Aug 8, 2022 - Technology

Popular game mods add abortion to The Sims

Animated illustration of a rotating Sims glowing plumbob in the shape of a health plus.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The makers of the long-running video game series The Sims don’t allow pregnant characters to have abortions. But unofficial add-ons that give players that option are popular, their creators tell Axios.

Why it matters: In the world of video games, big studios often avoid socially sensitive topics, but fans sometimes find ways to work them in.

  • That’s the case with abortion and Electronic Arts’ The Sims, a game of virtual dollhouses in which players initiate digital people’s births, marriages, careers and moments of intimate “woohoo.”
  • It’s a more daring game series than most, with 200 million copies sold and a history of including some more socially progressive topics, such as same-sex romance. But it hasn’t gone there with abortion.
  • That addition has been left to unofficial efforts by players-turned-developers, through fan-made downloadable tweaks, or mods.

One popular abortion mod for the Sims 4, LittleMsSam’s “Miscarriage Chance & Abortion,” was released in 2018 and has been downloaded more than 250,000 times since mid-2021, its creator tells Axios.

  • The abortion part of the mod lets players pay 1,000 Simoleans (the fictional in-game currency) during the first two trimesters of pregnancy for the procedure. It will result in the Sim feeling guilty, in most circumstances.
  • The cost and timing parameters are a “way for me to kind of let users be ‘responsible in-game’ instead of using it whenever they want,” says LittleMsSam, who asked to be identified by her modder name to protect her privacy.
  • She is a prolific and revered modder with projects that include better in-game yoga mats, more complex dating options and the ability to hire a babysitter. She created the abortion mod, due to player requests, in about a week.

Between the lines: Unwanted pregnancies are unlikely in the Sims’ virtual world, in which players have discrete options to either initiate consequences-free sex, or “woohoo,” between two Sims or “try for a baby."

  • But some players want the option of abortion, because for many The Sims is a chance to take virtual people and orchestrate dramatic scenarios.
  • “The thing about The Sims isn’t that it’s necessarily goal-oriented,” says Lisa Marie Segarra, an editor for the video game news site Kotaku and series veteran with nearly 1,400 hours logged in The Sims 4. “It’s more about telling stories.”

Making a digital abortion: “What I always struggle with is there's the entire human experience and there's a game with black and white yes-and-no code,” says the Sims 4 modder Lumpinou, much of whose work springs from a desire to add nuance to the Sims’ simple life.

  • A Sims player since childhood, she began modding the game in 2020 when she realized her Sim couldn’t tell their partner about their job promotion. So she scripted a way for them to do that.
  • Disappointed with The Sims' nearly uniform glee upon discovering they were pregnant, she made a mod that allowed them more complex reactions. And in 2021 she released an abortion mod programmed to trigger similarly mixed emotions.
  • Sims who terminate a pregnancy through her mod can feel guilt, relief, loss, confidence, stress or other reactions. “We're trying to put a little bit of reality in it,” she says.

Reactions to the abortion mods from players have been largely positive, the modders say.

  • It helps that EA’s developers at Sims studio Maxis—and the community overall—have established a permissive atmosphere to all types of mods, according to franchise followers.

The abortion mods have become more notable recently, following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allows states to outlaw abortion.

  • On the day of the court’s ruling, the Sims team tweeted: “We understand today is hard,” adding that the game is meant to reflect the team’s belief that people have “the right to bodily autonomy.”
  • Lyndsay Pearson, EA’s vice president of creative for The Sims, reaffirmed that stance in a statement to Axios, and said, “The Sims continues to represent the diversity, complexities, and realities of real life, through an optimistic lens.”

Yes, but: Even some supporters of abortion mods don’t think EA should or would add abortion to the game, noting the series’ appeal to younger players (it’s rated for teens and older).

  • Some, however, have said that its historical absence from the series is another example of popular culture actively or tacitly stigmatizing abortion.
  • Says Segarra: “What I come back to is: What are we saying about abortion when we don't say anything about abortion?”

What’s next: Lumpinou plans to update her abortion mod, working in a broader social judgment system that will cause other Sims to react to one who terminates a pregnancy.

  • And it’s part of her hope that people may use her mod to roleplay and learn about their neighbors.
  • “One of the biggest powers of fiction is that, through empathy, through a story, we can become so much more understanding,” she says.

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