Nintendo has long rooted its company in its family friendly image. It’s happy! For the family! For fun! For everyone! Yay! Let’s all play a lovey dovey technicolour rainbow happiness game!

But that image got dealt a blow last week when details about Tomodachi Life’s English localisation came out.

Tomodachi Life is a life simulation game, where players’ Mii avatars can meet up, get along, and become families. Well, you can become a family if you’re a boy and a girl – if you’re guy guy or girl girl? No dice.

That’s right – Tomodachi Life has no same sex relationships.

Just like in real life, right?

There are a few things at play here. Firstly, there is the way same sex relationships can and do happen in games, and the way it’s inextricably linked to genre. For most games, sexuality is largely irrelevant. Think about Tetris – do the bricks have preference? Or Call of Duty, for that matter – does it matter if Soap or Price like boys or girls? Obviously, in these instances, sexuality is pretty much an extraneous issue.

Let’s move on to something more character and player choice driven. RPGs, like Dragon Age: Origins or Mass Effect, have characters that are completely created by players. In these games, the character is moulded by choices the player makes, and sexual relationships can be guided by the player. And, with the availability of relationships in an environment where players can create their own character, same sex relationships become viable as an option.

Now let’s move on even further. Life simulation games. Tomodachi Life is a game that aims to recreate the world around it, at least in some ways. The entire focus of the game is to let your avatar live the way you choose for them. The character carries out daily activities and socialises in a virtual space, similar to the way life happens. A core part of life is building relationships. And a core part of Tomodachi Life is building relationships.

In a game where player choice is paramount, and reality is the template, what does it say when you leave out something like same sex relationships?

Not having same sex relationships in a life simulation game is effectively saying that same sex relationships don’t and shouldn’t exist in real life.

Sure, the intent behind not letting Miis of the same gender to be in romantic relationships probably isn’t malicious. I doubt Nintendo set out to alienate the (very) roughly 10% of the world’s population who identify as same sex attracted. In this case, I think it’s just an oversight by a development team who are probably not used to thinking about same sex relationships. But the end result is that there are same sex attracted people who will not be able to have a romantic relationship that they can recognise as authentic within Tomodachi Life.

And, to many same sex attracted people who have suffered discrimination and alienation for most of their lives, that’s not really very nice.

Not having same sex relationships within Tomodachi Life is exactly the same as saying gay people don’t exist. And that’s terribly cruel.

In contrast, the Sims 4 will have same sex relationships. That’s right, the Sims. By EA. Electronic “Worst Company In America” Arts. Family friendly Nintendo hates the gays, while evil nasty greedy EA is spreading love and joy for everyone. Think about that for a minute.

(Side note, EA has a long history of supporting same sex attracted individuals and portraying their relationships positively within their games. EA’s company policies are very supportive of LGBT employees. EA officially supported a legal challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act in 2012. They also put together the LGBT Full Spectrum Event in 2013. In fact, by way of big game publishers, EA is probably the most outspokenly progressive when it comes to LGBT issues)

(Side side note, Origin is still complete and utter rubbish)

I am aware that there are specific cultural nuances around homosexuality within Japan. Historically, same sex attraction in Japan has been largely hidden, although things are slowly changing. And Nintendo, as a Japanese company, reflects those wider societal values. But Tomodachi Life is a global product for a global audience, and Nintendo needs to take that into account. And while many countries are still coming to grips with same sex marriage legislation – Australia’s federal government, for example, last year overturned a state’s (territory’s, actually) legislation for same sex marriage – Nintendo could be using this situation to make a positive, inclusive stance.

All by not preventing Miis of the same gender from being in a relationship.

Should Nintendo put same sex relationships in a life simulator? In my (blatantly pro-equality) opinion, yes. Should they HAVE to? No. Should they be judged on their choice whether to do so or not? Definitely.

I think that Nintendo’s statement that future Tomodachi games will be “more inclusive” is a step in the right direction. I don’t believe the rubbish about not being able to change the game in a post-release patch for a second, though. But hey, I don’t make games, I just complain about them on the internet, so what would I know – it might actually not be possible to patch in. I really doubt it, though.

At any rate, Nintendo has heard that there is dissatisfaction regarding the omission of same sex relationships from Tomodachi Life, and has at the very least acknowledged that dissatisfaction. It’s completely up to Nintendo whether they act on that knowledge in the future.

People will be watching.

  • Damien L.

    I’d argue that it is exactly what should have been expected of Nintendo. It’s a company steeped in tradition, with almost all of their franchises being around for fifteen years or more, and the company itself for over 120. As you note, they’re renowned as a family friendly company, that have managed to carve such a huge name for themselves by offending people as little as possible. They have done this through adopting a neutral moral stance. But what is “neutral”?

    The way I see it, it is whatever the majority is familiar and comfortable with. Thought about like that, a slower adoption of same-sex principles in their games is to be fully expected. We may live in a so-called enlightened age, but there are still a whole hell of a lot of people out there who look down on LGBTI people, and regard their sexual orientation as sinful, or as a mental illness that can be reprogrammed. That may not necessarily be the mentality of the higher-ups at Nintendo, but the company is entrenched in age-old beliefs that are difficult to overcome.

    Although I agree that they shouldn’t HAVE to allow same-sex relationships in their “life simulator”, I’m glad that this issue has been raised (even though I’m never going to play Tomodachi Life), because freedom and choice is absolutely essential in a game of that kind, and because it acts as a reminder to Nintendo that they’re falling behind the times in their philosophies.

    That’s a good thing. And I’m done.

  • Guest

    “Terribly cruel”? “Nintendo hates the gays”? Can you GET more hyperbolic? I’m all for equality, but talking as if Nintendo were the Westboro Baptist Church because they failed to include same-sex relationships in one of their games is going a little overboard,

    Also, you put way too much weight on a single game. Tamodachi Life isn’t some profound social commentary with the power to change the world, nor does it reflect real life to the degree that anyone is going to say “well Tamodachi Life didn’t have gay people, so I guess that means gay people are icky!” It sucks that same-sex partnerships weren’t included, but it’s not the end of the world.

    Also, you say it’s Nintendo’s choice what they do with their games. Yet saying “you’re free to choose, but we’ll punish you if your choice doesn’t align with what we want” is not a choice at all. It’s an ultimatum.

    • Fábio Vieira

      Why should Nintendo be free from criticism? :|

    • Damien L.

      It’s easy to take comments out of context, Guest. That being said, the latter is intentionally hyperbolic. The former isn’t saying that the exclusion is “terribly cruel”, but rather what that exclusion implies in regards to the real world is, as Tomodachi Life is a ‘life simulator’.

      I’d argue that the most important take-away from this piece is this bit:
      “Should Nintendo put same sex relationships in a life simulator? In my (blatantly pro-equality) opinion, yes. Should they HAVE to? No. Should they be judged on their choice whether to do so or not? Definitely.”

      The article isn’t trying to punish Nintendo, or force them to adopt a different viewpoint, it’s bringing up a valid point in the link between video games and the real world. Our media is a reflection of our society. Just because it isn’t intended as such doesn’t mean that it should be viewed through that lens.