Twitch star Xmiramira is fighting against lackluster Black skin in The Sims

Amira Virgil, known as Xmiramira on twitch and YouTube, felt something wasn’t right with The Sims 4. Virgil, a content creator and video game streamer, is also a storyteller. Her YouTube page is full of Sims 4 Let’s Plays soap opera style playlists in which she creates stories to accompany her characters’ actions in the game. She’s like a showrunner, acting as a producer, director, screenwriter and, ultimately, God, controlling her characters as they move through a world she’s created using The Sims 4 and its vast library of expansion packs. But something just wasn’t right about the characters she was creating. Something wasn’t right.

It was the skin.

“There’s this gray, ashy undertone to it, and looking at it is the equivalent of nails on a blackboard to me,” Virgil told me via Zoom. “Where’s the undertone? Where is the contradiction? Where is the vibrancy?”

There is a long, rich tradition in gaming communities of modifying a game to add features it doesn’t have. Usually modding introduces a humorous element or a small but profound change in the quality of life. Black players and players of color have used modding to deal with when a game does not take into account players who are not white. Tired of the color of her black characters, Virgil decided to learn how to modify The Sims 4.

The Sims 4 is a life simulation game where players can build and control their own little world. Players can create characters (known as “sims”), choose their personalities, place them in homes that they can customize and decorate, and give them jobs, husbands, and children. There is no goal, no way to “beat” or “win” the game. It is a creation engine equipped with so many options that there is no limit to the stories a player can create.

“Where’s the undertone? Where is the contradiction? Where is the vibrancy?”

According to Virgil, The Sims 4 has an “ashiness” problem, where a black sim’s skin looks so faded or gray that it looks like it has dry skin or “ash”. It’s a problem that has annoyed black and brown Sims creators (known as Simmers) for a long time.

“We always like to joke about how sims always look so grumpy,” Virgil said.

The Sims 4 has a reputation for being a game that allows players to express their most authentic selves, whoever they are and wherever they come from. It was one of the first games to contain homosexual relationships and more recent updates focus on everything from inclusive pronouns to add items from cultures around the world† While probably unintentionally, Virgil thought the way dark skin was represented in The Sims 4 didn’t match the game’s ethos. It had to be changed.

“I got tired of not being able to create the kind of content I wanted to make in The Sims 4,” she said. She wanted to create characters that “fit with how I know people look in real life.”

The Sims 4 has an extensive modding community dedicated to creating and sharing mods for just about anything a player could want in a life simulation game. Discouraged by the prospect of having to learn a programming language to modify the game, Virgil was pleased to learn that the modding community had already created tools that would make her project easier.

“I got tired of not being able to create the kind of content I wanted to make in The Sims 4.”

“I would use Photoshop to edit the skin tones, edit the files, and then use the programs the community has created to export and test.”

With the help of a Sims 4 modding program called the skininatorVirgil created a few mods called the Melanin Pack 1 and 2featuring over 50 different skin tones for players to download and use to create black and brown characters free from the plague of ash.

Ashiness is a mortal sin in the black community. We pride ourselves on the vibrancy, variety and richness of our skin, an emotion born in the face of white supremacy’s unceasing efforts to put black and dark skin to shame. More than the physical condition of dry skin, ashness has deep cultural significance for black people. When we want to offend someone, we call them ashy. When we want an expression of joy or health, we refer to being hydrated.

Virgil didn’t stop with her skintone mods. Makeup is another major annoyance of hers, and The Sims 4’s makeup options left a lot to be desired as well.

“A lot of the makeup isn’t made for darker skin tones,” she said. “So for the skin tones I made, I would do makeup [that went with them.]†

Virgil’s desire to modify The Sims 4 to better reflect black culture and community went from skin and makeup to clothing and art. She’s particularly proud of a poster mod she created featuring artwork from her favorite black artists.

“I’d mark them, put [their artwork] in the game, then they got to grips with their stuff,” she said. “It was like an exchange.” The mod became so popular that it caught the attention of The Sims 4 developers, leading them to look at the art options they offered.

“EA actually overhauled their base game with more inclusive art. Now there are black people in art, there are people of color in art. There are queer couples in art.”

The Sims 4
The Sims 4

The problem of video games poorly portraying black skin extends beyond The Sims 4. “It’s damn almost everything,” Virgil said.

you can’t have a dark-skinned character in BioWare’s Dragon Age: Origins† The game’s character creator doesn’t offer skin tones darker than a paper lunch bag, thus unwittingly creating a video game version of the racist test in which a black person’s “acceptability” or “desirability” was determined by how light or dark their skin was. was in relation to a paper bag. What’s worse is that the darkest skin option the game offers results in a character that looks like a blotchy, ash-gray mess who’s never known the sweet touch of a moisturizer.

Even recent titles suffer from the same skin problem. Babylon’s Fall got attention because it was extremely bad and for having a character creator with dark skin options they are not dark at all† Virgil’s quest to add improved skin tones to The Sims 4 meant more than correcting unappealing or unflattering colors, it was a matter of cultural significance – a small, personal way to right a mistake gaming still makes with regarding black players.

“My mom always taught me, ‘Be the change you want to see,'” she said. “So that’s what I do.”

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