Sims forum, feminist of color space? incentivizing participation and intentionality by AW

I started my exploration on the official Sims forum (I’ll likely be interchanging the full name with TSF for space/brevity), and initially found the general tone of the boards pretty sterile: most of the discussions appeared to be anticipation/reactions to new game releases, technical tutorials, etc., and there’s strict rules about cursing (curse words are “auto-censored,” but this censorship also catches terms like “boobs,”) and any material that might be considered above the T for Teen rating of the game itself. The forum seems very concerned with protecting/keeping discussions appropriate for younger users on the forum (which I guess could be considered an argument made for a feminist space  BUT I don’t really trust companies and their avatars as arbiters of what is appropriate and what isn’t). I wandered to other unofficial spaces, and ended up on the Sims subreddit as well-I wasn’t really interested in getting involved in reddit, but this seems to be the space where some more candid discussions of the game are happening. It was in this space that users discussed being banned on the official forum for critiquing recent releases of the game and its perceived shortcomings. I read this as the users “venting” about the more buttoned-up, straitlaced environment of the official forum.

However, I am discovering more (seemingly) candid critiques of the games in the Feedback portions of the forum; in fact, some of the remarks I’m observing indicate that one reason users sign up for this forum is specifically to leave game feedback/critique in a place where the game developers will actually, hopefully, see them. It also seems to have more sustained interaction between users as part of its structure: threads that are years old are still revived/commented upon currently and with more sustained interactions, while things seems to pass quickly with fewer comments on reddit. From what I’m witnessing, reddit posts feel more ephemeral and less categorized, but that could be my relative newness with the platform.

The official forum also has user-created polls, which are really interesting and helpful to me in terms of demographic information. If reddit has these, I have yet to see them.

 So far, I have created an account on the Sims forum, and introduced myself in a large, somewhat unwieldy intro thread (where I was warmly welcomed by the OP who responds to every single poster, and who represents themselves as a pink rose).

Something that I find intriguing and frustrating about this space is that it incentivizes participation. New users are given a generic avatar of the sims plumbob (the green diamond thing above an active sim’s head), and are unable to change their icon until they achieve a certain number of communications collectively called Activity (posts, comments, “liking” things, having their comments liked). This elevates user status from New Member to Member, which affords different privileges and levels of access to the site’s tools.

From what I’m gathering, this method was implemented to curb trolls and limit multiple user accounts, and also serves the purpose of ensuring consistent, proactive communication among members (I’m not sure yet if one’s status can be demoted due to inactivity). It created an interesting discussion on this thread, where a new user inquired how soon they’d be able to post links after joining TSF.

This query resulted in a range of responses; some were informative and actually answered the user’s question. A fair few expressed suspicion, which led to a side conversation about the merits of the ranking system and the necessity of a user ‘earning their place’ in the community:

One user’s comment, (“Guys a name like BarbaricSpaceWhale isnt a troll name now that chick with the name twerkingqueen or whatever”) is of interest to me in its assumptions about who is considered a troll/suspicious vs. a “legitimate” user. I’m curious if “twerkingqueen” was indeed the name of a user on this site, or if this is intended as a humorous/willful mis-remembering of a similar name. I’m curious if the commenter’s designation of this hypothetical user as “a chick” is rooted in their self-identification during the incident, or if the commenter feminized them in this re-telling based on assumptions made about their username. These factors are significant in the designation of twerkingqueen as a troll name, versus BarbaricSpaceWhale (which I would argue sounds less conventionally gendered feminine).

This remark reminded me of some of danah boyd’s observations in her chapter of Race After The Internet (“White Flight in Networked Publics”), especially when thinking about coded/loaded language that is fraught with insinuations of class and race. I don’t think it’s a reach to suggest that the name “twerkingqueen” would likely be read as Black and female, and that this coding could lead to other users deeming this person (or at the very least, this name they’ve chosen for themselves) illegitimate and/or a threat to the etiquette of the space. There is also the added layer that this comment might be a joke entirely, and employing sarcasm to potentially defuse a situation, playfully reference a past incident, and/or highlight the surreality of interrogating the legitimacy of someone’s presence in an online gaming forum (among other possibilities).

Is TSF a Feminist of Color digital space?

Working definition of a FOC digital space:

My developing definition of this terms is space that is created by/for people who identify as feminists of color, I guess. I feel that, to be considered a FOC space, a site should have intentionality around its creation and/or its operation. I think it should focus on accountability among members, and center marginalized folks in its content and leadership. The Sims Forum doesn’t do this—and I’m not sure it can, since it’s a forum hosted, shaped, and monitored by a corporation. If a site like this thrived as a FOC space, I think it would have to do so despite being attached to any corporation. This reminds me of our discussions regarding platforms like twitter and reddit, and also of the query, “Is there such thing as ethical consumption under capitalism?” Are FOC spaces possible on capitalist platforms?

I also don’t know if it’s a useful question to me personally to ask, “Is this a feminist of color online space?” since that answer could simply be yes or no. I think it would help me going forward to consider, “how do elements of this site adhere to my conception of a feminist of color digital space?” without seeking a uniform yes or no. If pushed, I feel like the answer would almost always be no, and then the research would/could stop there. I think the moderate, at times heavy focus on behaving according to group guidelines can lend itself to a feminist space in terms of attempting to keep harmful presences and behaviors out; however, the system in place to shape that results in hierarchies, exclusion, and intra-group “policing,” as one user references in the thread I posted above.

One of the other things I’m interested really interested in exploring on the forum is Sim Literature, known as “SimLit,” wherein users create stories about their Sims that frequently include screenshots of their gameplay. Some users share their SimLit on the forum, and/or have blogs dedicated to them. Storytelling would play a large role in my personal conception of a FOC space, so I’m eager to see how some of these multimedia stories, and the way users talk to each other about them, do or do not reflect my concepts of a FOC digital space. I already foresee a lot of whiteness, as I have seen in the screencaps/avatars/memes so far, so I’m not particularly optimistic.