A few weeks ago, we wrote about Tomodachi Life, a Sims-like game that’s coming out next month. Unlike a lot of modern life-sims, it doesn’t allow characters to fall in love with anyone of the same gender. That’s pretty lame, and gaymers started a #miiquality campaign to try to persuade the company to make the game more inclusive.
But unfortunately, Nintendo has now responded with an incredibly tone-deaf misstep.
Not only do they have no plans to allow gay characters, but a statement from the company suggests that the existence of gay people is “social commentary.” Eek!
“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.”
Look, we are actually sympathetic to Nintendo here. This almost certainly was not a deliberately malicious act. We suspect it’s a blind spot brought about by straight privilege and cultural bias.
The game was developed in Japan, where LGBTs are far more closeted than they are in the US. To a heterosexual Japanese developer, it is not unreasonable that it would simply not occur to them that they should include gay couples. (In fact, last year another version of the game had an importing error that assigned genders to characters when you carried them over from other games. Sometimes it would assign the wrong gender, which meant that men could get pregnant and marry men. Despite users enjoying the bug, Nintendo patched it, and then used the unfortunate language “relationships becoming strange” to describe it.)
Now, the game has been localized to the United States, which means the language was changed but not a significant amount of code. The game was pretty much already done by the time the #miiquality campaign started, so there’s not much Nintendo could change at that point. We get it!
The real problem here is their dreadful, insulting press release, which feels like something written by someone who does not know if they have ever actually met a gay person.
There are two ways to interpret their vague “not trying to provide social commentary” non-pology:
Which one is it? We fear that it’s the former, but hope that it’s the latter. The words “sorry” and “apology” never appear, for what it’s worth.
Nintendo’s other mistake was omitting any mention of the company’s commitment to diversity or LGBT employee groups. This is fairly boiler-plate stuff for any apology for slighting a minority group, so it’s weird that the company didn’t throw in a few words about valuing everyone despite our differences, blah blah blah.
We’re not accusing Nintendo of America of being homophobic. It’s just that the prior corporate background of the company’s President and COO’s is marketing for Pizza Hut, so he probably isn’t used to dealing with stuff like this.
Well, there’s never been a better time to learn. Their statement also says, “We’re using this as an opportunity to better understand our consumers and their expectations of us at all levels of the organization.”
Meanwhile, gaymers don’t have to just sit back and feel miffed. You can still let Nintendo know how you feel by taking their “Thinking about these games?” survey, open to any member of Club Nintendo. Just let them know that you don’t plan to get Tomodachi Life because it excludes gay couples.
Alternately, you could write angry blog posts about it. That’s good too.