“…I think being a simmer has to be part of your DNA. Not everyone will get it because they don’t have the plumbob gene!” – Danielle; EbonixSims
Since its release in 2000, The Sims has made itself a household name in the gaming world as one of the longest running and most beloved life simulation games to date. With ten base games across PC, Console and Mobile, and over one hundred expansion and stuff packs combined, Electronic Arts and Maxis managed to give us an almost endless way to “play with life”. But despite this bountiful library of clothes, hair and other miscellaneous objects and worlds, there will always be more that is wanted by players to truly get the most out of the game. This is where the creators of Mods and Custom Content come in.
Danielle, known as EbonixSims, is one of those creators. Her drive for the creation of content runs deeper than a simple want however; what she creates satisfies a need for many Simmers who look like her. The need? Being able to create sims that look like them; something the developers of the popular life simulation game haven’t offered over the life of the game.
Earlier this year, Danielle was highlighted by BBC Africa for her work creating custom skin-tones, hairstyles and clothing targeted at black simmers. Her reason for starting? “I started making content because I wanted to make myself.”
While the world of custom content isn’t foreign to simmers or many other gamers, her moment in the spotlight showed the rest of the world not only her talents and the talents of other creators like her, but how many games centering character customization often alienate gamers of color.
CR – Tell me a little about yourself and what lead to your interest in The Sims.
ES – I’m 28, born and raised in South London with Nigerian and Caribbean heritage. I graduated in 2014 with a degree in Psychology and Counseling and I aim to go back to do a Master in Computer Arts: Game and Animation. My love for The Sims has been lifelong. I have been playing sims since I was about 9 or 10 when the first sims came out in 2000 and can remember bugging my mum for a computer that could actually run it! My very old and dusty windows 95 just wasn’t cutting it! The rest is history. I’ve played every pack in every franchise and I don’t plan on stopping anytime soon. I think at this point it’s embedded in my DNA!
CR – Do you consider yourself a gamer in any other sense? What else do you love to play?
ES – I am a big gamer and always have been. I love to play other simulation games, but I love story and role playing games too. A few games I’ve played recently are Afterparty, Secret Neighbor, Grand Theft Auto 5, Overcooked 2, Detroit: Become Human, Persona 5 and Spiderman. I’m also an affiliate with Twitch, so I also live stream some game play and engage with my community on a weekly basis.
CR – What was your first experience with The Sims?
ES – My first experience was when I got The Sims 1 and the House Party expansion pack after much begging. My earliest memory of it was decorating the house (terribly) so my family could move in. I didn’t know they could make babies, so after a few hugs and kisses a baby appeared and I couldn’t stop screaming (neither did the baby)!
CR – I’m a bit of a Sims purist and only play on the computer. Do you prefer PC/MAC or console when you play? Why?
ES – The only console version of the Sims I’ve play was Bustin’ Out on PS2. I most definitely prefer playing on the PC due to the ability to play with mods and make the game look and run how you want. You’re limited in this regard when it comes to playing on a console.
CR – Do you have an opinion on the Mobile games?
ES – I’ve never been much of a mobile gamer, so I don’t have much of an opinion on them. I do know that Sims Mobile has been popping for a minute and have some items that I’d love to see in the main game!
CR – What has been your favorite version of the game so far? Favorite Expansion pack? Favorite stuff pack?
ES – My favorite version is The Sims 2, it was a game ahead of it’s time and is still a favorite. My favorite expansion packs would have to be Free Time (TS2) and World Adventures (TS3). My favorite stuff pack would be IKEA Stuff (TS2).
CR – What’s your favorite cheat?
ES – I think this goes for all simmers when I say MOTHERLODE! Now, if we could get this for real? That’d be great.
CR – What expansion, announced or unannounced, are you most looking forward to? What are you hoping makes a comeback?
ES – I’m very excited about University Life. It’s one pack that a massive part of the community has been waiting on and it is out in the next couple of weeks. (released November 15) I’m hoping that dorm life, sororities/fraternities, mid-term papers, secret societies and streaking mascots make a comeback!
CR – Again, I consider myself a bit of a purist, so I NEVER use custom content or mods (although I may start). What was your experience with them before you started creating content?
ES – I’ve been playing with custom content and mods since The Sims 2. While it didn’t really need it, I needed more content to make sims that were relevant to me and my style of game play. There wasn’t much, but I did find a few custom brown skin tones, eye colors and hairs that I could use to make characters I want to see. I followed my love for custom content into TS3 and TS4 down the line once they’d been released. One thing was consistent – I was always looking for content to make my game more representative and rich with culture.
CR – While the Sims franchise has evolved and bettered over the years, they have constantly and consistently missed the bar for us players of color, predominately for black players. Attempts at “black” hairstyles have been laughably horrible for example. How has this oversight affected you as a player?
ES – Yes, they have evolved in many ways, except in a way that matters most to simmers of color who really care about seeing themselves represented in the game. The only way it’s affected me is by giving me the motivation to make it so that no one has to feel like this when they go to play TS4. Without this, I wouldn’t be who I am today.
