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Nintendo's response to demands of Miiquality: "Let's not talk about it"

Nintendo's having a really bad week. First, the good news: Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire are getting 3DS remakes--woohoo! Now the not-so-good: Nintendo's financial reports for the past fiscal year report a net loss of $229 million. That's the economic crisis, but there's also a moral crisis: the exclusion of same-sex relationships from the upcoming 3DS game Tomodachi Life. And despite the recent "#Miiquality" fan campaign, CVG News reports that no changes will be made to accommodate gay couples in the game's impending Western release.

Nintendo of America gave a statement saying that "Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of 'Tomodachi Life'… 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." But staying neutral, despite the pleas from fans both gay and straight to change the game, is a statement in and of itself. It shows an aversion to getting involved and taking a stand when inequality is unfolding right in front of you. Without trying to throw around weighty, provocative adjectives, NoA's response feels like a cop-out, an unwillingness to confront the idea that this "whimsical and quirky" simulation only allows for boy-girl couples, excluding any other kind of pairing.

The knee-jerk reaction is to decry Nintendo for its reluctance to face the issue, and the way it's masking exclusion as a game mechanic. You see, Tomodachi Life lets players--that is to say, a boy and girl--fall in love, and eventually have children. When Tomodachi Life was released in Japan last April, a bug was found that made same-sex relationships possible. As Nintendo's Bill Trinen described, "Essentially [you could] create a male version of a Mii character and assign their gender as female, and that was how the two males were able to have a baby." Within a month, this bug was patched, effectively eliminating the possibility of gay couples in the game.

In this case, the impossibilities of childbirth in same-sex relationships has been the fallback excuse for an exclusion of gay romance options. The same issue came up when Fire Emblem: Awakening got a Western release last year, which also prevented same-sex couples from forming. Again, the reason given was that romance was a game mechanic meant to facilitate child-rearing, so it didn't make sense for same-sex couples to produce offspring. This reasoning is Nintendo's safest option; it effectively skirts the inequality issue by not picking a side.

It's also important to consider Nintendo of America's unenviable position. Nintendo of America didn't develop or program Tomodachi Life; Japan's SPD Group 1 did. Given the company's structure, it seems like no amount of fan demand in the West can effect change on the development side in the East. To criticize Nintendo of America is to kill the messenger, no matter how ineffectual or craven that message may be. That said, NoA exists to better serve Nintendo's global audience, and it's not as though NoA is powerless to change the game just because it didn't write Tomodachi Life's source code.

A full understanding of the issue also requires intimate knowledge of Japan's attitude towards gay relationships, which many Western gamers simply don't have. I'm one of them--but after talking with a Japanese colleague, it seems that while the Japanese society doesn't discriminate against gay couples, it views homosexuality as a taboo topic that's not to be openly discussed. Tomodachi Life's Japanese release might not have raised any issues simply because there was little room for an open dialogue to begin with.

There's really no arguing that any form of exclusion is wrong, especially in an all-ages, all-genders kind of game like Tomodachi Life. But with so many cultural factors in play here, it's hard to know who to blame--or better yet, who to confront so that change can be effected, and Nintendo fans of all types can enjoy their games to the fullest. "We will continue to listen and think about the feedback," said a Nintendo rep. "We're using this as an opportunity to better understand our consumers and their expectations of us at all levels of the organization." But there comes a point when just listening isn't enough, and taking action is the only way forward.

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42 comments

  • Welshy91 - May 13, 2014 12:06 a.m.

    It's official. People will bitch about anything.
  • wulf6491 - May 11, 2014 8:53 p.m.

