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.