Escapist Editorials

Escapist Editorials
Nintendo's Omission of Same-Sex Relationships is Erasure

Ian Cheong | 9 May 2014 14:00
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A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (via Smithsonian) shows that around 20 percent of the world's population is attracted to their own gender. Other estimates suggest the figure is closer to 10 percent. Either way, that percentage comes out to a significant number of people, and for a company to omit such a large section of the population is jarring to say the least. The justification provided by Nintendo is flimsy at best, and arguably bigoted at worst.

Nintendo told the Associated Press, "Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of 'Tomodachi Life'... 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."

It's a disappointing response from a beloved company that many have expected to be as inclusive as possible. Beyond that, I can't help but feel wrinkled at the thought of homosexuality as something that's inherently opposed to whatever it is Nintendo envisioned for the game. Their "neutral" response is anything but. By making a deliberate decision not to include gay folks, they allowed themselves to be persuaded by their perception of public opinion, not by neutrality.

Some will point out that Japan is not an inclusive society as many countries in the West are, and that Nintendo's stance on the issue reflects social issues in Japan. However, no one is asking for the Japanese version of the game to also include support for same-sex relationships. Given that the game is to be localized for a Western audience, there is no reason for why the game should preclude itself from embracing progressive Western sensitivities.

Implementing non-heteronormative sexuality into the game would require the game's developers to codify sexual preference into the Mii interface. I'm no programmer, but I don't think it would be impossible for them to do. Should it be too difficult, the programmers could simply make it so that characters in the game do not have sexual preferences but rather preferences to specific other characters. That's how The Sims and its sequels have done it.

What's odd here is that the game originally allowed for same sex marriages to occur. Due to a bug, it was possible for two characters of the same gender to get married to each other. This was later patched out as it was an unintentional bug. Those of us who want same-sex relationships to be in the game wouldn't mind it if, instead of patching out this bug, add it back in as an intentional feature. It's clearly doable.

One could ask, if Nintendo intended for the game to be mere amusement, then why include relationships and marriage in it at all?

And if it's sales they're worried about, one need only point to that other life simulator, The Sims, with its gay marriage and sales figures that have topped the charts since the inception of the franchise. (It's also worth pointing out that for whatever backlash Nintendo anticipates, The Sims has never been targeted for its inclusion of queer people). In making Tomodachi Life, Nintendo could stand to learn a lot from Electronic Arts, and not just in terms of gameplay mechanics.

In the end, implementing these changes would require so little effort on Nintendo's part, and the payoff would be tremendous-both for the company, and for the inclusion of gay people within the community. So how about it, Nintendo? Don't pander to bigots. Do the right thing.

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