With just 3 percent of video game developers being African-American, it’s no wonder the gaming industry struggles to create content and characters as diverse as the gamers who play them.
Amira Virgil, a YouTube guru and avid player of life simulation game “The Sims,” shared the frustrations of other nonwhite players over the lack of representation in the game, so she decided to take matters into her own hands. Cue the birth of “The Black Simmer,” an online forum for all “simmers” to voice their concerns, share ideas and upload custom content.
Virgil’s forum has taken the gaming community by storm, as fellow simmers are free to create and share content more reflective of Black culture. From curly natural hair to full lips and urban fashions, The Black Simmer gives nonwhite players the opportunity to ask for diverse content without being judged by other players who might not understand the need for better representation.
“I realized there was no real space for people to discuss their issues with the game or their want for certain types of content without it being heavily [criticized] … or being labeled as a complainer,” Virgil said. The forum “is basically a space free of microaggressions.”
The Brooklynite said she’s been a part of the simmer community for about three years now, after taking a hiatus from the role-playing game. Boasting almost 24,000 members so far, the forum sees 60-100 users online throughout the day discussing content they would like to see in the game. Virgil said most of the conversations are centered around content “The Sims” had in previous installments but does not anymore, like the “open world” feature and unique professions for your sims.
Still, there are those who wish to see natural hairstyles and variety of skin tones for Black and brown sims.
Users want “content that’s better suited [to represent] different people’s cultures,” Virgil explained.
Though she spends most of her time making YouTube videos, the avid simmer said she finds downtime here and there to create custom content for the game. For instance, she made a skin tone pack featuring different shades of Black and brown skin types and has also done a few hair re-colors and textures to create unique hairstyles.
Virgil made sure to point out that The Black Simmer is more of a community effort than anything, a sort of collaborative among players who wish to see Black content and culture reflected in the game.
“The body types and the different aspects you see in my gameplay and [in] my photos are components from other creators in the [Sim] community,” she said. “This is another reason why I made the forum, to try to find people like me that wanted to see content that we all want to see and try to pull other people in to come and create that custom content for each other.”
“So, it’s not just me,” she added. “One member of the community created a mod to extend the body sliders, which allows us to make sims with bigger waists, bigger hips [and] bigger butts. This also allows us to diversify sims’ body shapes and curvaceousness.”
Pulling inspiration from the community itself, Virgil said she features beautiful paintings by Black artists on social media site Tumblr in her game by downloading the images and then linking to the artists’ work on her website to tell other simmers where she got it. She said she also gets ideas for content from patronizing Black-owned businesses and then recreates things she might buy in real life.
When asked how she thought gaming companies like Electronic Arts, which publishes “The Sims,” might respond to her unique method of getting the content players want featured in the game, Virgil said she felt the company wouldn’t have a negative reaction.
My forum “has had such a wildly positive response, so I don’t think they [EA] would view me in a negative light because there was so many people like me who stopped playing ‘The Sims’ so long ago,” the gamer said. “So, it’s kind of rekindling people’s love for the game.”
If given the opportunity, Virgil said she’d be open to creating custom content and YouTube videos for EA and other gaming companies. So far, no companies have reached out to her.
Customized content by Virgil and others are available for download on The Black Simmer forum, Virgil’s personal website and her Tumblr page.
Be sure to checkout more of her online content at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCkmG_Gk4lK9mG3QakApMYxQ