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Bill Schloss says The Sims helped him make one of the most difficult decisions he’s ever faced.
This 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.
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His own words tell the story far better than we ever could.
Bill Schloss meets The Sims
January 5, 2007
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.
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 20s — 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
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.
Bill Schloss continues to tell the story of how The Sims played a role in his decision to come out to the Navy:
I guess in the back of my mind I expected the game would only allow friendly interactions, that romantic interactions like flirting or kissing would either be unavailable to the player or met with programmed rebuke and disgust from other Sims. But neither was true.
They could engage in the very same romantic interactions that opposite gender Sims could. Even the now-famous WooHoo.
Several thoughts crossed my mind: Was this an actual bug in the game that the programmers overlooked? Or if it wasn’t overlooked, what was the fallout going to be when the public knew about this? Were people going to boycott the game and prevent their children from playing it?
None of that was true, of course. But those thoughts were certainly a reflection of my mindset at the time and my view of the world around me.
Watching the options play out
I entered the Navy without an ounce of consideration that I could ever accept my underlying homosexuality. I joined the Navy determined to make my dream of going to Harvard Medical School a reality, to make my parents proud, to serve my country, and to lead a life that was deemed good and noble by God and my community. …
Needless to say, I was hooked. And I continued to push the boundaries of social interactions with my Sims. Same-gender couples in the military, for example — not an issue. Same-gender couples expressing affection in public — not an issue. This was my new game addiction.
And like Sim City, I was creating a utopia for myself on this new platform of The Sims — experiencing life not necessarily how it was in reality but how it should or could be in an ideal world.
This was huge for me, and I think for society as a whole. I can think of no other game that was offering such a refreshing new point of view for people of different sexual orientations. And millions of people were buying and playing this game.
There is no doubt in my mind that this game was helping shape and refine the cultural landscape we experience today — where being gay is not necessarily a taboo topic anymore, where it doesn’t necessarily threaten your career or family relationships, where more and more, homosexuals are able to live life to the fullest, get married, and start families together.
Every time that I played it, I was faced with that decision of how life should be in my mind. I feel like it was a way for me to drill into my head, “This is the way life could be for you. This is the way life should be for you. It may not be that way now. But it can be that way at some point. And it won’t ever be that way unless you take certain steps.”
That’s what I wanted for myself. And the more I played The Sims and experienced that possibility for my life in an alternative universe, the more I wanted to make that a reality for myself.
Making the call
It is difficult to achieve excellence when I cannot acknowledge a core component of who I am. I no longer view my homosexuality as shameful and a cause for self-hatred. My homosexuality colors my view of the world, in particular people who are marginalized by society — it makes me a better, more compassionate physician. I do not want to continue a life where I conceal that which makes me a good servant to my community, that which makes me happy and proud.
I appreciate your time and consideration.
Robert Schloss, LT MC USNR
There was only one thing I could do.
I thought it would be best for me to write out my coming out story in a letter format. So I did that. That was a way for me to reflect on all the years of my life that led me to the point I was in my life.
I got in my uniform, went to the office, and asked [my commanding officer] to read the letter in front of me. I felt very alone. It was one of the hardest days of my life.
I was ultimately [honorably] discharged.
But I am now in a career where I don’t have to hide who I am — where that part of my identity actually enriches the way I treat my patients and view my community at large. Where that part of who I am is actually welcomed with open arms and celebrated.
I am finally living my life openly, honestly, and to the fullest, just as I have in the game from the very beginning years ago.
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