Only Speaking Professionally | When You Say Nothing At All
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.