Hey, have you heard about Tomodachi Life? Maybe you have. It’s a quirky life simulator from Nintendo, headed to the 3DS later this year. Kinda like Animal Crossing, but with more user creation tools and agency. Yesterday, after some protestations, Nintendo explained that you wouldn’t be able to have a homosexual relationship in the game.
This is a problem.
The reasons that its a problem are, to me, obvious. The decision is needless and alienating. The statement in Nintendo’s press release is also one of the slimiest things I’ve ever seen emerge from a video game company. Thousands, if not millions of Nintendo fans will be poorly represented.
Here are five arguments I’ve seen in favor of Nintendo, and I’d like to address just why they’re all bullshit, one by one. Good? Good.
1. Nintendo can’t change the way marriage works because the game’s already finished, and it would cost too much money.
Okay, I’ll admit some ignorance as to how actual large-scale video game development works. Luckily, all the people I’ve seen making this argument are just as ignorant, so we’re on equal footing.
It is possible that Nintendo designed a system whereby “homosexual code” would have to be added, but I find that terribly unlikely. If anything, some code would have to be removed: if there’s a condition that states, “only opposite genders can do X,” then you just leave the “X” and drop the “opposite” part. I set up conditional branches like that all the time in my RPG Maker game, and I have no programming experience. This isn’t to say RPG Maker’s interface is even close to as complex as whatever Nintendo’s using, but they’re also actually fucking programmers.
And no matter how many articles you read about Nintendo losing money in a fiscal quarter, they’re still sitting on a Scrooge McDuck-level vault of video game money. They could afford it if they cared about it, even if it were difficult (which, once again, it probably isn’t).
2. Nintendo is the author of this product, and as such it’s their imperative to make whatever game they want to make.
This is easy to get confused with the whole Mass Effect 3 controversy*. In that case, fans petitioned to get something in a game changed because they didn’t like it. That’s the same as this, right? Not quite.
*Curiously, I find the tenor of those claiming the Tomodachi Life scandal is “no big deal” very similar to those who got indignant about Mass Effect’s ending. I obviously couldn’t draw any specific parallel — I don’t know these people. But it does still stand as evidence of how an internet groundswell can ring hollow, no matter what the discussion, from individual case to individual case.
The Mass Effect 3 controversy was a case of some fans subjectively decrying the quality of its ending. It was frivolous, basically. The argument between, “I don’t think this ending is good” and “I do think this ending is good,” does NOT equal an argument between, “I think homosexual relationships should be represented in a relationship simulation” and “I don’t think that.” One is a debate about art — the other is a debate about morality.
If Nintendo wants to make their game their way, fine. I can’t stop them. That also doesn’t shield them from criticism. I don’t believe an artistic criticism should sway the hand of the author. I believe a moral criticism should. It’s the difference between me not liking your story, and me not liking you. If you’re fine with me not liking you, then, I dunno, make your game bigoted.
3. Look, it’s a family-friendly game, okay? This isn’t the place to talk about sexuality.
Let’s pause for a moment to read Nintendo’s official statement, which is utterly disgusting.
“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.”
I’ll make this as plain as I can: acknowledging that same-sex marriages and relationships exist is not social commentary. It is only social commentary if you think two men or women getting married is controversial, or just plain weird. This is self-evidently how Nintendo feels, and that is awful. It also makes them out of touch in a way few other expressions could.
There’s nothing less “family-friendly” about a homosexual relationship than a heterosexual one. Sex is sex, and Nintendo’s clearly comfortable hinting at a man and a woman fucking, so why not a man and a man? Or a woman and a woman?
The idea that a gay relationship might be too “mature” for children is, and always has been, patently ridiculous. The only reason people feel that way is… well, I guess I don’t really know. Society at large thinks heterosexuality is the default setting of life, because Jesus, or something? Decisions like these tell any ostracized homosexual teen looking for an escape that the way they feel is weird, different, and wrong. It tells them that talking about how they feel is social commentary. That the way they feel isn’t even appropriate for their peers to know about.
It’s also worth noting that the argumentative tactic of “now’s not the time” is used the world over by the people with the shittiest opinions. See: gun control in the wake of a mass shooting. Claiming that “now’s not the time” or “now’s not the place” presumes that those affected can somehow shut off their sexuality when they play video games. That’s especially rich given the style of the game in question, which is a life simulator where you import yourself into the game world.
Ultimately though, as a straight, white man, I could never elucidate this position as well as Tye Marini, a homosexual 23-year-old Nintendo fan, and the main impetus behind the “Miiquality” hashtag:
“I want to be able to marry my real-life fiancé’s Mii, but I can’t do that… it’s more of an issue for this game because the characters are supposed to be a representation of your real life. You import your personalized characters into the game. You name them. You give them a personality. You give them a voice.
“They just can’t fall in love if they’re gay.”
4. This isn’t the battle to fight! Why don’t you get out and support gay rights in the REAL world?!
This argument is not only specious, but presumptive. Specifically, it presumes that a person complaining about this issue 1) does not support gay rights in the real world, or 2) thinks this is the most important issue involving gay rights happening right now. As it turns out, a person can be angry and passionate about a topic without thinking it is literally more important than everything else!
The idea that a social justice issue should only be talked about on a global level is ridiculous and destructive. There’s no magic address I can send a strongly-worded letter to that’ll fix bigotry. Change can happen in tiny ways, and just because a bigger problem exists doesn’t mean we should stop complaining about the smaller ones.
And when you consider just how many Nintendo fans will wind up wishing that their favorite developer would expend the tiniest bit of energy to make them feel welcome, I don’t think it’s a small problem at all.
5. Shut up. It’s a video game. Video games are for fun, and the idea of people getting angry over this is funny/sad/stupid.
No, you shut up.
Video games are important to different people for different reasons. You find them fun. I like criticizing them as art. Any number of people feel the way that we do, but others come to video games for a different reason: to escape.
If a game gives me the option to play as a woman, I do. Why? It’s interesting. I’m not a woman, and here’s this game giving me the option to escape into a different skin. I’m also tired of straight, white dudes being default protagonists. When I played Mass Effect, I was a female Shepard in a homosexual relationship with Liara.
Does this make me some kind of hero? Fuck no. I’m a straight, white dude! I like these options in games because they give me new experiences. I also like them because I know how important they are to people less privileged than me.
Culture has this conservative leaning that leads to basically every minority feeling underrepresented in what they watch and play. That is a problem. I want people to be happy. I don’t want people to feel like they can’t express themselves because Nintendo doesn’t intend to make any fucking social commentary.
If you actually think that Nintendo’s decision and reasoning isn’t a problem, then have a nice life. Just know that through either argumentative action or apathetic inaction, you are aligning yourself with some of the most despicable people in the public square. People who bully others because they don’t know, don’t care, or don’t like thinking about how their words and actions affect others.
I can think of no kinder way to put this: the world will be better without you.