The past couple weeks have been a whirlwind of justified fury at police, who have taken the lives of George Floyd and so many others. Crowds of protesters have hit the streets every day and night all across the country. But that’s not an option for everybody. With this in mind, Sims modder and streamer Danielle “EbonixSims” Udogaranya kicked off an in-game Black Lives Matter rally last weekend. Days later, it’s still going.
Ebonix has previously created Black Lives Matter apparel for Sims games, as well as hairstyles and other items. She based her rally on one held four years ago by two other players, Simflux and Circasim. For this rally, she encouraged players to give their favorite Sims Black Lives Matter signs and accessories, some of which she created in 2016, and either photograph or video them protesting police violence against Black people by gathering together, holding signs, and generally behaving as they would at a real-life protest. She spread the word across Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram, where players have pooled their protests using the #BLMSimsRally hashtag.
She did this, in part, with those who cannot attend real rallies in mind: people who are immunocompromised and risk their lives by gathering during the covid-19 pandemic, people with disabilities, and others who want to express solidarity but can’t be in the streets.
Ebonix listed other people she’d envisioned the rally for to Kotaku in a Twitter DM. “Parents also, who cannot leave their children at home. I myself cannot leave my home due to having a weak immune system, so it would definitely have been a risk for me to rally physically. So this was also a way for all of us who could not protest physically, as much as we wanted to, to protest alongside the community and feel involved in the movement.”
Players who participated appreciated this tremendously.
“This my life, what is happening in the world,” Sims streamer Luna Marie told Kotaku in an email. “With covid going on, my immune system is a little weaker, so going out is iffy for me. When I saw this, I thought this was perfect to take something I stand for and what I love and do both.”
Marie’s experience was unique in that The Sims’ systems coalesced around her stream. Her Black Lives Matter rally triggered other Sims to hold a city protest, a game feature in which Sims wave signs and stage their own spontaneous rally. They held this one in the name of equality.
“It’s straight like they knew!” she said on Twitter.
“Being the wife of an immunocompromised spouse, I can’t physically be in the streets,” said streamer and YouTuber Reaperith on Twitter. “I will never understand this struggle, but I will fight for what I know is right.”
For some Black Sims players, it meant even more.
“The Black Lives Matter rally in The Sims to me represented multiple things,” Sims YouTuber Marian told Kotaku in a Twitter DM. “The first is participation in a movement I could not be physically present in in my city due to online classes and a couple of other factors. Therefore, to me, the protest in The Sims was my way of showing up and supporting a movement that I believe in wholeheartedly. The second thing the rally represented to me was community. I began playing The Sims with the third edition, and it was hard to create Sims that look like me, Black Sims. I found a community within The Sims during the fourth and current edition in Simmers such as Xmiramira, Ebonix, and Xurelia.”
While The Sims’ developers have made Black representation a priority in recent updates and promotional materials, things weren’t always that way. Even when the most recent game, The Sims 4, came out back in 2014, it was sorely lacking in dark skin tones and creative hairstyles for Black characters. Through modding and community organization, Black players made the game their own. That doesn’t mean the broader Sims community is free of racism, though.
“There definitely has been an issue with some of these Sims groups not being welcoming to Black players,” Ebonix said, referencing a Facebook page that ended up deleting a post about her rally. “Many Black players faced racist comments about their sims full lips, hair, skintone, clothing style. Jokes about the posts go unchecked or not removed by mods, and it leaves the individual feeling quite isolated and alone in the group to the point where they stop posting. Either that or they assimilate to fit into the group by making lighter, whiter looking Sims to get likes and approval from the same people who tore down their initial Sim with prominently black features.”
“Finding a group for us to feel comfortable to post our content was a huge issue before Xmiramira created The Black Simmer in 2017, which now has over 18,000 Facebook members and over 150,000 forum members,” Ebonix said. “This is a space created by Mira who, alongside the rest of us, was tired of the lack of diversity in many of the Sims groups online.”
That tumultuous past (and present) in mind, Ebonix feels validated by the fact that hundreds of players have participated in the virtual rally she organized—and more continue to join every day. In that sense, it’s not unlike a real-life rally; people see it reach a critical mass, and, emboldened, they emerge out of their homes and into the streets. The larger it grows, the greater its capacity to spur change.
“I was surprised to see players from Brazil and Germany and Korea, as well as the UK and USA, participating and promoting the rally,” she said. “It also feels like people are not scared to use their Sims platform to voice their thoughts and feelings about racial inequality and fighting for justice, which over the years had been difficult due to people voicing that politics had no place in a game. There has been a shift in this, and I am so pleased to see Simmers sharing more and more posts and information about BLM and how to support the movement... When I created the BLM Rally Pack [in] 2016, I was one of the only creators who made content of this nature for The Sims 4. Now? There are a good handful of creators who’ve added to this, and that is the goal. More awareness. More voices. More action.”
Looking for ways to advocate for black lives? Check out this list of resources by our sister site Lifehacker for ways to get involved.