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Tomodachi Life and Nintendo's "Social Commentary"

Matt Gardner
#Miiquality, Equality, Nintendo, Tomodachi Life

Tomodachi Life and Nintendo's "Social Commentary"

Tomodachi Life is a quirky upcoming 3DS that basically looks like the bizarre lovechild of The Sims and Animal Crossing, with a bunch of Miis thrown in for good measure. It's an oddball life simulator, one that allows you to import the Miis of your friends and create totally new characters from scratch before plonking them into your weird and wonderful world. It's a game that revolves around building relationships with other characters, becoming friends, hanging out, doing stupid stuff, going on dates, and getting married.

It looks awesome and hilarious and just the right kind of silly. Unless you're gay, of course. Because this game is not for you, apparently.

Tomodachi Life and Nintendo's "Social Commentary"

That was basically the gist of Nintendo's statement in response to a growing clamour, spurred on by the campaign for #Miiquality, for same-sex marriages to become a part of the localised version of this game. Tomodachi Life has proven a popular series in Japan over the past few years, but it's been hitting the news lately because Nintendo are bringing it West. Same-sex marriages are illegal in Japan -- over here, however, things are progressing quickly.

Tye Marini started the fantastically-named #Miiquality campaign to try and get Nintendo to change their minds, and to push for marriage equality in Tomodachi Life.

"Because the game has such a huge focus on relationships, this is a problem for many LGBTQ gamers," Marini told Kotaku. "I believe this is a significant issue that should be resolved or at least acknowledged by Nintendo, so I started a movement in hopes to convince Nintendo to add same-sex relationships to Tomodachi Life via an update, or at least ensure that it is included in a future sequel—the Miiquality movement."

It's a petition that acknowledges its own lateness. There's no time for this ahead of the game's launch in early June, hence aiming for updates, patches, and sequels. It's a petition designed to illustrate to Nintendo that there's an audience here that they've missed out onBut given the history of equality in games such as this -- The Sims did a great job of fostering inclusion with every Sim pretty much able to strike up a romantic relationship with any other Sim regardless of gender -- life sims, however kooky they may be, can reasonably be expected to be inclusive. They're allowing players to tell their own stories, scope and choice are everything.

But not for Nintendo, it would seem. It's understandable that the feature wasn't in the Japanese version perhaps, but there's no excuse really for not giving players the option to foster romantic relationships (its a family game, sex doesn't come into it) with characters of the same sex. Unfortunately, Nintendo came out with the worst excuses ever.

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.

The thing is, Nintendo, the thing is... when you create a life sim that shuts out a notable chunk of the population and quietly hope no-one will notice in a part of the world where everyone's talking about gay rights, that's kind of social commentary.

Tomodachi Life and Nintendo's "Social Commentary"

It's not about pushing an agenda or beating straight gamers over the heads with a big, gay, metaphorical stick or any other bizarre piece of seemingly fearful backlash from anonymous fanboys that pops up any time a discussion like this appears -- it's about choice, plain and simple. It's about saying "Yes" rather than "No" and accepting an audience who want nothing more than to be a part of your game. That a fuss gets made over stuff such as this is because it matters. Nintendo wouldn't have had to have made a song and a dance about it, they could have simply done it and reaped the benefits.

Worse still, the phrasing of Nintendo's response is destructive by inference. To say that Tomodachi Life was intended to be "whimsical and quirky" is one thing. To use that as an excuse not to include same-sex relationships in the game is something else. It suggests that heterosexuality is perfectly fine being "whimsical and quirky" but gay relationships are not. Straight relationships are fine for "playful alternate worlds" but don't let the gays in, they'll ruin everything!

I'm not a coder, I can't say how difficult it would have been for Nintendo to have adapted the original code to make same-sex relationships a possibility for this Western release. But given that the relationships in the game don't really seem to go too far into discovering the differences between boys and girls (it's a family game, kids), I can't help but feel like it might not have taken an enormous amount of effort. It's a little beside the point given the nature of things, and therefore it's a shame Nintendo delivered the statement that they did -- choosing to make excuses for what's already been done instead of shaping a future of inclusion.

Tomodachi Life and Nintendo's "Social Commentary"

Moreover, Nintendo would have nothing to lose. They'd gain an audience clamouring for more games with which to identify, they'd gain a reputation for inclusion and progressive thinking, people would be saying positive things about the Big N, and they'd sell more games. Instead, there's a media furore, they've basically said with that statement that they don't really give a flying proverbial, and they're quite happy with a heteronormative status quo. Now if all of these disgruntled gay people could just quieten down, we can go back to being whimsical and playful.

What's distressing is that Nintendo appeared to be making strides. After the incredibly gendered, binary-enforcing Animal Crossing: City Folk on the Wii, which transformed girly clothing into a shirt and shorts if you stuck it on a boy, New Leaf allowed us to cross-dress to our heart's content. In fact, a lot of that game is pretty LGBTQ friendly. I seem to remember an anthropomorphic man-frog telling me that he dreamed about my character, wanted us to be the bestest of friends, and kept showering me with trinkets and gifts. There was a bear that just kept asking me to look at his body. I mean come on!

That Tomodachi Life doesn't have same-sex relationships is unfortunate, but not unforeseen. However, that Nintendo responded the way that they did is pretty damn lamentable. The fact is that if you're going to make a game that's all about building a "society" and fostering "relationships" you don't get to run away from "social commentary".

Tomodachi Life and Nintendo's "Social Commentary"

"We have heard and thoughtfully considered all the responses," Nintendo said of the #Miiquality campaign. "We will continue to listen and think about the feedback. We're using this as an opportunity to better understand our consumers and their expectations of us at all levels of the organization."

It might be too late for this version of Tomodachi Life, but the above at least hints in a vague fashion to the possibility of being more inclusive in the future. Nintendo is not, I believe, a bigoted company. But they are ignorant in this regard, and the above statement is a somewhat veiled admission of that. It's a situation that can only be solved by action, though. The campaign for gay rights is not going away any time soon, the fight to be taken into consideration, to have a seat at the table, won't die down. Twiddling one's thumbs is not a viable option, and Nintendo, if they are to remain a player on the global stage and seek to expand in areas outside of Japan (a key point that Iwata has been banging on about since long before the Wii U dropped like a stone) then they must take this into consideration for games such as this.

Besides, how the hell are Jon and I supposed to have a tandem brotacular double wedding in Tomodachi Life with John Carmack and Miyamoto now?! It was going to be wondrously whimsical and playful. Dammit, Nintendo. You've ruined the dream.

Add a comment 1 comment
Late  May. 9, 2014 at 13:44

Japan, Japan, Japan - will you never learn?
So no homo. But I'm guessing middle-aged men in suits can "romance" schoolgirls.
Not to stereotype our cousins in the land of the rising sun...

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