights, "The Sims" again updated their LGBT sensitivity to parallel the arc of national LGBT history. The latest update comes as the US Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals paved "an open road to the Supreme Court" to address the transgender bathroom debate, as the Christian Science Monitor's Patrik Jonsson reports.

"The core of 'The Sims' has always been empowering players to be creative and express themselves, and this update is a natural extension of that," Lyndsay Pearson, lead producer on "The Sims 4," told Mashable. "We shared early prototypes with them and made a number of design and interface choices based on their input."

One suggestion came from the LGBT advocacy group GLAAD, who suggested removing gender symbols associated with characters. 

Given the contentious nature of transgender issues in America today, there will likely be some users who are uncomfortable with the change. But for now at least, much of the response from Sims users has been positive:

"'The Sims' is made by a diverse team for a diverse audience, and it's really important to us that players are able to be creative and express themselves through our games," writes Maxis in a press release. "We want to make sure players can create characters they can identify with or relate to through powerful tools that give them influence over a Sims gender, age, ethnicity, body type and more." 

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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