Earlier this week, Nintendo gave an official response to a fan campaign dealing with the upcoming Tomodachi Life for the 3DS. Now it is kind of rare that Nintendo even responds to anything involving the world outside their offices, let alone a campaign started by a fan. The initial response showed that they clearly have no idea how to handle such outreach. For better understanding, let’s get a little background. Tomodachi Life is a 3DS game, made by Nintendo that has been out in Japan now for a few months. The game is something sort of resembling Animal Crossing, mixed with The Sims, and all of this is represented by use of the Miis that have been around since the Nintendo Wii. From the trailers I have seen, it also weird as all hell.
So, in the game, your Mii’s can go about daily lives mixed in with said weirdness, and one of the features is that Miis can get married. In the Japanese version of the game, some bug popped up that allowed some form of non-traditional (heterosexual) marriage to take place, that was patched by Nintendo, and taken out. Enter Tye Marini, a 23 year old resident of Arizona who happens to be a Nintendo fan. Oh, he’s also gay. Seeing Tomodachi Life as something he wanted to play, he was obviously disappointed the tagline of “Your friends. Your drama. Your life.” and how that could not apply to the totality of his drama and/or life. However, instead of taking the normal internet tactic of throwing an impotent fit, Tye started a Twitter campaign using the Hashtag “Miiquality”, which politely encouraged people to ask Nintendo to either patch the homosexual relationships back into the game, or at the very least, add the feature to a future installment.
This campaign seemed to get enough traction to warrant some mainstream attention, specifically in the case from the Associated Press. In response to this attention, Nintendo issued a statement that could at best be described as “tone-deaf”. Here, let’s take a look:
“Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of Tomodachi Life,” a Nintendo of America representative said in a statement to the Associated Press. “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.”
Now…this is not the best way to handle this situation. The obvious response to Nintendo’s statement is anger that they apparently think that gay people don’t deserve to have their life represented in a playful alternate world. Also it shows Nintendo is woefully deaf to how the Western world is leaning in its societal issues. Localization has become a lot more than tweaking the dialogue in translation. While gay marriage is not legal in Japan, it is legal in many American states, and European countries. So while it may seem natural to not include gay relationship options in a Japanese release, I honestly don’t know what the cultural acceptance is there; it would certainly not be incredibly strange for such options to be coded into the Western releases.
The real issue with this is that Nintendo is incredibly risk-averse. However, in today’s Western climate, risk-averse means very different things than what it used to mean, even compared to a short time ago. Yes, if Nintendo capitulated and added homosexual relationships into Tomodachi Life, they would get angry letters from upset religious parents in the United States. However, the amount of letters in today’s climate is far less than the hell Nintendo has been getting on the internet. I really doubt Nintendo was being malicious in this. While they have proven themselves to be conservative in most things, and may or may not have opinions about same-sex relationships, I cannot imagine they would be pulling this for such selfish reasons.
Nintendo has always put on that family-friendly face, ever since the NES launched in 1985, and probably even before that in Japan. That image has worked gangbusters for them, especially in the 20th century. However, in what has become an almost disturbing trend for the company, they have held onto their outdated, 20th century views in our quickly evolving, 21st century world. They have fallen behind, and seem to genuinely don’t get the world has changed, and they must change with it.
However, that is not to say they will never embrace change. In the end, they are a company who wants to make money. It would behoove them to set themselves up in such a way where as many people as possible want to give them money. Even if a genuine desire for inclusiveness for the sake of inclusiveness is impossible, greed alone should bring Nintendo around to a better way of thinking. The first step has already been taken in that direction. Even though Nintendo reiterated the fact that the status-quo of relationships will be maintained, Nintendo has actually responded to the backlash generated at their tone-deaf remarks in a way that suggests change could come to a future installment of Tomodachi Life. Let’s look at the newest statement:
“We apologize for disappointing many people by failing to include same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life. Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to change this game’s design, and such a significant development change can’t be accomplished with a post-ship patch. At Nintendo, dedication has always meant going beyond the games to promote a sense of community, and to share a spirit of fun and joy. We are committed to advancing our longtime company values of fun and entertainment for everyone. We pledge that if we create a next installment in the Tomodachi series, we will strive to design a game-play experience from the ground up that is more inclusive, and better represents all players.”
While this isn’t a promise of anything, or a definite change to the status-quo of affairs at Nintendo, it is a step in the right direction. Even if a change isn’t coming to the current incarnation of Tomodachi Life, Nintendo is listening, and very well may not make this same mistake twice. No matter the reason it is being done, the end result is for nothing but the betterment of games everywhere. Everyone deserves their whimsical, quirky world, no matter who they want to marry to get there.