The Current

Fed up with afros 'based on cauliflower,' Black players of The Sims eager for better representation

Calgary gamer Jade Ade-Yusuf says the current options for Black players of The Sims to recreate their own diverse skin tones and hair styles "fall short of the mark."

Current options for diverse skin tone, hair style 'fall short of the mark,' says gamer

Jade Ade-Yusuf with two versions of her character in The Sims 4, modelled to match her own characteristics. Top right is the character using just the game's own options; bottom right includes the greater range of options created by other players. (Submitted by Jade Ade-Yusuf )

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Jade Ade-Yusuf loves being able to bring her custom-made character to life in the video game The Sims — but she says Black players have few options to create accurate digital versions of themselves.

"The worst part of this game, I will say, is the afro hair," said Ade-Yusuf, a university student who lives in Calgary.

She's one of 30 million "Simmers" worldwide, who often model their online characters on their own physical characteristics, and live in virtual communities.

The "tumultuous" afro hair in the game was based on cauliflower, she told The Current's Matt Galloway.

"It just looks very strange. It looks like a large, equally sided puff on somebody's head. [A real afro] just never looks like that," she said. 

The Sims was first released 20 years ago and spawned several sequels, which collectively have sold over 200 million copies worldwide. But for years, non-white players have complained about the limited options for their characters.

The Sims 4's developer Maxis, which is owned by Electronic Arts, promised in a blog post that it will introduce new hair styles and new skin tones "with a particular emphasis on darker skin tones" to the game later this year.

Ade-Yusuf spoke to The Current's Matt Galloway about why she and other players are welcoming the update. Here is part of their conversation.

Tell me what it's like to try to create a character that looks like you. 

Being a life simulator, you want to try to be as accurate as possible. So whether you have defining facial features such as freckles, your hair and your skin tone, you kind of want to try and make it similar-ish.

Ade-Yusuf's character in The Sims 4. The version on the left uses just the game's options for customizing, while the right includes the greater range of options — including skin tones, hairstyles and fashion — created by other players. (Submitted by Jade Ade-Yusuf)

And so if you were trying to make a character that looks like you, what would you have to do? Aside from the cauliflower afro, what are some of the limitations that you would run up against? 

The biggest limitation that I can think of currently [is] the range of skin tones that The Sims currently has. I believe there's about 20 or so skin tones that are available and they're meant to showcase a wide range, but sometimes they fall short of the mark.

So especially in the deepest, darkest categories, some of them look kind of grey, kind of purple. And then in the mid-tones, just not quite right. So that's definitely something that comes up. 

It's an annoyance. It's frustrating at times because as a life simulator, you want it to look like yourself, and kind of that's your mini-you in the game. 

Could you tell me more about that? I mean, for people who've never played this game before, you can imagine they might say, well, it's a game and it's a simulator. And in real life, I mean, we know how we look and that's important. But in a game, why is it important that you are able to create a character that looks as close to you as possible? 

In the way that you play the game as being able to live out your best life through this video game, you'd also want your "Sim you" to live out your best life, in a way that feels accurate and authentic to you. So whether that's your skin tone, [or] achieving things in the game, it's really almost a reflection of yourself.

What are players doing to try to fill in the gaps? Players who aren't white, who want the game and the Sim to to look like them, what are they trying to do? 

The Sims is the game that does have a large custom content platform, and a lot of Black creators have kind of come up amongst this, and created new skin tones, new clothing styles, just different things that really just add to the game and create a little bit more accuracy as well.

When you say they're custom, how does that work? They're add-ons that you have to pay additional for, or how does that work? 

There's different avenues to be able to download custom content. Sometimes Sims custom content creators will create their own website, or put them on a platform called The Sims Resource. And when I say they're making custom content, they're literally starting from scratch.

What are some of the coolest things that you've seen? 

I think one of the coolest things I've seen is there's some 3D eyelashes that are out there, that are quite dramatic.

Some people have created custom skins that look like celebrities and you can put them on your Sim.

It sounds kind of crazy, but it's just something that someone put a lot of time into that, and that's cool to me. 

This summer, we have seen a whole conversation around anti-Black racism, but also the discussions around Black Lives Matter. How has that influenced not what players are doing, but what the company that makes this game is doing, do you think? 

I think with the Black Lives Matter movement and just Black people speaking up in general, a lot of brands have started listening to their consumer base a lot more. And with EA, that's The Sims. That's an area where people are very vocal and that's an opportunity for them to do something now. 

This update is coming at some point in time. What would you like to see in it?

I guess I'd just like to see skin tones that are more accurate, as well as hairstyles that more accurately reflect what Black hair can look like. There's so many different types of Black hair, different types of textures. So I'd like to see a better array. 

Things that aren't based on cauliflower?

Yes. Things that are hopefully not based on cauliflower, but on actual hair, on somebody's head.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

Written by Padraig Moran. Produced by Brittany Wentzell and MaryCatherine McIntosh.

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