On February 8, The Sims team revealed a first look at the next amorous addition to The Sims 4: My Wedding Stories. As the name implies, the upcoming game pack is centered entirely around love, romance, and the celebration of both through marriage–with special emphasis on showcasing the stories all too often forgotten by mainstream media; stories like Dom and Cam’s.
Dom and Cam are the names of two new female characters in The Sims 4 who discover their feelings for one another are far stronger than friendship, a realization that arises shortly before one of the women is set to marry a man. After calling off the wedding, the two women get together, creating a union that spans across decades and overcomes all obstacles. Their touching story, accompanied by a Simlish version of Etta James “At Last,” unfolds throughout the pack’s trailer, setting the tone for the newest add-on and acting as a show of solidarity for the game’s many LGBTQ+ players. However, just a day after the trailer dropped, The Sims team announced that some The Sims 4 players will not be able to join in on Dom and Cam’s marital bliss.
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On February 9, an open letter was shared on The Sims 4’s official blog stating that, due to federal laws, The Sims 4: My Wedding Stories will not be sold in Russia. In the letter, The Sims team explained their choice, stating they are “steadfast in upholding that commitment by shining a light on and celebrating stories like Dom and Cam’s” and therefore have made the decision to “forgo the release of My Wedding Stories where our storytelling would be subject to changes because of federal laws.”
The Sims team continued: “Regrettably, this means that members ofThe Sims community in Russia will not be able to purchase this game pack.”
Throughout the letter, The Sims team reinforced the decision was a commitment to “the values we live by,” such as the freedom to “be who you are, to love who you love, and tell the stories you want to tell.” Shortly after the blog post was published, many players–primarily those based in Western countries–took to Twitter to praise the team’s conviction, sharing sentiments such as “love is love” and expressing gratitude toward the studio. To their credit, it’s not hard to see why this decision does seem praiseworthy: A company choosing to stand by equal rights over greater sales seems like a brave and selfless move. However, it turns out the situation is a lot more complicated than that.
While some celebrated EA’s choice as an LGBTQ+ win, Sims players in Russia found themselves faced with a lot of pain, confusion, and panic. Nushanchel, an illustrator based in Moscow, Russia, was quick to voice their frustration with The Sims team’s choice, stating EA’s decision comes across as “cruel” and exclusionary to the Russian LGBTQ+ community.
“We have a big LGBTQ+ community that is suffering so much under Putin’s regime and homophobic laws that are harsher and harsher every year,” Nushanchel said. “What we really need is some support and love, because [Western] content is what we see as an example of freedom and we want this too. When this content continues to exclude or belittle us it acts just like our government. So where [does the] Russian LGBTQ+ community go?”
When this content continues to exclude or belittle us it acts just like our government … where [does the] Russian LGBTQ+ community go?
The issue of community has been on Oleg Kushakov’s mind as well. A community manager for a Russian Sims 4 Facebook group boasting nearly 68,000 followers, Kushakov said he quickly braced himself for toxicity and backlash following the blog post.
“Managing a big Russian Sims community on social media, my first thought when I saw the news was “Oh no, they’re gonna blame the gay community for this, it’s gonna get even more worse,'” Kushakov said. “There’s already so much homophobia that can be noticed every time The Sims celebrates being queer. And this is exactly what this decision does: You’re making homophobes even angrier at the LBGTQ+ community. They think ‘First they ruined my favorite games with their gay stuff and now I can’t even play it.'”
Kushakov shares in Nushanchel’s belief that The Sims team’s decision to not sell the game in Russia is exclusionary. Kushakov then added that he believes the incident is also an example of well-intentioned but harmful allyship. According to Kushakov, the federal laws The Sims team mentioned do not prevent the sale of The Sims in Russia, nor require EA to remove any of the game’s content. This is how games with gay romances, including both Stardew Valley and Miitopia, are still able to be sold in the country. Instead, the laws instead prohibit LGBTQ+ content to be used in marketing, stating the use of such could be considered “gay propoganda” aimed towards minors. Interestingly enough, however, Kuskakov also noted that in the Russian version of the blog post, The Sims team made no mention of federal laws at all.
As such, The Sims 4–LGBTQ+ content and all–seems to be legal in Russia so long as the game is listed as 18+. Because of that, The Sims has served as a way for LGBTQ+ communities in Russia to live out their authentic lives in a country that, oftentimes, makes it difficult to. While Kushakov said the gay relationship seen in the trailer was great and progressive, he believes The Sims team’s unwillingness to alter the marketing in favor of making sure Russian LGBTQ+ players have access to the game is detrimental and ultimately complies with Russia’s desire to keep LGBTQ+ content out of the country.
“There are movies, shows, books, and games who tell queer stories–would the community want all of it to be gone? No, they want those small pieces of representation, they want to be able to see stories they can relate to and they want to make them too.” Kushakov explained. “It’s better to see a Disney movie without a few scenes with gays that were added as a token then not see it at all–and the lesbian couple that’s being used for the promotional campaign is, while being super great and progressive, essentially a tiny part of a game that’s going to exist for many more years. This tiny part can be changed for the sake of the long history.”
It’s been just over a day since The Sims team’s announcement, and since then the hashtag “#WeddingsForRussia” has grown increasingly popular on Twitter. Much like Kushakov, those using the hashtag are doing so as a way to draw attention to how the decision hurts LGBTQ+ communities in Russia. According to Kushakov, the hope is The Sims team will “learn who their allies are and what they want” rather than “excluding the ones that are being more affected than others” in the struggle for equality.
Dear @TheSims We, Russian simmers, feel deeply disappointed and betrayed by all this situation with the game which we loved and supported for many years. We respect the values of The Sims Team, they are incredibly important in the modern progressive society. #weddingsforrussia
— SimsMix (@sims_mix) February 10, 2022
Okay, @TheSims I have one question. Where were your principles when you showed a gay couple’s wedding in the Russian trailer earlier?The game is 18+ in Russia and NO law prohibits you from releasing new content. You are lying to improve your reputation.#weddingsforrussia pic.twitter.com/4u1cUYH1h4
— Кактак Аламировна (@AlamiraGames) February 10, 2022
“When you’re celebrating equality and your ‘values’, you’re celebrating it with everyone except for the more oppressed gay community that you just excluded from the narrative. You’re fighting for something excluding the ones that are being affected more than others.”
GameSpot reached out to The Sims 4 team for additional information regarding the decision, but the team declined to comment. Earlier today, The Sims team hosted a livestream event on both YouTube and Twitch highlighting even more features available in The Sims 4: My Wedding Stories game pack. The chat for both streams were disabled approximately 30 minutes prior to the start of the showcase following a mass influx of “#WeddingsForRussia” being shared in the chat.