Nintendo’s “Tomodachi Life” Decision IS Social Commentary

tomodachi

Nintendo’s recent statement regarding the lack of same sex romance options in their game Tomodachi Life has been making waves. Tomodachi Life is a life simulator game on the 3DS. It allows players to create Miis that interact with other players. The game allows flirting, romance, and marriage. That is, if you are playing your Mii as straight.

Fans asked Nintendo to allow same sex relationships within the game. Tye Marini started the #Miiquality campaign to let Nintendo know that fans want to see more diversity in  games. LGBT players want themselves to be reflected in the virtual worlds that they visit.

So, let’s look at  Nintendo’s response to these requests:

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 game’s tagline for US release is: “Your friends. Your drama. Your life.” I suppose that is only true if you are straight.

As Samantha Allen says in her piece over at Polygon (which you should all go read) “Nintendo made its choice today. And while the words in its statement distill down to the most basic form of hatred, the assumptions that inform that hatred are more troubling still. It’s time for Nintendo to live up to its reputation for innovation and choose differently.”

Nintendo saying that they never wanted to make any social commentary misses the point. They are creating a virtual world. Within the mere act of creating that world, they made a social comment. They chose, from the ground up, what would and would not be included. Romance and marriage were seen as important interactions. They were coded into the game. A neutral decision would be making that option available to ALL the Miis. Instead they coded it to be only opposite sex couples. Whether or not Nintendo admits it, that exclusion is a social comment.

They decided who is included and who is excluded.

Everything in a game is deliberate. Every decision is made by a real person: the color of a flower on the side of the road, the sounds a character makes, the birds flying in the sky . If the colors of an object are randomized then that randomization instruction (and the parameters of what is possible within that set) is coded by a person. Every single thing you see in a game was put there by someone.

Games are art. Games are meant to be fun and play, but they are also creative works. As art, they are part of our cultural narrative. The games we create as a society say something about us. Like other media (movies, TV, books) they tell us about our dreams, our goals, our fears, fantasies, what we find funny, and what we find scary.

Nintendo is simply wrong to say that this decision doesn’t provide social commentary. Excluding an entire group of people from this game says volumes. They have told a group of us that we don’t matter. Our relationships don’t matter. Those relationships do exist in the real world, but in a fun alternate world of Nintendo’s making they are erased. That IS social commentary.

Thank you, Nintendo, for telling me that my erasure is your version of a playful alternate world.

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5 Responses to Nintendo’s “Tomodachi Life” Decision IS Social Commentary

  1. Kimiko says:

    Not only did Nintendo put the same-sex exclusion in there themselves, it wasn’t even in the original Japanese release until they patched it.
    (at least for male Miis; not sure about female ones)

  2. Korva says:

    When it comes to issues like equality or representation, there really is no “neutrality”, no not-taking-sides. Silence is “social commentary” in support of the status quo. The fact that so many people flat-out refuse to admit that, and often go on to attack those who seek to change the status quo for “ruining everyone’s fun” and “dragging politics where they don’t belong”, is such a huge source of frustration and hurt — not to mention mind-bogglingly hypocritical.

  3. Matt says:

    Everything in a game is deliberate. Every decision is made by a real person: the color of a flower on the side of the road, the sounds a character makes, the birds flying in the sky . If the colors of an object are randomized then that randomization instruction (and the parameters of what is possible within that set) is coded by a person. Every single thing you see in a game was put there by someone.

    Thank you for this. This cannot be stressed enough in any discussion about representation and underlying narratives in any medium.

    “Social commentary” seemed when I first read it in Nintendo’s response seemed like code for “controversy with our socially conservative base”. (And I suspect they do have one, being basically the only big-name gaming company with anything remotely resembling a generally “family-friendly” reputation – Kimiko’s point that they actually went out of their way to patch it this way (possibly in response to complaints?) confirms those suspicions.)

  4. Brinstar says:

    Nintendo has made another response: http://www.nintendo.com/whatsnew/detail/c4FWbi-Uave2T9R1h7SFzX0aoa-d4pgx

    “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.”

    The initial press release was highly unusual for Nintendo. To post a response to all the backlash is even surprising.

  5. Christina Nordlander says:

    I have nothing to say. This article said it all.

    A dark day.

Comments are closed.