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The Sims is paving the way towards better representations of beauty in gaming

the sims vitiligo pack
The Sims is paving the way for inclusive beautyCourtesy of Electronic Arts

Hear ye, hear ye! Or rather, more appropriately speaking in Simlish (the constructed language devised by game designer Will Wright for The Sims series), sul sul, sul sul! May I present you an ode to The Sims, for not only sustaining at-home entertainment in the transition from our childhood to adulthood (yes, for over 10 years, playing the computer game has been a guilty pleasure of mine), but more importantly, continuing to work towards diversifying representations of beauty in the world of gaming.

Announced mid-February 2024, Electronic Arts – the company by which the real-life simulation gaming franchise is owned and published – has now released a free vitiligo skin pack in the fourth major series title. As shown in the promotion videos, the skin pack is fronted by supermodel Winnie Harlow, has 61 vitiligo pattern variants and sits within the customisable 'Create-A-Sim' feature.

The NHS describes vitiligo as being caused by the lack of a pigment called melanin, and it's "a long-term condition where pale white patches develop on the skin."

As briefly mentioned, Winnie is a supermodel as well as an influencer and inclusive beauty activist who made waves in the Hollywood industry for publicly speaking and shining light on the skin condition, vitiligo. She gained prominence in 2014 as a contestant on the 21st cycle of the US television series America's Next Top Model and has since worked for brands including Diesel, Fendi and Marc Jacobs.

The Global Vitiligo Foundation reports that vitiligo affects nearly one percent of the population, and that includes Winnie, who not only opened up about her journey with the autoimmune disease to Cosmopolitan US, but also mentioned in her partnership with The Sims how important visibility and knowledge of vitiligo is.

"It's magical to see The Sims 4 team introduce this new vitiligo feature," Winnie told EA via a news article published on their website. "As a child, I spent a lot of time playing The Sims and I think it's so beautiful to be able to represent your true self in-game. This partnership is a powerful statement encouraging players to embrace what makes them unique – both in-game and in real life."

the sims vitiligo
Courtesy of Electronic Arts

According to a report carried out by Statista, the global number of users in the 'video games' segment of the digital media market is forecast to continuously increase between 2024 and 2027 by, in total, 200 million users (+15.27 percent). After the fifth consecutive increasing year, the indicator is estimated to reach 1.47 billion users and therefore, a new peak in 2027.

This knowledge, paired with a report by Pew Research in 2015 on minorities' representation within video games – that found a select number of ethnic groups surveyed felt video games portrayed themselves poorly – shows that while the gaming market and technological advancements are constantly evolving, there is still a field of new possibilities for game developers to create more engaging, diverse and inclusive beauty experiences through emerging technologies. In other words, it's 2024 and we're only just seeing skin conditions as common as vitiligo being represented in gaming.

For many years, The Sims has proven that the importance of real-life beauty representation is integral not only online and on social media, but in the video gaming world, too; The new vitiligo pack is a continuation of their efforts for beauty diversification.

"Birthmarks, stretch marks, scars, and freckles have empowered our players to tell diverse and authentic stories, and today's update continues with these efforts. We have known for a while we wanted to add Vitiligo to the game, and we spent a lot of time learning about it and considering how to authentically provide it to players.

"Skin details are an important area of focus for the [development] team as we remain committed to expanding representation in The Sims 4," the production team shared.

And not only that, but around this time last year, The Sims enlisted one of Hollywood's biggest hairstylists, Lacy Redway, to create five new and authentic Black afro hairstyles. Speaking to Allure in 2023, Lacy said: "I wish I could've brought 15 different styles to make everyone feel seen. But I think this is a beautiful place that we landed."

We love to see such a popular, well-loved and global video game tapping into IRL depictions of beauty.

Now, while we still have a long way to go when it comes to veering away from idealised beauty standards within life simulation gaming, and working toward inclusive representations of race, disability and beauty in general, this dialogue underpinning the importance of the small wins is integral.

Together, we're slowly debunking warped perceptions of beauty – as well as normalising what beauty looks like in real life.

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