Normally, teens can't WooHoo or get pregnant in The Sims. To "fix" that, some players use mods that allow teen sim romance. Surprisingly, these mods are popular with real teen girls who roleplay fictional pregnancies, ultrasounds and all, on social media for hundreds of thousands of people.
ForeignSimmer, a YouTuber with an ongoing series about a pregnant teen sim, told me she got her start creating narratives for her sims two years ago. After gaining a following, she started documenting playthroughs on YouTube.
"When one of my sims got pregnant as a teenager I first wrote about it on [Instagram] and I got a lot of reactions from it," ForeignSimmer told me. In her video, her sim Lauren takes a pregnancy test and then tells her parents the upsetting news -- she missed her birth control and is now pregnant. They fight, and the crying teen walks out of the house. ForeignSimmer's video went viral, and in two months, she would gain 30k subscribers.
Ages are ambiguous in The Sims -- no one seems to really know how old teens are. Sims can have the hallmarks of teenage life, like going to high school and having homework, but that could still mean they are anywhere from 14 to 18 years-old. Despite that ambiguity, Sims fans still clamour for teen mods that open up romantic possibilities. MC Command Center alone sits at over a million downloads. As a master controller mod that provides a lot of gameplay tweaks that players consider essential, like changes to story progression or the ability to enter Create-A-Sim at any time, MC Command Center is more innocuous than the sex and relationship-focused Inteen. But MC Command Center does allow for teen sims to WooHoo and get pregnant, meaning this "essential" mod opens up a new world of narrative for Sims players.
Thanks to Instagram's tagging system, which is easy to parse and to search, The Sims community thrives on the photo-sharing network. Fans append their images with #simstagram, and the tag puts Sims and their stories in front of a huge audience.
The #simstagram tag in particular is mostly young women roleplaying as their sims. It isn't just limited to sims taking selfies or going shopping, however. The users on the tag go to great lengths to create a sense of realism in their sims's stories, up to including birth announcements and ultrasound photos.
Another picture of baby#4 ? #sims3 #ts3 #thesims3 #rpsims #simsbaby #sims3baby #3dultrasound #ultrasound #20weekspregnant #20weeks2days #babynumber4 #littlestfamilymember #family #familylove #littleone #sweet #babyboy #aprilbaby2017 #babybump #baby4 #simstoddler #sims3toddler #simsstory #simstagram #rp #babyhanson #simhansonfamily
The people using Instagram to tell their stories make it seem as if it is the sims themselves going on dates, getting married and having children. Sometimes, they even post fake text messages between their sims, adding to narrative's illusion.
Most of the posts on #simstagram don't just highlight the highs in the life of a sim. For example, user anasaquasims tells the story of the sims Heaven and her boyfriend Ethan, who had an unplanned pregnancy. While Heaven is overjoyed to be a mother, Ethan grows cold and leaves her. As ForeignSimmer says, "What would a good story be without drama?"
(sorry guys! i couldn't post yesterday because i fell asleep. :c) "i am going baby." his voice was trembling. i wished i never heard this. "where?" "i don't know. but we both knew it was going to happen, right?" he was right. but as he finished his words, i felt like i was with someone new. it wasn't like ethan. it wasn't like my boyfriend. it was like... someone else. someone selfish. someone who cares about nothing. "i can't live like this. i don't want this life. i don't wanna take care of a non-stop crying baby all day when you are out. i don't wanna wait until she stops crying her lungs out and falls asleep. i feel like i am drowning." he told me the things i already knew. but hearing this truth from his mouth broke my heart to thousands of pieces. "but... she's our baby... don't you love her? she's... she's a piece of us." "i don't." he said. i couldn't breathe. he was... he was... "and i don't think there's an 'us' anymore." [#sims3#sims#thesims#thesims3#ts3#simmer#simming#simmies#simstagram#simblr#sim#ea#origin]
These people don't see themselves as reflecting or emulating real life. They see themselves as storytellers, using The Sims to entertain others. The creativity of these young women -- and they are young, most listing their ages in their profiles ranging from mid teens to early 20s -- is inspiring. Instagram user Lilacprettysims introduces conflict in her story by having her sims Nolan and Harper grapple with the idea of a long distance romance. Later on, Nolan joins the army and gets deployed. Is it melodramatic? Sure -- but it keeps the narrative flowing.
Almost all of these players post about their sims across platforms, especially Tumblr and YouTube. Some, like ForeignSimmer, create short videos that are heavily edited, with specific shots selected to tell a very deliberate narrative and subtitles running underneath to give their sims real dialogue. Others, like KiwiSimming, prefer longer uncut videos of gameplay with their commentary on top. Those kinds of are videos feel more spontaneous, reacting to the things their sims do as they're doing them than telling a specific tale. It's the difference between a scripted drama and reality TV, except for The Sims.
Despite the twists and turns in her story, KiwiSimming's Teen Pregnancy videos are more lighthearted than ForeignSimmer. KiwiSimming is known to set up situations like having her teen mum sim's boyfriend have an affair, overtly building up narrative bombs and watching as they explode for entertainment. Her channel hosts more than just teen pregnancy videos though: She also has a Single Father Challenge and records speedbuilds of houses. Despite the controversial subject, her fanbase seems to be into everything she produces. The charming delivery helps. In one video, as she ages up her teen sim's daughter and realises it looks nothing like either of their parents, she chokes back a laugh and says, "That looks really bad on Serena's part."
Still, teens are aware of the stigma here. YouTubers like Xureila have had to explain that they're not "promoting teen pregnancy", and also not dissing teen mothers because, "it happens." She also coyly notes that she named her video "16 and Pregnant".
Back in 2014, MTV's 16 and Pregnant came under fire for promoting and normalising teen pregnancy even though it was conceptualised as a cautionary tale about the realities of teen pregnancy and motherhood. Yet in the years the show was on, teen pregnancy rates dropped throughout the US. It's easy to condemn taboo narratives or the mods that allow for them if you're fearful that teenagers might emulate them, but perhaps teenagers are smarter than we assume. Watching a video where a teen sim gets pregnant from an affair with their teacher in a game might seem disturbing, but one of the main characters in the critically acclaimed teen drama Pretty Little Liars sleeps with their teacher in the very first episode.
ForeignSimmer told me that she does occasionally receive negative comments about the content of her videos, but she doesn't pay them any mind. She receives far more messages of support. "I've gained so many subscribers over this. Received so many DMs. People thanking me for entertaining them, showing them what a family was and what a troubled relationship looked like. I've had people tell me that I inspired them," she told me. "I'm still overwhelmed by it and so thankful."