Art may or may not be imitating life, but simulation games certainly try – none more successfully, perhaps, than the Sims series, developed by Maxis and published by Electronic Arts (EA).
And now with a new update to the fourth installment of the popular title, real-world controversies are also creeping into online interactions between gamers and the publisher.
Electronic Arts is being accused by several Sims players of failing to imitate life in one important segment: religious diversity. Namely, the update introduces only Muslim clothing and architecture to the game, while neglecting reciprocity and inclusion of other religions as well.
There have been several concerns, not only the nature of the update, but also EA's handling of dissenters.
Curiously, even though EA's Sims forum rules prohibit discussion of religion or politics, the company decided to introduce religion into the game. But those who want to talk about it on the Sims forums have their threads closed.
The update was announced on September 5 in a way that made it clear the adding of the hijab and other items was not meant to provide merely cultural diversity but is tied to practitioners of a religion, in this case, Muslims.
“To help even more of our players express themselves and create Sims that are relevant to their everyday lives, we've introduced a set of Muslim-inspired clothing and architecture,” the announcement said.
As soon as on September 6, controversy was already brewing, with some players upset that symbols of a religion they view as oppressive has been added to their game, while others point out that EA should have struck a balance, not discriminate, and allowed in other religions as well, not just cater to Muslims.
One user, Horrorgirl6, wrote:
“Lets me make this clear.I’m Christian ,,and simmer. Ea policy was that they were not going to put religion stuff in the game. Because they didn’t want to see that they favor one religion to another. But today they show an update. Which said it was Muslim inspire clothes . Let s get this out of way. Muslim is a religion.That means they made clothing that muslims waer. Meaning they did what they said they wouldn’t do . Muslim is not a secular culture, it s a religion. If they made it to say Middle eastern clothing. Than that would be non hyprocritical.
“So why are we kinda upset ? Well im proably never going to get same treatment.I would love to have crosses in the game . I would love to have smething that have my sims go to a rabbit hole worhip service.. Who knows maybe i’m wrong,and Ea will give us inspire religouse items to all our religions. ”
Another user, Cinebar, wrote:
“EA keeps closing them because it's against the rules to request reglious artifacts, gameplay and or clothing and or representation. But they just did that in the new patch. Hypocrisy… I hope we rule our own game one day. I would love all free content to be a choice and not in bug patches. I'm all for individuals playing what they want to play and not forcing others to play their way. And not forcing others to think as they do, individual minds are beautiful, group think not so much.
Another user commented on having their comments deleted from the game:
“I had one my posts removed because I suggested those items should be added…I do believe that the motives of some posters, not necessarily you as I do not know you, are problematic and intolerant. But anyone should be able to request themselves to be represented more in the game. And I see that EA is blocking this. Hating and speaking bad about a belief is different than asking for the belief to be represented.”
Here is an archived version some of the comments.
An EA moderator then reopened a thread and, instead of addressing the discrimination concerns, said that they had deleted customer comments. The moderator also said that the “Muslim-inspired clothing” would be added to the base game update – meaning it's going to be added to everyone's version of the game if they update – but that no randomly-generated Sims in the game would be wearing the garb. It's something that users would have to choose themselves.
EA isn't in good standing with the gaming community to begin with, being sometimes referred to as “the worst company in America” for its anti-competitive and anti-consumer practices. This latest flare-up that involves accusations of censorship and an apparent tone-deafness when it comes to religious diversity and concerns of their customers is probably not likely to help improve EA's image. That's especially as, this week, they won The Guinness World Record for the most downvoted Reddit comment in history in response to their bad handling of backlash to one of their games.