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“The Sims” Computer Game Creators Open to Input from Social Workers

A social worker removes a neglected child in The Sims PC game.

Electronic Arts is open to consulting with social work experts to change how social workers are depicted in future versions of the wildly popular PC game “The Sims,” an official from the company said during a meeting with National Association of Social Workers representatives.

“We can use you guys as a resource,” said Charles London, a creative director at the Redwood City, CA company who was part of the development team for the original version of the “The Sims.”

The latest versions of the game, “The Sims 3,” was the best selling PC game in 2009 and the third highest seller in 2010, according to the NPD Group.

“That particular game is very popular. The Sims is one of the best-selling PC game properties of all time, and continues to be,” said David Riley, executive director at The NPD Group.

“The Sims” players create a simulated life in the game. They can pick how they look, what they will wear, where they will work, and what kind of home they live in. They can also have relationships and children.

 The presence of children was the reason why EA decided to include a social worker in some versions of the game, London said during a conference call with NASW representatives on Feb. 24. In “The Sims” world characters can die from starvation or in accidents or fires and it was important there be a failsafe to protect young characters in the game.

“Since children need to be cared for by adults there was a chance that there would be failures,” London said.

Some variations of the social worker in The Sims.

Although social workers play a valuable protective role in the game, their characterization falls into familiar stereotypes.

They are all women — despite the fact one out of five social workers is male — and they wear severe, combed back hairstyles and unfashionable dark suits with long skirts and turtlenecks. They also fit the long-held stereotype that Child Protective Services social workers are bureaucrats who steal children and break up families, when in fact these social workers have the tough task of helping children find stable homes when their parents are no longer capable of caring for them.

When a child is neglected in “The Sims” social workers arrive to rescue them from errant parents, although players can use special cheat codes to foil them and keep their babies. However, social workers also play a far more positive role of delivering adopted children to their parents.

Why did EA staff decide to depict social workers in this way? Did artists and programmers consult with social work experts?

“We did very little research,” London admitted. “I would love to say yes we had long talks with expert social workers.”

London said creators instead drew on their personal image of social workers when creating ones for the game. They also wanted to make the character easily recognizable to most players, which is why a more stereotyped depiction of social workers was used.

 “That is why the role is so limited,” he said.

However London said EA is open to tapping social work experts for advice when they tweak future versions of the game. The company is always interested in including a broader range of human interactions in the “The Sims,” he said.

“Our challenge is to balance the reality of human life with creating a game that is fun to play,” London  said. “It is a delicate balance.”

Q: Social workers, how can EA include social workers and address social work issues in “The Sims” but still keep the game entertaining?

To learn more about the variety of services social workers provide in real-life communities, visit NASW’s “Help Starts Here” consumer Website by clicking here.

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13 Comments

  1. Should be no cheat to avoid. If child is harmed automatically lose game. The game will remain challenging and fun yet not play around with child safety.

  2. I’ve been playing The Sims for about 10 years now. As a fan of The Sims and a current social work major I would suggest a few things to EA.

    1. Start a career track where sims could be social workers.
    2. Consult with social work experts to set career tracks for the social work profession in the game.
    3. I would also suggest that any NPC in game that are social workers have more interaction with the family that they are about to take the child away. Maybe offer service and to help the sims take better care of their child (taking the child away should be the last resort)

  3. I have been a Social Worker for 15 years. As mentioned below-I think it would be marvelous to continue the role of the social worker, only tweek it toward maintaining the family together. have the family work a “case plan” to get their child back- to include visits with children to maintain their bond,as well as meeting the needs of the child during visits. Take child support out of their salary until children are successfully returned. Also give the option for the children to live with a family member- a sister, brother, or parent of the neglectful parent- (because in the Sims 3 these relationships exist within neighborhoods).
    And definitely get rid of that staunchy authoritarian look, make the SW’s male and female, AND call them “Family Support Workers”- because ALL Social Workers are not Children Services workers. And ALL Children Services Workers are not Social Workers. Social Workers do more than steal babies. The link, refer, advocate, skills build, provide social support, and do clinical psychotherapy with their consumers.

