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Nintendo’s Non-Statement is a Statement

Tomodachi Life looks like a really cool game.  The 3DS exclusive takes your Mii and imports them to an island to live with other Miis which include your best friends, family members, and celebrities.  Seeming like a hybrid between Animal Crossing and the Sims, the game tasks players with the humdrum activities of real life but spices them up to make the world more fun.  For a Nintendo community which thrives around the interconnectivity of the StreetPass and the long-term commitment of games like Animal Crossing, it is easy to see how this would fall right into the Nintendo wheelhouse.

Much like EA’s infamous Sims franchise Tomodachi Life allows players to fall in-love and get married.  In fact, bonuses are attached to such an event, encouraging players to search for a mate in this crazy, digital world.  There is only one hiccup to Tomodachi Life’s marriage mechanic: it doesn’t allow for same-sex marriages.

Tomodachi Life is not actually a new game, the title released in Japan over a year ago and the original version did not include same-sex marriage.  Since the original code was used for the US/Europe port, same-sex marriages is still not included.  After learning about this mechanic, members of the Nintendo community created a social media campaign to get Tomodachi Life’s marriage rules changed.  The campaign revolves around #Miiquality. You can view a video for the campaign here, created by the campaign founder who uses the handle Tyeforce.  The argument made is eloquent, well-stated and definitely worth a watch as it is under five minutes long.

Nintendo’s  recent response to the video was as follows, ”Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of Tomodachi Life. The relationship options in the game represent a playful alternate world rather than a real-life simulation. We hope that all of our fans will see that Tomodachi Life was intended to be a whimsical and quirky game, and that we were absolutely not trying to provide social commentary.”

Absolutely not trying to provide social commentary.  The statement is so ignorantly crafted it stings, especially because it is followed up by Nintendo confirming they are not going to be making any changes to Tomodachi Life’s marriage system.  Prior to Nintendo’s statements this week, this Tomodachi Life controversy was a non-story.  Nintendo lit their own fire to be roasted upon with such a poorly crafted statement.

Same-sex marriage has been a bit of hot-button issue for a while in video games, especially in video games which allow self-expression.  Games like The Sims, Animal Crossing, or any MMO/RPG, hinge on self-expression as these are games where you are invited to craft a character, a town, or a journey completely unique to yourself.  Mass Effect prided itself on telling a story unique to each player and cemented this by adding a homosexual-male relationship to it’s third game to truly allow players to make the romantic choices they wanted (two games too late, but at least it happened.)  Star Wars: The Old Republic patched in gay relationships (tactlessly creating a gay-only planet, but at least it happened.) The Elder Scrolls series allowed gay marriage in Skyrim and The Elder Scrolls Online (one of the best plot-lines is about a gay couple.)  Slowly, but surely games which revolve around relationships and marriage is coming around to the notion same-sex marriage options aren’t going to doom your sales or reign hell-fire on your studio.  Tomodachi Life only needs to look at these examples to see the writing on the wall.

Nintendo’s short-sighted view of the situation is what makes it frustrating.  Games – like TV, film, or written narrative – are a form of expression, a statement doesn’t need to be officially made by the developer because it is already being made with the content you are creating.  It’s not like the design team of Tomodachi Life forgot to allow same-sex marriages.  It was conscious design choice, something talked about and discussed.  It is likely Tomodachi Life was envisioned as a Japanese-only release and possibly it would not be a big deal to exclude same-sex marriages in Japan (I am not familiar enough with the cultural climate to say.)  When the issue was raised in the West, Nintendo should have either come clean or bit the bullet.  They should have apologized for the exclusion of same-sex marriage and promised to look into the matter or simply promised the change.  When EA was blasted for creating a gays-only planet in The Old Republic, they apologized and promised they were working to correct the design.  Nintendo closed their eyes and shook their head like a child, dismissive of the fact they were wrong.

Nintendo is wrong.  In a game which is supposed to allow players to enjoy creation and expression, they neglected an entire demographic of players.  Then, instead of admitting their errors, they flat-out said “It’s more of an issue for this game because the characters are supposed to be a representation of your real life. You import your personalized characters into the game. You name them. You give them a personality. You give them a voice. They just can’t fall in love if they’re gay.”  Nintendo says the game is supposed to be a representation of real life.  Apparently, in real life you can’t fall in love if you are gay.  The mixed messaging, the lack of vision, the refusal of an apology is what makes the story what it is.  It is understandable to have a game already going-gold, prepping to be shipped, and telling people it is too late to make changes at the time.  It is another thing to say a character can’t fall in love if they’re gay, while stating no social commentary is being made.

Tyeforce wisely states a boycott of a game is bad idea.  He encourages people to buy the game and continue to voice their displeasure online with hopes an update will come or benefits will be reaped in a sequel.  It is a wise and mature stance on what is obviously a very passionate subject for a young, gay man.  Of course, the statement was made before Nintendo said their, poorly worded piece.

Whether you are gay or straight, offended or uncaring, you should take note of the battle between #Miiquality and Nintendo.  It is not simply fanboys complaining about missing features, it a fan-base holding a company accountable for a social issue.  It is players making their voices heard because they are being neglected and fanning a fire to get results.  It is not too late for Nintendo to admit a mistake, it is not too late for them to reconcile themselves with a community they are currently giving the cold-shoulder.  Regardless of the outcome, you can bet on one thing, the next time Nintendo has a game which features marriage, they will be much more conscious of same-sex couples.

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