I love Facebook games. For someone who spends inordinate amounts of time online for professional purposes and needs an occasional break from living in the matrix, a Facebook game is a break from the usual inundation of Facebook status updates, twitter @mentions, LinkedIn connection requests, and technological things of that nature.
Because of this, I was absolutely ecstatic at the announcement that The Sims would be on Facebook. As a young boy, I would play the video game all the time. It was a world in which, at the time, I could create a character that could live outside the social constraints of the society I lived in. My Sim neither had to worry about living in the closet or about the effects that subconscious racism would have on his job prospects. He could adopt children with his mate without being legally constrained by his states laws. He could go to work day in and day out without being stopped by an invisible glass ceiling. It wasn’t a perfect world—I think he was abducted by aliens more than once—but it was one which allowed for subversion and escape from the constraints of normal life.
When I opened the app for Facebook’s Sims Social, I was disappointed to find out that I couldn’t put my avatar in skinny jeans, decide to have a traditional African hairstyle—like kinky twists, braids or an afro, or put on a little bit of make-up. Some individuals may say that I’m nitpicking at small details on what essentially is a good game, but I am of the perspective that what separates a good product from a great product is it’s ability to foresee the needs of all its potential users. Perhaps, there are individuals of various minority or non-normative populations who have no issue with acquiescing their individuality, their difference, because they specifically want to take on another persona in the virtual world. Nevertheless, one should choose to do such rather than be forced to because one’s real world difference is non-existent in this virtual realm. Moreover, if virtual spaces give us the possibility to simulate our lives in another’s shoes; shouldn’t people be equally free to test out my Black, Queer shoes just as I would be able to take on the online image of, for example, a white male?
It’s been many years since I last played the Sims. I’ve graduate high school, held my first job, moved across the US to attend Stanford, and evolved into my being—becoming much more comfortable with being “the other” (racially, sexually, etc.) I could be asking too much by pushing the creators of The Sims to think more critically about diversity and representation in their game rather than reifying the current social inequities in society, but I think it’s imperative that we redefine innovation so that it includes socially conscious product design; it seems like an essential element to any interface that seeks to be user-friendly.