    so I hate to say this, but if the game is based around having kids, not adopting children but getting married and giving birth to children, as is the case with fire emblem, then unfortunately there is little room for homosexual pairings, if however adoption is an option in this game (which it doesnt sound like it is) then that is a different story. I think the issue of equal rights, are bleeding over into other topics a little too much, to the point to where video game developers, who don't have a firm grip on the issues, or the real life situations of the person(s) in question go through, and thus are being forced to make a character they don't understand. We have seen before what happens when a Japanese studio tries to make Americans, and they are 2-dimensional characters with bullhorns on their Lincoln wearing cowboy hats and rind-stones, and what happens when they try to make a black man, who is now a DJ, or a bar tender, who talks in nothing but slang with phrases like "Dawg", and "Ya dig homes?", with no real substance, and we have seen a few examples of video games including homosexuals, to very little success. Forcing developers into making something they don't want, or don't love, and understand, isn't going to fix our problems, it is going to make new ones. Video games need to evolves naturally, I mean think about licensed video games for movies, we get maybe 2-3 every couple of years that are playable, the rest are lifeless garbage and money grabs, the reason is because the people making them KNOW they are lifeless garbage and money grabs and want the experience to be over as quickly as possible, so on that same note how do you think forcing activision's next CoD game to having a gay protagonist, is going to work out? It would be a disaster, not because he(she) would be gay, but because as we all know activision wouldn't stop there, so he(she) would be, "GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" they would feel, since they are being forced to make this character that they didn't want, that they didn't ask for, that they have to make the inclusion of this character overt, and very, very visible, and they would have to make sure that everyone, I mean EVERYONE, knows he is gay, then they would tout it around like, "Look at us we made gay tony, he is a marine and darn tootin if he doesn't like to toot!" and really... do any of us want that? No... the answer is just plain no... we wan't a dynamic real character who goes through real hardships, who has to overcome obstacles and risk his(her) life to save the one he(she) loves, and it just might happen that that person, is of the same gender, but we won't get that if we force it. What I am getting at is let this happen, let it evolve, we will see more gay game devs, just as we have been seeing a rise in female game devs, and as the numbers grow so will the influence they have on the production and design of the games they are bleeding their hearts and souls into, and with that we will see more diverse, and wide-ranging characters, that make us feel happy, sad, angry, betrayed, and all the other emotions that video game characters have been making us feel all this time.
  • JimbobSonOfRiber - May 11, 2014 3:45 a.m.

    This whole thing's absolutely ridiculous. Tomodachi Life's a "sitcom-generator" not a bloody dating sim. Nintendo patched out the gay marriage because it caused bugs in the game, not because they're backawrds arseholes. If wanted to fulfill a romantic fantasy in Tomodachi Life, you've got bigger problems than this.
  • Jackonomics2.0 - May 9, 2014 1:29 p.m.

    Nintendo just gave a second response, stating how they cant change this in this point in time and how DLC cant be made but are are assuring that they will satisfy all types of fans should they have another Tomodachi game http://www.nintendo.com/whatsnew/detail/c4FWbi-Uave2T9R1h7SFzX0aoa-d4pgX Watch absolutely nobody bring this up.
  • TanookiMan - May 9, 2014 7:10 a.m.

    "But with so many cultural factors in play here, it's hard to know who to blame--or better yet, who to confront so that change can be effected, and Nintendo fans of all types can be enjoy their games to the fullest." I feel like this point needs to be made more. This shouldn't be about blaming a particular group or company. It's an opportunity for gamers who feel strongly about a topic to voice their concerns and hopefully get the games they want in the future. Besides, even if you don't have strong feelings about the underlying social issue, is it so wrong for gamers to let a company know what they want and expect out of a game in the future?
  • GOD - May 9, 2014 12:43 a.m.

    The game will be rated E for everyone and so of course it won't allow for gay couples. Yes they could make a political statement, but the legal actions that some parents (read staunchly anti gay groups who claim to know what's right for all children) would make it into a huge debacle. In another sense, why should a foreign company have to be the one to stand up to our obsessively anti-gay factions? Even if the game had some kind of parental lock option to turn off the "gay" option, that would only further damn them as it would suggest that sexual orientation is only free for those of a certain age. We can't blame Nintendo for society's problems.
  • Shigeruken - May 8, 2014 10:10 p.m.

    At most you're talking about changing a couple of digits in a causal statement that checks gender for marriage compatibility. We're talking about an insignificant amount of work to make paying Nintendo fans happy. This is a perfect example of why Nintendo is undeserving of the unfaltering adoration people dump on them. They are unwilling to make any sort of change to any of their dated policies to accommodate paying customers, whether it be region locking, ridiculous drm, terrible online infrastructure, or their stance on sexual orientation.
  • Sinosaur - May 8, 2014 7:21 p.m.

    There is one thing here that bothers me: People found a way to circumvent the gender restrictions and Nintendo bothered to patch it out. In all the games I've played on Nintendo systems I've only gotten a patch once, and that was when the save glitch in Pokemon X/Y was literally ruining people's games. Somehow people finding a way to have fun with their game rates on the same level as THE GAME IS BROKEN.
  • GOD - May 9, 2014 12:45 a.m.

    Perhaps because a lot of games come to Japan first, they get patched there and then are already fixed by the time they reach us? Pokemon is the one game you got a patch for and it was a same day worldwide release so it couldn't have been patched in Japan prior. Just a theory.
  • Sinosaur - May 9, 2014 7:34 a.m.