  4. I have never played The Sims, but as a licensed Master’s Social Worker I am very interested. Anywhere there is someone in crisis there is usually a social worker to provide interventions and assist with short and long term goals. Social workers work with a diverse population. They are commonly portrayed to work with children (media) but they also work with the following:

    *elderly (elder abuse is on the rise, most recently Mickey Rooney)
    *adults (marriage and family therapy)
    *military (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Substance Abuse, Traumatic Brain Injury)

    In addition, they work with diffrent agencies other than social services such as the government such as Gabe Zimmerman, an aide to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

    note: I am available for more input.

  5. I feel that social workers are being portrayed poorly in this game as well as in movies and tv shows. Maybe the game should incorporate the training social workers do with families to mend the problems that the family may have to create a safe environment for the child, instead of making social workers out to be nothing other than a ” baby-snatcher.”

  6. I have been in social work since 1994, when computer gaming was still in its infancy. I have also been a so-called “computer gamer” since the TRS-80 when all a computer game consisted of was typing code into the system just to get fancy squiggly lines to race across the screen. I agree with Alaetra:

    1. Build out a career track. Call it social work or social services
    a.Keep it simple and realistic divide it into two main branches.
    i. Clinical
    1.Private Practice — psychotherapist
    a. able to provide psychotherapy for a fee that is set by the therapist player
    b. requires a minimum experience level and the skill(s) must be trained (leveled) in-game.
    c. Able to provide individual, couples, and group therapy.
    d. Therapist players can coose which of these services they provide.
    e. Clients can consist of a mix of NPC’s and player charecters.
    f. Player characters would be referred by the Social Services social workers as one of their assigned (quest) tasks to complete in order to be “cleared” from social services.
    g. Character progression at this level could include a popularity scale based upon the players actions.
    i. One goal would be to become a famous psychotherapist (ie. Sigmund Freud)
    ii. Players can earn EXP through:
    1. the number of NPC and player clients they see
    2. publishing articles
    3. public speaking at conferences
    4. writing books
    5. Etc.

    ii. Social services – Requires less EXP to start but still must train skills.
    1.These could take the place of your built-in NPC’s that respond to child abuse cases or act to augment them.
    2. have a list of characters that need to be followed up with (based on player actions) due to suspected abuse
    3. Option 1: NPC visits (investigates) these players and suggests they contact a player character for services
    a. Players have 2 choices
    i. ignore the NPC and ultimately lose their child
    ii. follow the NPC’s instructions and contact the player character
    b. Player characters would hand out specific tasks the referred players would have to complete in order to “be cleared” (type of quest). In social work we call this case management.
    i. These tasks could be spending a specific amount of time with the child, attending an in-game version of parenting classes, etc.
    4. Character progression at this level could include simply EXP scale based upon the players actions.
    a. One goal could be to get promoted to social service director or open the door to pursue a political career.
    b. EXP could be earned through:
    i. number of NPC/player families successfully helped out of “the system”
    ii. conference attendance
    iii. wiring books
    iv. starting “groups” players/NPC’s are required to attend as part of their “clearance” (quest)

    Anyway just a few ideas. I have allot more if interested contact me.

  7. I am a fairly new MSW, but like Talolo, have been playing games since “pong” was a big deal. I have also been a part of beta testing and being on an NPD panel for the Playstation online version of the Sims game. I wanted to say that I think that Talolo’s got a great idea for the next Sims game and I hope that someone from EA gives some sort of thought to making a new game called “The Sims – Social Worker! dedicated to the seemingly limitless career paths that Social Workers can take.

    I also want to add to Elizabeth’s statement, “ALL Social Workers are not Children Services workers. And ALL Children Services Workers are not Social Workers.” and suggest to Talolo that some sort of Social Work education prior to being able to be called a “Social Worker” would have to be a part of the Social work career track in the game.

  8. @ Wendy:

    Rgarding the educational requirement, it would be a good idea but I’m not sure if SIM’s has this built into the game. In order for it to work I see it needing to be apart of the underlying structure of the game. What I mean by that it everyone should have the option to “go to school” and then ALL career paths eventually would be an option, some unlockable based upon EXP and choices made in the game. otherwise I’m not sure their would be the player motivation present to pursue a career in social work. BTW, anyone wanting to discuss this further may contact me at lepale@sbcglobal.net.

  9. Can you purchase the SIM City Social Work game and where?

    Thanks,
    Amy

  10. Ms Ver Mulm:

    There is not a specific SIM City game focused solely on social work that we are aware of. The National Association of Social Workers had discussions with the game makers several years ago to improve how social workers are portrayed in the game.

    Greg Wright
    NASW Public Relations Manager

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