The ‘Almost’ Utopian Beyond: Gender Mechanics in the Simulated Worlds of The Sims

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This master’s thesis delved into the four main iterations of the videogame franchise The Sims to examine the ways in which gender functions in these games. Because The Sims franchise follows what Diane Nutt and Diane Railton term the genre of ‘real life’ (578) and operates as a simulation game, this thesis analyzed the franchise of The Sims to determine the extent to which the franchise follows and/or diverts from ‘real life’ questions and concerns regarding gender, gender (non)-conformity, and heteronormativity. Previously conducted research on The Sims franchise has focused on its relation to society as well as its societal impact and importance (Beavis & Charles 359; Flanagan 5; Montes & Campbell 46; Nutt & Railton 588; Rak 176), and on the importance of gender in relation to the franchise’s offered ‘gameplay’ functionalities (Beavis & Charles 356-57; Flanagan 4; Rak 585) and ‘external’ factors ranging from the games’ demographics and their team of developers (Jenkins & Cassell 11). This thesis, however, conducted a more in-depth analysis of how, exactly, gender manifests and operates in the franchise’s main iterations. To achieve this, poststructuralist theories of Judith Butler, Simone de Beauvoir, and Michel Foucault on the ‘subject’ were used to consider the franchise’s character creation tool, which showed that although major improvements were made to gender customization settings in the franchise’s most recent iteration, The Sims 4, in 2016, previous The Sims iterations remained rigid in terms of gender roles and conformity; cultural gender-related norms and roles were fixed to sex-related settings. Dorothy E. Smith’s theory on the ‘relations of ruling’ were considered in light of the franchise’s gameplay or ‘live’ mode. On this front, Sim characters were deemed to be considerably ‘freer’ from gender constraints, bringing the franchise’s closer to Judith Butler’s “utopian beyond” (Butler 34). Sexuality in The Sims franchise was found to be fascinatingly close to Judith Butler’s renowned ‘performativity’ theory, which, according to this thesis, contributed significantly to the reputation the franchise gained as being ‘liberal’ and ‘LGBTQ-friendly.’ Ultimately, this thesis has shown that The Sims franchise is a significant subject of study that, with its ‘real life’ simulation games, may aid in our understanding of gender and the position of gender in the contemporary, Western societies upon which the videogames of The Sims are based.
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