Real world lags behind virtual

The Sims 4 offers marriage equality in contrast to Thai government's empty gestures

A lesbian couple leads the promotional campaign of The Sims 4: My Wedding Stories. Photo: Facebook/The Sims Thailand

LIVING THE DREAM

Roses. Wedding bells. Celebration. What a joyous mood in this month of love! Smiles were on the faces of same-sex couples who attended a special event organised by Bang Khun Thian district office in Bangkok. On Feb 14, couples sat down in front of the registrar and signed their names on a document, declaring their intention to be wedded. They kissed and hugged. Some even got tears in their eyes. It was a rare chance to be able to display their love this way, with a degree of recognition by state officials. A meaningful gesture, if nothing else.

Because, for all intents and purposes, that was all it was. A gesture.

This signing of the love declaration appeared like an ordinary marriage registration -- except that one big element was missing. This paper means nothing in the eyes of the law.

On the same day but on the other side of Bangkok, a gay couple headed to Bang Rak district office with an intention to get married -- for real -- as did many heterosexual couples. When they arrived there, expectedly, their request for marriage was denied. On their request form, officials informed them in writing that they were ineligible as they are two men, and the law only allows a man and a woman to be legally wedded.

This, too, was a gesture. But instead of a hopeful dream, this was a bitter truth. Over the years, several same-sex couples have attempted a similar act of trying to register marriage on Valentine's Day as a form of activism -- an unyielding call for marriage equality. Year after year, they were faced with rejection. It was only to be expected, but that doesn't mean it didn't hurt.

As for an even more bitter truth, in the week before Valentine's Day, the marriage equality bill draft proposed by the Move Forward Party went before the parliament. People's hope deflated quickly when it was voted that the bill would be sent to the cabinet for consideration in 60 days, thus delaying its first hearing. The prospect of marriage equality was stalled, being pushed further away by powerful hands that remain adamantly ignorant of LGBTI people's deprived rights.

Activists show signs in support of same-sex marriage at Bang Rak district office earlier this month. Photo: Apichart Jinakul

Witnessing this move from parliament, and also the scene at Bang Rak, the Valentine's event in Bang Khun Thian district office became pretty much a hypocritical waste. I'm being very pessimistic, yes, but at the same time I do understand there were those who chose to attend the event and were happy about it. Sometimes, it's just discouraging wishing and fighting for equal rights, and it's OK to take a break. For many couples, that event was at least a fond memory that they will cherish. LGBTI couples also deserve to have a happy day where their love is celebrated. And despite it not leading to anything momentous right now, we can opt for a slice of happiness while still keeping our eyes on the goal. People can still celebrate love, even when the government isn't willing to do the same.

IN SIMULATION

Our talk of marriage and wedding continues. But, instead of real life, let's head to a digital realm. In the life simulation video game The Sims 4, players are allowed to live their wildest dreams or create any story their heart desires. In its latest game pack, My Wedding Stories, which was released last week, players can now create a wedding of their dreams in a new gorgeous town. Perhaps it's not the most exciting addition amid the sea of content players can purchase to spice up the bland base game, but that was before the teaser dropped online.

The buzz around this new game pack began when the teaser was released. In it, a black and a brown woman are depicted walking down the aisle. They are surrounded by cheering guests. In other promotional videos and photos, the couple appear old and grey, but still together and happily in love. In addition to same-sex marriage, it seems the company was eyeing to push forward representations in other areas all in one go. A lesbian couple of colour who wed and grow old together? That's like killing three birds with one stone.

The Sims as a franchise has long been friendly for LGBTI players and has enabled marriage equality in previous editions of the game. In 2016, the game's free update enabled players to customise the character's gender freely. Now in 2022, lesbian characters are leading a promotional campaign of a new game pack and it's just a great continuation of this inclusive and open game world.

"We are committed to the freedom to be who you are, to love who you love and tell the stories you want to tell," said a statement by Electronic Arts.

But this wedding was almost called off in some areas. Earlier this month, the company announced that it will withhold the release of My Wedding Stories in Russia "where [the] storytelling would be subject to changes because of federal laws", adding that it doesn't wish to see the story of Dominique and Camille -- the lesbian couple in their promo -- to be held back as that would compromise their values.

But a week later, a new statement was made to say that the decision was reassessed following the community's feedback and that the game pack will be released "unaltered and unchanged". The company also pushed back the game's global release date from its original Feb 17 to Feb 23. However, the statement didn't elaborate on what other actions the developer or the company have taken in order to facilitate the release in Russia.

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