How ‘The Sims’ Became Queer Coded
In 1999, gay A.I. took its long-awaited revenge on the dev company that created it.
We’re of course talking about The Sims, undoubtedly the most well-known game published under the Sim brand name. When it launched in 2000, it was a revelation for recluses everywhere — from falling in love to pissing their pants, players could simulate nearly the entire spectrum of the human experience from the comfort of their own homes.
Watch our latest episode of CanonBall, “How A Gay A.I. Kiss Saved The Sims,” or read on to learn more about game developer Maxis' bizarrely anti-LGBT history.
The Sims was the 19th game in the Sim franchise — prior to this juggernaut, developers EA and Maxis made reasonably fun games out of remarkably mundane subject matter. SimCity, SimFarm and SimAnt were all exactly what they said on the tin. But one of these games became wildly controversial out of nowhere: 1996’s SimCopter.
It wasn’t the gameplay that ruffled feathers; it was a ticking time bomb of an Easter egg hidden by a disgruntled employee. Programmer Jacques Servin was sick of his work being used to spawn “bimbos” — the internal terminology for the sexy polygonal NPC women that would appear on screen to celebrate a player’s accomplishments. To combat the “aggressively heterosexual” bimbo army, he programmed an infantry of beefcake “muscle boys” to swarm the screen every now and then. In Servin’s words, “should you encounter one of these youths, you must kiss him. He will kiss you back.” It should be noted that the kissing in this helicopter simulator was particularly loud and enthusiastic, for whatever reason.
The muscle boys weren’t discovered until Maxis had already sold 50,000 copies of the game, at which point they quickly fired Servin and scrambled to erase his disgracefully gay code, while giving a half-hearted pledge of allyship. This ordeal became known as “The SimCopter Fiasco,” and it absolutely tanked the company’s standing in the LGBTQ community.
A couple of years later, this was very much on the minds of the programmers working on The Sims. Designer Don Hopkins pointed out that their relationship logic was inherently “heterosexist and monosexist” — for example, some Sims would have a “violent negative reaction” when flirted with by a Sim of the same sex, which, yikes. He and his team vowed to design a more inclusive experience — but the suits had other plans.
Maxis execs made the decision not to allow same-sex smooching, thinking that affirming the existence of gay people would be more trouble that it was worth. Despite that strategic and moral blunder, and by a stroke of sheer luck, one programmer very literally did not get the memo. A new employee, Patrick J. Barrett III, was asked to help out on a demo for the upcoming E3 expo. Whether on purpose or by accident, no one told him about the decision to kibosh homosexuality.
And so it came to pass that, at The Sims’ 1999 E3 demo, three years after someone got fired for inventing a gay A.I., two female Sims spontaneously kissed during a wedding scene, for all the world to see. Maxis execs were mortified, but The Kiss was all anyone could talk about for the rest of the expo. As Barrett put it, “I guess straight guys just loved the idea of controlling two lesbians.”
Maxis had been on the verge of canceling the game altogether, but the sudden tsunami of press convinced them otherwise, and The Sims has gone on to sell more than 200 million units. All thanks to the legacy of some vengeful, horny, A.I. muscle boys.
Watch How A Gay AI Kiss Saved The Sims to learn more about the brand's progression from homophobia to safe haven for gay gamers.