    That's a possibility, but honestly I'd hope they would spend their time patching things that have a negative effect on gameplay and not silly glitches that don't break things.
  • Otocyon - May 9, 2014 1:37 p.m.

    The bug that caused two men to get married in the game was also the cause of a game breaking bug that would lead to boot up errors and the inability to save along with several other things. And are people honestly that surprised that gay marriage isn't in a game and that the localization team isn't going to go out of their way to add in new features for a North American and European audience?
  • Sinosaur - May 9, 2014 2:20 p.m.

    If it was related to an actual game problem, then I withdraw my complaint. I have no expectations for them to put stuff in, my personal complaint was that it appeared they were patching out something (when they tend not to do much patching) that let people have a bit of unexpected fun when it didn't actually break anything. That complaint goes away if that bug actually broke the game.
  • bigwill1221 - May 8, 2014 6:05 p.m.

    People are too entitled... when they have no part of the creation of things.
  • TheVoid - May 9, 2014 8:08 a.m.

    Agreed. I go full-facepalm when I see comments along the lines of "but it would be so easy to fix!". Maybe, maybe not. Maybe a patch is not as simple as one might think. Maybe it simply flies in the face of the creative vision that got the whole ball rolling. Maybe Nintendo simply doesn't want to "go there". Either way it's their product, their call. Meanwhile, we never see a comment along the lines of "this has inspired me to go out and make my own game that will address these issues - stay tuned". Much easier to be a parasite I suppose, latching onto to someone else's idea and trying fruitlessly to steer their direction without contributing a fraction of the effort compared to those that generated the idea in the first place. I'm all about civil discourse but I become infuriated when respect for the process (and in general) goes out the window.
  • SunniDee - May 8, 2014 5:45 p.m.

    Tomodachi Life is a super silly game that is suppose to be as crazy as possible, not a political commentary about homosexuals. We (Western Audiences) as much as we want to, can not force our ways to a foreign way of life. If Japan doesn't want to talk about homosexual marriage fine, they aren't doing to them what Russia is doing. Also, a family company that is struggling fiscally can not take any "bold" stances with gay marriage that might alienate customers when they need them. People need to just calm down.
  • JimbobSonOfRiber - May 11, 2014 3:42 a.m.

    ^ This.
  • TheVoid - May 8, 2014 5:21 p.m.

    For crying out loud, it's a game. I consider myself to be extremely open-minded but it does wear my patience thin when a minority of the world's population - let's say 10% at absolute most, and that's being EXTREMELY generous - feels slighted because a game - again, A GAME - about relationships doesn't properly represent their sexual orientation? C'mon! Can't people just accept that not every game is going to cater to every single type of person out there? Like so many others have said, let's judge the game on it's own merits, shall we? And while we're at it, let's not forget that gamers need to make concessions ALL THE TIME. Games often force us to make a decision or go about something in a manner we wouldn't have done in real life. Or play as a character that might not adequately represent the mindset of the gamer. What do we do in such cases? We ROLL WITH IT. WE DEAL. We appreciate the opportunity and meet the developers' creative vision halfway. Case in point: I HATED the way Booker slammed elevator buttons in Bioshock Infinite. To me it felt grossly out of character and pulled me out of the moment every time. But, that was a decision made by the developer in an otherwise incredible game so I wasn't about to cross my arms and scold them for not giving me a choice in the matter. Can't the same apply here? I don't see this as Nintendo being "anti gay" at all. Rather, I see this as another example of the entitlement issue that is alarmingly rampant in our society today.
  • theguyinthecloset - May 8, 2014 3:39 p.m.

    Wow, TWO great pieces about it on the same day after a week of shallow opinions, fate in game journalism(ish) restored! http://gamasutra.com/blogs/ChristianNutt/20140508/217351/Understanding_Nintendos_Tomodachi_Life_problem.php?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+GamasutraNews+%28Gamasutra+News%29
  • theguyinthecloset - May 8, 2014 2:37 p.m.

    Wow, I was expecting to read yet again one of those one sided, opinion pieces that is blind to the true nature of the situation, shaming Nintendo for their aproach. I still read this - because this is GamesRadar after all - and was pleased to see the nuances added with the last 3 paragraphs. Bravo Lucas, this is why I love GR.
  • Darkhawk - May 8, 2014 12:14 p.m.

    Ugh. It would just be SO EASY to implement same-sex pairings. 1) Technologically, assuming there's no child-birth (or procreation) animation, just flip the switch that allows same-sex pairings. 2) Politically, just piss off a few radical Christians, but most people wouldn't even care, or notice.

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