It is very sad that as a base game, out of 64 hairs for women you can only count 6 that have a kink or coil. It’s a similar story for the male sims where 8 of 36 hairs are Afrocentric. I will say with every expansion pack, I am always excited and happy to see that they are including more and more ethnic hairstyles, but these come at a price. Having to pay to make a sim that looks like you is a micro-aggression and doesn’t sit well with me.
It’s not just the sims that do this though, I’ve come across several games (particularly mobile games) where ethnic hairs are options you have to either pay for with real money or a huge amount of the in-game currency.
CR – I’ve scoped out some of the influencers and gamers EA reaches out to and invites to events. It’s an undeniable sea of white/white passing women. This makes me believe that a lot of the feedback they value isn’t coming from “us” if you get my suggestion. Have you seen or noticed this as well? How does it make you feel?
ES – I agree, there are only a handful of black women who were invited to recent events including, Xmiramira, DeeSimsYT and HeyHarrie. And as far as I know, it’s even less when it comes to reaching out for feedback. It really hits home at times, because there are so many talented content creators for the sims who are black women that could really benefit from the experiences too, but you really only ever see the same names over and over. It can be very demoralizing, so I am hoping that the more these kinds of discussions happen, the more black and brown women we will see being invite for their input and really change the game!
CR – EA has the “Game Changers” program in place that highlights content creators and influencers around their games in an effort to improve content. Have you looked into this program at all? If you have how did the process go for you?
ES- In recent months, I have definitely looked into it! When they open up the next round of applications I will be applying again and I think I have a great chance of becoming one, as The Sims team have noticed my impact to the community!
CR – If you had the chance to confront EA and discuss the issue of representation in the Sims, how would you present it? What would you say?
ES – If I had such an opportunity, I would present the messages I’ve received from my community. I’d show them exactly how grateful people have been over the years for the fact that I have filled a gap where they have missed out on providing representation for simmers of color. I won’t have to say much, their messages speak volumes!
CR – When you started creating content, did you ever imagine that what you’re doing was as important as it is?
ES – I didn’t – it really all does feel quite surreal that so many major opportunities are presenting themselves in recent months! When I started sharing content, the response I got did give me the inclination that people were as frustrated as me by the lack of content for us. However, never did I think I’d have such a major impact in the community. Being told Ebonix is a household name is extremely endearing!
CR – When you had your big viral moment with BBC Africa, what was going through your head? How did you feel?
ES – I can’t really explain the feelings I had. It was my first night in San Diego for TwitchCon and I had woken up at 3am (PST) because of the 8 hour timezone difference. My phone started blowing up and I looked and saw that it had been posted! Even though I knew about it, I didn’t know when it would be posted so it was still a surprise! My heart was racing, and I really couldn’t believe that I’d really made the news! I don’t think I felt this proud even when I graduated! I was an emotional
wreck, crying and laughing, called my mum and dad, shared it with family and friends. It really solidified the fact that I am fulfilling my purpose.
CR – Seeing you being highlighted in that way was indescribable for me. As a woman, a nerd and a simmer it was amazing to experience it. How has the community reacted to your moment?
ES – My community have been my rock throughout this experience. They all came together to share their own appreciation for everything I’ve done and how deserving I am of this moment – even if I didn’t believe it myself. They are all so wonderful and I love them to pieces. I don’t know what I’d do without them and I am eternally grateful for their consistent support.
CR – You obviously play with CC and Mods. Do you use your own stuff or are there some notable creators you like to download from as well?
ES – Yes my game is full of mods and CC – I don’t think I could go without them to be honest! I do use my own stuff, but I definitely have a few favorite creators in the community that I use religiously. My friend Xmiramira created a Melanin Pack when she grew tired of the limited, ashy skin tones that were given as darker skin tone options. I love the different shades she has provided so I can make a variety of sims of different hues. There are other really talented CC creators in the community that I like to use also such as Blvck-Life-Simz, Kikovanity, SheSpeaksSimlish, Slayclassy, Leahlilith, Pralinesims, Shunga. There are so many I can’t name them all! For mods, I download from KawaiiStacie, Basemental, Sacraficial, Turbodriver, Deaderpool and LittleMsSam.
CR – What’s your favorite bit of content or favorite Mod right now? Who created it?
ES – I have two favorites at the moment, which would be the Slice of Life mod by KawaiiStacie and the Life Tragedies Mod by Sacraficial. They both add so much to the game, they make it a completely new simming experience!
CR – I think all of us as players have different reasons for why we play a game that really isn’t for everybody. I personally get questions from friends and other gamers on why I play The Sims and why I get joy out of it and what I can even do with a game they say is boring. Tell me, why do you play the sims?
ES – I play the sims because it’s fun. It’s fun to create sims, it’s fun to decorate and build your dream house, it’s fun to make a family and see their lives through, grow generations, create drama! Some would call it a “God complex”, but I don’t see it like that! Personally, I think being a simmer has to be a part of your DNA. Not everyone will get it because they don’t have the plumbob gene!
I’ve also used the sims to escape depression and anxiety – it’s help a lot with my mental health. I get lost in creating a world that makes sense to me and I stop worrying about what’s not going right in mine.