How The Sims 4 designed for size-inclusive fashion

I spent a good chunk of my childhood developing a passion for fashion. It started with dressing up Disco Barbie in shiny purple pants before I went digital with dress-up games on Flash sites. Once I found my all-time favorite fashion game, Style Savvy on the DS, I spent hours crafting looks as a virtual boutique owner, managing my inventory, and competing in fashion shows to prove I was the ultimate stylist. I credit Style Savvy games for sparking my love for both fashion and management simulations. But even though I loved them, they definitely weren’t perfect. As I grew up, I looked at the girls on my screens and started to wonder: Why is everybody so skinny?

A lack of body diversity obviously isn’t just a thing in video games. Growing up on a steady diet of Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model made it clear to me that there was a body standard in fashion, one that most of us did not fit into. I knew the standard existed but didn’t realize until later that it plagued even my favorite games. Consider the Style Savvy series and Love Nikki. They both only had one kind of model, skinny and conventionally feminine. Both the Style Savvy series and Love Nikki introduced the ability to dress conventionally masculine models over time, but those are also restricted to thin body types.

Maybe it comes down to logistics. If you introduced a new body type into a Style Savvy game, for example, then you would have to remodel each piece of clothing so it fits onto that new body type, so they default to using skinny models. This reminds me of a somewhat similar argument used to advocate against size inclusivity in fashion modeling in real life. In 2016, model scout Carole White was quoted as saying designers “want their clothes to fall as they designed them. Which is unrealistic when most women have boobs. I can’t change that. It’s just how it is.” This is the same spiel I heard growing up, that models have to look a certain way because they are meant to be hangers and mannequins for the clothes and not people. It’s easy; it’s the way it’s always been. But maybe it’s time for fashion games to move on from the way it’s always been, and the technology is already there. It exists in a mainstream game that doesn’t really present itself as a fashion game: The Sims 4.

The Sims 4’s Create a Sim, or CAS for short, is a good example of a size-inclusive fashion game. While CAS is just the character customizer and not an actual game, Simmers will understand that it can take hours in CAS to craft Sims. In fact, the dressing up and customization is the best part for a lot of players. I have spent time and effort giving Sims perfect sets of outfits, hair, and accessories to go with whatever preconceived backstory I’ve given them, only to play with them outside of CAS for maybe an hour or two. The Sims 4’s flourishing modding community also contributes to the game’s fashion options, as modders have given Sims an incredible library of custom content clothes in a plethora of styles for free. At this point, CAS may as well be its own game.

“I love it. I’ve been in the industry for 25 years and I love when I see people buy a PlayStation to just play FIFA… They get exactly what they want out of just that one part. We try to serve all game players eventually, right? There’s all these different types. I’m glad to see it’s robust enough that it can keep expanding and adding things to keep them interested,” says Mike O’Connor, an art director on The Sims 4. He explains that the core goal for The Sims 4 is to keep expanding and making it more inclusive for everyone.

The Sims 4 allows for a large amount of body customization; its drag-and-drop system allows you to manipulate the shape and size of the Sim’s individual body parts, making it so you can sculpt a variety of different bodies. It also has options to customize muscle definition, body width, and tattoos. Recent updates added body hair and scars. While the game asks you to choose between having a “masculine” or “feminine” frame, Sims can wear any piece of clothing regardless of body type.

The clothes, instead of being static 3D models, are meshes that mold to the body no matter what shape it is. The game allows any type of frame to wear any piece of clothing. “We’ll have a kind of a standard rig of a character,” says O’Connor. “Let’s just for this purpose [say] an adult female, and when we design we will concept on a 2D template. So we’ll take those characters and pose them pretty simply and create templates of all different types.” On designing for different body types, he says, “We have technical considerations like what will this look like in every variety we offer. So, for example, if we put something in the high chest area, it can get deformed a lot and by a player so we’re careful not to try not to put a button there that’s gonna get horribly deformed and ruin the experience. From a straight representation design side, we want everything to be available for everybody like it would be in the world, and the people who work on it make choices every day. We’re always trying to make it as authentic as possible.”

Despite all its positive points, The Sims 4 CAS is definitely not perfect. There have been complaints about some clothes fitting certain body types awkwardly. For example, when Sims with the “masculine” frame wear certain clothes designed for the “feminine” frames it sometimes adds cleavage shadows that don’t exist on the actual Sim. But it still is significant that size-inclusive fashion is built into a mainstream game like The Sims 4, unlike most actual fashion games. It’s a good example of what fashion should look like in games and it makes me hopeful that one day we may get full-fledged fashion games that let you style models of many different body types.