Russia has come under fire from both gamers and the global LGTB community for its decision to restrict sales of Electronic Arts game ‘The Sims 4’ to 18+ gamers.
EA have claimed that this 18+ rating is due to the game’s depiction of same-sex relationships, images of which are deemed by Russian law as being “harmful to children”.
The Sims, in any incarnation, centres on the lives of a group of virtual characters. Players must ensure that the characters are fed, enjoy gainful employment, have somewhere to live (preferably with adequate toilet facilities) and are generally happy in their lives.
There are very few mission-based objectives within The Sims. In fact, it is intended as a virtual depiction (some may say satire) of modern life. To this end, relationships play a part in the game, although characters are neither explicitly heterosexual nor homosexual, these are largely choices made on the part of the player. Relationships can either be brief flirtations, casual flings or monogamous, steady partnerships; it is entirely up to the gamer.
Depictions of sex (called ‘woohoo’) within the game take place under sheets, or in other private places. Players can tell that something is going on, but one would be hard pushed to guess that it was sex without some prior erm…Woohoo experience.
In 2010, Russia passed a law known as 436-FZ, which was created, ostensibly, to protect children from harmful content. The law gives Russian officials the right to censor anything that may elicit “fear, horror, or panic in young children”. It sounds fair enough, except when you try to envision any child, no matter how sensitive, being rendered ‘fearful, horrified or panicky’ at the sight of two, essentially genderless, computer sprites exchanging, essentially nothing, under a duvet.
For the record, Sims cannot take illegal drugs or self harm in any way (with the possible exception of being up all night woohoo-ing and then falling asleep at work and being fired, which I don’t think qualifies), so it is hard to imagine why else the game could have garnered such a severe age restriction.
Oh wait; I forgot to mention that in 2013, Russian authorities amended 436-FZ so that it prohibits the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships”. Now there’s an ill-fitting definition if ever there was one.
Many studies/groups (such as America’s TREVOR project) maintain that media-enforced pressure to conform to heterosexual norms can cause depression, anxiety and even suicide among LGBT youths, essentially proving that only showing one type of romantic relationship can actually be harmful to young viewers. On the flipside, as far as I know, there is no evidence to suggest that seeing a same-sex partnership in a video game will cause an otherwise heterosexual gamer to become a homosexual and even if there was, how exactly would they be being harmed by this unlikely metamorphosis?
Critics maintain that this move reflects little more than personal prejudice in the guise of child protection. Who’s ‘fear, horror and/or panic’ are Russia really preventing here?
In the rest of the world, The Sims series has either been rated at 10+ or 13+ (mainly because of all the woohoo, I suppose). Electronic Arts was voted as being one of the best places to work for LGBT individuals by the HRC (Human Rights Campaign) in 2012, it got a score of 100%.
One has to wonder what score the Russian government would get.