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A look at The Sims 1 design docs, and a dev's argument for including same-sex romance

The Sims programmer Don Hopkins has uploaded a smattering of design documents from the development of the influential life simulation game.

Alissa McAloon, Publisher

July 19, 2019

3 Min Read

The Sims programmer Don Hopkins has uploaded a smattering of design documents from the development of that first influential life simulation game, an upload shared by Phil Salvador on Twitter that both sheds light on the evolution of the game’s core elements and captures some of the back-and-forth that preceded the inclusion of same-sex romances in the 2000 game.

The Sims has spawned a prolific series of management games that task players with building enthrallingly mundane lives for digital families, and Hopkins’ documents offer fellow game developers a look at some of the early conversations and design decisions the team had to make to get the series off the ground.

Those familiar with the game might recognize some of the basic doodles would later inform the game's UI, or notice that some of the decisions discussed in the design document aren’t reflected in the final release of The Sims, (or even eventually showed up later on in the series as recently as 2014's The Sims 4.)

Meanwhile, the document also adds another layer to the story of how same-sex romances landed in the decades-old game. That tale emerged back around The Sims 4's release, with programmer Patrick J. Barrett III telling The New Yorker that the actual implementation in The Sims 1 was more or less unintended, since Barrett was going off of an older design document from before same-sex romances had been vetoed over worries of controversy.

In snippets from the design documents Hopkins shared to his website, he passionately advocates for their inclusion in The Sims. He argues that the previous version of romance in-game is “heterosexist and monosexist,” and having a sim’s default response to a same-sex advance be a slap was “a somewhat violent negative interaction" that was "clearly homophobic.”

“It would make for a much more interesting and realistic game, partially influenced by random factors, and anyone offended by that needs to grow up and get a life, and hopefully our game will help them in that quest,” reads the document. “Anyone who is afraid that it might offend the sensibilities of other people (but of course not themselves) is clearly homophobic by proxy but doesn’t realize it since they’re projecting their homophobia onto other people.”

Hopkins’ website points out that the version of same-sex romance he outlined in the document wasn’t the version that actually made it into the game. His pitch had been to assign each sim’s sexual orientation on a 0-100 scale, including monosexual heterosexual, monosexual homosexual, bisexual, nonsexual, and “all shades in between.”

Thanks to that aforementioned oversight, the version implemented in the final game was much more straightforward than that.

"Subsequent design documents said heterosexual romance would not be the only kind available, and that Will [Wright] was reviewing the code and would make recommendations on how to implement it. Patrick was hired soon after that, and was set to task implementing some social interactions. Will didn't get back to Patrick and the production database didn't reflect his opinion by the time Patrick started working on it. But Patrick implemented support for same-sex relationships anyway, but not by explicitly modeling sexual preference as property of The Sims personality -- just as a behavior that was possible at any time for any character.”

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