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How The Sims got its same-sex relationships [update]

Update: While Graham originally called out lead engineer Jamie Doornbos as the one responsible for same-sex relationships in The Sims, it was actually one of the general engineers, Patrick J. Barrett III, who added it in. The article has been updated accordingly.

The Sims was one of the earliest mainstream video games to include actionable same-sex relationships when it launched in 2000. Rather than being a concerted effort on the part of developer EA Maxis, the equal-opportunity Woohoo (a euphemism for sex in the game) was implemented by engineer Patrick J. Barrett III – an openly gay man who had a reputation for getting the programming done.

"He just did it," said David "Rez" Graham, The Sims 4 lead AI programmer and a panelist at EA's GaymerX panel on creating more LGBT-inclusive experiences this past weekend. "He just went in there and it was a thing one day" and "nobody really questioned it, which was cool."

After the panel, Graham said part of the reason Maxis was able to "sneak" in that optional feature was due to the nature of The Sims as a game. It aims to playfully simulate the behavior of human beings, and homosexuality is an acknowledged part of the human experience.

"I think it was just that homosexuality isn't new, it's something that exists in our world and we're trying to simulate people in our world. And so I think that what they wanted to do, and this is going to sound terrible, but what they wanted to do was protect the people who are basically bigoted against that kind of thing, because they want sales from everybody. So, to make it an optional thing that's essentially disabled unless you seek it out as the player, that I think gave EA the sort of permission to say that's fine. People wouldn't even find it unless they looked for it."

How a vigilante lead engineer put samesex relationships in The Sims
Graham went on to say that Barrett "had more permission because it was seen as a kind of casual type game, so it would've been harder to have that happen in a huge AAA game." EA didn't have high hopes for the game either. "They didn't think The Sims was going to do well at all; they thought it was a terrible idea. So that was also a part of it: They thought, 'Who's even going to play this game?' And all that stuff kind of allowed it to sneak in."

Graham is currently working on The Sims 4, but his last project was The Sims Medieval – both continue the series' legacy of offering homosexual coupling. "It boiled down to exactly one meeting, which was: How do we want to support this? There was never a question of do we support this, it was a question of how do we want to support this."

Though there is a vocal backlash against LGBT characters being represented in games, it's a choice representatives of EA don't regret making. It is also Graham's hope that wider acceptance will lower the difficulty of the discussion overall, reducing its status as "a thing." If that happens, it will be due in part to the efforts of Patrick J. Barrett III.