In real life, there’s no rule that says a man can’t wear a dress. Plenty do—just look at Iggy Pop. In video games, though, such rules often do exist. Create an avatar with a man’s face, and chances are you won’t find an option to put him in a dress.
Surely this is confining for some of the millions of people, spanning all genders, who lead virtual lives online.
The Sims, a popular PC game that was one of the pioneers of matching the virtual world to the real one, is taking a step to change that. Its creators have announced a new update that removes gender restrictions from the customization options players have when creating their online avatars.
“This means you can now create Sims with any type of physique, walk style, and tone of voice you choose—regardless of their gender,” the real people behind The Sims announced in a June 2 blog post. “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.”
In other words, The Sims can now more closely match real life—which, according to Elon Musk, could be just an advanced civilization’s video game anyway.
Sims still have to identify as “male” or “female,” but Rachel Franklin, the executive producer of The Sims 4, which is the latest iteration of the game, told the AP that players can change a character’s gender whenever they like. She also said they can decide whether they can reproduce with other characters, and now, “female Sims can wear sharp men’s suits like Ellen (DeGeneres), and male Sims can wear heels like Prince.”
The topic of gender-restricted clothing is one that Sims players have brought up at various times over the years. Some have gone so far as to hack the game to change their character’s gender. In fashion, there’s a growing movement of people ignoring gender boundaries, and for many it’s important that their online self bear a resemblance to who they actually are—or who they feel they are. Research has found that our video-game selves tend to be slightly idealized versions of our real selves, and that online avatars can in turn shape their real-life owners.
Of course, the clothes available to Sims players aren’t all that amazing, and some of the clothing you can download from other sources to modify your Sim aren’t much better. They frequently look like they’re made for digital Kardashians and Biebers.
But the point is that users now have a much wider range of choices in deciding what their characters wear.