Check out our other coverage of The Sims’ 15th anniversary milestone.

Bill Schloss says The Sims helped him make one of the most difficult decisions he’s ever faced.

ThisĀ graduate of Harvard Medical School was about to go back into service with the U.S. Navy. He was torn: If revealed by someone else, the truth about his life as a gay man could earn him a dishonorable discharge. But coming out himself would mean giving up on a family tradition — he is the third generation to serve — and risking an uncertain future.

Both would mean consequences for the rest of his life. He credits The Sims for helping him make the call. On the anniversary of the series — it turns 15 today — we asked the 40 year old to tell us about what this game means to him.

His own words tell the story far better than we ever could.

Bill Schloss meets The Sims

January 5, 2007

Captain:

It has taken me years to develop the courage to write this letter…

— Excerpt from Schloss’ three-page letter to his commanding officer

I started playing The Sims back around 2001, right after the first game came out. I was a huge fan of Sim City at the time. I would spend weeks building massive, sprawling utopian cities with wonderful education and cultural opportunities, high land values, and little-to-no crime, traffic, or pollution.

Bill Schloss

Above: Bill Schloss

Image Credit: Courtesy of Bill Schloss

That’s when I first latched onto simulations of life — not necessarily how it is in reality but perhaps how it should or could be in an ideal world.

So I started hearing a lot of buzz about this new game called The Sims where you could interact not just with the neighborhood but with the Sims themselves — directing their everyday lives, from climbing the career ladder to making it to the toilet on time.

Now this was a time in my life — my 20sĀ — when I was focusing on my own development, both in my career and in my personal life.

I had just finished medical school and was on active duty in the Navy.

I was also starting to come out of the closet to my family and friends as a gay man.

It was a really difficult time for me — when I was grappling with the fears and occasional realities of being abandoned by those people that I loved so much when they learned about who I really was.

Of course, in an era of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” I was also living with the everyday reality that I could lose my job in the Navy if any of my peers or supervisors at work knew about who I was.

If the Navy found out if I was in a relationship, that could lead to a dishonorable discharge. That’s essentially a felony; you can’t vote again. I didn’t want that to affect my life in this way. I didn’t want to ruin my career with a dishonorable discharge on my record.

Creating a life

The Sims 4 Bill Schloss

Above: A house created by Bill Schloss in The Sims 4.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Bill Schloss

I write you now to tell you that I am gay. In writing these difficult words I feel to some extent that I am letting you down, that I am disappointing you…

So I loaded up The Sims, created a few Sims, and moved them into a house. One of the first things I did was explore the different opportunities for personal interactions among my Sims.

And I wanted to see if Sims of the same gender could use romantic interactions with each other.