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How Paul Radecki and LGBT Russians Fought Censorship and Won

Russian Simmer Paul Radecki explains what motivated him to lead the #weddingsforrussia campaign and start a petition to reverse Sims 4 creator Electronic Arts’ (EA) decision not to release a game pack, Sims 4: Wedding Stories, in Russia due to the country’s censorship of LGBT content. Radecki and others explain why The Sims as an uncensored creative space is so important and explain why they fought against EA’s decision.

By Jo Moses

In Sims 4, you can be abducted by aliens, build an underwater house, or feed the carnivorous plants in your virtual garden, but what some players value more are the seemingly mundane aspects of the game. In countries where LGBT content is heavily censored and media representation is impossible to come by, Sims 4 players use the game to experience the mundane things they might be denied by the law: free gender expression, same-sex marriage, and same-sex adoption. According to Russian “Simmer” (gaming parlance for a fan of the franchise) Paul Radecki (@radecki95), that’s precisely why the Sims is so powerful. The Sims 4 is the dollhouse of dreamers, as Radecki explains: “Every player of The Sims is a dreamer, and dreamers want to create their dreams. Sometimes it’s not possible in the real world, but The Sims lets us create our world, our own story.” 

In Russia, a country with heavy censorship of LGBT content, this can manifest with LGBT gamers using The Sims to express with virtual dolls a free and public same-sex love or the uninhibited expression of gender identity. Playing The Sims has been a successful escape for many Russians for 22 years, that is until February 9th, 2022, when EA, the creator of The Sims, announced they would not be releasing the game pack Sims 4: Wedding Stories in Russia due to its featured characters being a lesbian couple. Russian Simmers felt “shocked,” viewing the decision as “homophobia, Russophobia to us.” 

“I [thought] the EA is an LGBT-friendly company and [a] company that respects every nation,” said Radecki, “but [after they chose not to release the new game pack in Russia], my opinion was changed.” Russian Simmers pushed back against EA’s announcement, and emphasizing the game’s positive impact on LGBT Russians, Radecki launched a protest with the hashtag #weddingsforrussia that on February 16th, 2022, convinced EA to reverse their decision. As of February 16th, over 10,000 players had signed.

Though a computer game might seem relatively trivial in the landscape of LGBT progress, the value of an uncensored creative space cannot be underestimated, especially for those that grew up using The Sims as an emotional outlet. “My mother’s friend gave me The Sims: Castaway Stories,” recalled Radecki. “It was my first game of The Sims games. I played in The Sims: Castaway Stories hours. Then I bought the Sims 2. And I discovered a world with incredible possibilities.”

When EA chose not to release Wedding Stories in Russia, they were responding to Russia’s law passed in 2013, “For the Purpose of Protecting Children from Information Advocating for a Denial of Traditional Family Values,” which presents practically as the restriction of all content promoting “non-traditional sexual relationships” to adults over 18. In a statement on their website, EA explained that they chose not to release the game because releasing it in Russia would demand “our storytelling…be subject to changes because of federal laws.” This perplexed fans, who wondered why the Sims would suddenly change its previous compliance with the law, releasing their game to an 18+ audience only. Many fans interpreted the decision as a capitulation to Russian social mores; when I reached out to the Russian Sims community, Simmer @alsaswyn explained that “as a lesbian living in a homophobic country, this feels like a betrayal. I can’t believe EA sagged under Putin’s homophobic rhetoric instead of releasing the Wedding Stories game set without censorship…Their Russophobia and selective support deeply wounded me.”

When the EA publicized their decision, fans like @alsaswyn and Radecki didn’t just get angry; they got active; Radecki gathered legions of fans like @alsaswyn to create a petition to bring Wedding Stories to Russia. “The petition was invented [historically] as a response of the people to the despotic behavior of the authorities.,” said Radecki, the night before EA reversed their decision. “We are making history together.”

Does it make history to release a video game? Does it make history to comply with a state’s homophobic laws? Perhaps not, but Radecki knows that’s okay. He still made an impact with his petition, and now LGBT Russians can continue to use the Sims to bring a little bit of peaceful mundanity to their lives that is so hard to find as queer Russians. “Every Russian player wants to play in his own game,” said Radecki. “LGBT Russians want to play the game because we can be ourselves. We can have [the] family that our law prohibits. Because in Russia LGBT marriages are illegal.” And he was sure to add: “But not in the Sims.”

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