Maxis has shared fresh insight on the complexities involved in bringing gender neutral pronouns to The Sims 4 as part of a new livestream update detailing the progress it’s making on implementing the highly requested feature.
The developer initially confirmed it was investigating ways to introduce expanded pronoun options to The Sims 4 last May – following a community petition signed by more than 22,000 people – and its first livestream of 2022 has now offered a substantial progress update, sharing insight on the development process and including a first look at how The Sims 4’s recently announced customisable pronouns feature will work in-game.
As Sims 4 producer John Faciane explained during the livestream, Maxis’ aim with customisable pronouns is threefold: to introduce greater representation for transgender and non-binary players, to allow for greater freedom of expression for all players, and, ultimately, to create an experience that feels more welcoming and kind.
It is, however, a feature that brings with it a significant number of technical and logistical hurdles – particularly in regards to fact The Sims 4 is currently translated across 18 different languages, each with their own nuances where pronouns are concerned.
As localisation lead Veronica Morales revealed during the livestream, it’s a linguistic challenge EA’s localisation team is already grappling with, but one that’s further complicated by cultural and regulatory considerations across each region.
“Some languages [such as Sweden and Spain] do have officially accepted and ready to use non-binary pronouns,” Morales explained, “but for other territories, the pronouns are not included in their dictionaries”. However, in some of the latter regions – including Germany, Spain, and Brazil – local LGBTQ+ communities have already adopted new non-binary grammar and syntax systems they feel comfortable with, and these, while not yet officially recognised, provide the localisation team with a useful touchpoint.
Morales also highlighted a third area of consideration: those territories with stricter regulations and laws “where the use of non-binary pronouns can be quite challenging”. For these regions, localisation requires a different, more creative approach – perhaps using the passive voice to avoid referencing the subject (‘the letter was sent yesterday’ instead of ‘they sent me a letter yesterday’) or substituting a pronoun with the actual name of the character – but whatever the approach taken, says Morales, the solution still “has to sound natural in context and it has to feel real to the players and, at the same time, respectful”.
Given the complexities involved in finding grammatical solutions for all 18 languages The Sims 4 has currently been translated into, Faciane says the first iteration of Maxis’ customisable pronouns work – which it calls an “ongoing learning and development process” – will focus on English, with additional languages to follow.
And as for how all this work will eventually manifest in-game, Sims experience designer Alister Lee shared an early look at a revised version of The Sims 4’s Create-A-Sim system.
Its most immediately noticeable change comes in the upper-left-hand input box, which now reads, “Hello, my name and pronouns are…”, reflecting how a person might opt to introduce themselves in real-life. From here, players are able to choose between more familiar pronoun options – including They/Them/Their, She/Her/Hers, and He/Him/His – as well fully customisable pronouns, all of which will be properly reflected across the likes of tool tips and notifications throughout the game.
In a final note, Faciane confirmed EA intends to deploy a number of protections, including its existing profanity filters, to prevent customisable pronouns from being abused, and to ensure all players have a “safe and fun” experience.
As for when customisable pronouns might finally make their debut in The Sims 4, that’s still unclear. Faciane merely said Maxis intends to continue its research and design – which it’s undertaking with support from LGBTQ+ nonprofit organisations including It Gets Better – until it feels the feature is in a good place to be launched. “We still do have a path ahead of us,” Faciane concluded, “and we want to make sure to check in with you along the way.”