May 9, 2014
Nintendo Game Shuns Gay Characters
It is a “life simulation-game,” but whose life is it supposed to be simulating? The Nintendo game Tomodachi Life on their handheld 3DS gaming console has been a huge hit in Japan, where Nintendo originates from, of course (“tomodachi” means “friend” in Japanese), and looks set to have similar success in Europe and the US. The only problem is that by involving dating and romantic relationships, but only between opposite sexes, the game — and the company — has unsurprisingly upset some of its fans.
Players place themselves on the game’s island in the form of Miis, which are Nintendos avatars that can be “family, friends or anyone else you can think of.” These avatars can, as the Associated Press explains, “shop, visit an amusement park, play games, go on dates and encounter celebrities like Christina Aguilera and Shaquille O’Neal.” What they can’t do, though, is become involved in same sex dating, and that is what is being objected to.
Leading the protest is Tye Marini, a gay 23-year-old Nintendo fan from Mesa, Arizona, who is quoted from a video he posted last week as saying, “I want to be able to marry my real-life fiancé’s Mii, but I can’t do that. My only options are to marry some female Mii, to change the gender of either my Mii or my fiancé’s Mii or to completely avoid marriage altogether and miss out on the exclusive content that comes with it.” The issue has led to the #Miiquality campaign, which uses Facebook, Twitter and direct correspondence with Nintendo to politely ask them to consider making the content of their games more equality focused.
This may be ambitious. Nintendo did say, “We have heard and thoughtfully considered all the responses. We will continue to listen and think about the feedback. We’re using this as an opportunity to better understand our consumers and their expectations of us at all levels of the organization.” But this sounds a little like ‘don’t call us, we’ll call you.’ They also said,
“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,” and hinted at a desire to stick to the basis of the original Japanese version.
Homosexuality is viewed differently in Japan compared to the West (well, in liberal parts of the West). Although not usually confronted with great hostility, it is nevertheless not considered to be a social norm, and gay marriage is not legal, nor are same sex partnerships offered any legal protection.
This all raises the difficult issue of cultural differences in a world of globalized business. We may be on the same page when it comes to business, but not when it comes to social issues. Personally, I think we have the right, when the opportunity arises through shared interests, to voice our concerns. I don’t think everything can be put down to cultural difference and therefore excused. I hope and expect that people across the world would raise their voice when they have concerns about aspects of my country’s behavior, and I don’t expect to be let off soccer hooliganism and trying to dominate the whole world for 400 years with the excuse, “oh, it’s just our culture.”
Tye Marini doesn’t want a boycott of Tomodachi Island and nor do I, but as we share entertainment and commerce, we can share ideas too.
Image Credit: Nintendo