Why Tomodachi Life Is A Problem [Update]

Tomodachi Life is problematic.

When Nintendo patched the Japanese version of Tomodachi life, removing a glitch that allowed players to participate in same sex marriages, what they did was actively remove the ability to create an apparently unintended type of relationship. Then, in the patch notes, roughly translated. The patch ‘fixed’ the ability to create relationships that are “altered”. Nintendo maintains this change was made to prevent an issue where the game could not be saved.

That led to a situation that reinforced Nintendo's original intention: to create a video game where same sex marriage was not possible.

Then came the petition, a petition to bring ‘miiquality’ to Tomodachi Life.

“Because the game has such a huge focus on relationships, this is a problem for many LGBTQ gamers,” said Tye Marini, who launched the campaign.

Nintendo responded with the following statement.

“Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of Tomodachi Life,” read the statement. “The relationship options in the game represent a playful alternate world rather than a real-life simulation.

“The ability for same-sex relationships to occur in the game was not part of the original game that launched in Japan, and that game is made up of the same code that was used to localise it for other regions outside of Japan.”

As you might expect there has been a backlash to this statement, and rightly so. The idea that Nintendo could somehow exclude themselves from all forms of social commentary, just pack up their things and moonwalk away from this discussion, is ludicrous. The conversation has started, they’ve gotten themselves embroiled in this issue and they’ve picked a side. Simple as that.

We do not live in a vacuum and there is context. Nintendo actively chose – bug or not – to restrict players from engaging in same sex marriages in its game.

Again we do not live in a vacuum. As Stevivor Editor Steve Wright pointed out this morning, Nintendo has a history of trying to straight-wash video games, or censoring them. This is a historically stubborn company, applying its stubbornly outdated attitudes in a way that excludes others. This is the problem here.

Nintendo has made a choice, it is currently engaging in social commentary whether it likes it or not. It is communicating with its silence, its lack of understanding, its clumsy handling of a delicate situation. Nintendo has decided that not allowing gay marriage in Tomodachi Life is safer, less controversial story than allowing gay marriage. Nintendo has made that choice.

UPDATE: It appears as though I have been mistaken. The correct translation from the patch notes is "Human relationships are altered", not "Human relationships are strange". I have altered my original story to reflect that. When I initially wrote the above piece I was under the false impression that the word strange was used. Apologies to anyone I may have misled.


    "Reports that the exploit allowing two men to have a baby was patched are incorrect, according to a statement Nintendo provided to IGN. According to product marketing manager Bill Trinen, there was a "misconception" about the issue.

    "There were two things that were going on at the time that essentially were grouped together as one," Trinen said. "The first, that there was a patch. And what the patch was fixing was actually a data leak ... The other thing that was going on was that quite a few Japanese players were dressing up Mii characters. Essentially they would create a male version of a Mii character and assign their gender as female, and that was how the two males were able to have a baby."

    According to Trinen, there was no confusion about the patch in Japan.

    "As it was reported in Japanese, they had an understanding of what the [data corruption] issue was," Trinen said. "The other wasn't an issue. It was just a unique way that people were playing the game."

    - Polygon

    Last edited 08/05/14 10:52 am

    People who own a Wii U. Not many.
    People who own a Wii U and this weird quirky game. Even less.
    People who are gay and own a Wii U and this game. Maybe 1?

    Also, two men 'having' a baby sounds pretty strange to me. Unless one of them is Arnold Schwarzenegger.

      I want to thank you for reminding me that movie exists.

      I'm gay. I also own a Wii U. There are many of us.
      Also, in fairness, Tomodachi Life looks utterly bizarre, so if two men had a baby, I'd be more inclined to roll with it because the game has a sense of humor.

      5-10% of the population. Probably a lot of people.

        I'd love a source on that besides Kinsey who's methodology left a lot to be desired.

    No they're not the key words, Mark. The patch notes were only ever officially released in Japanese, and you're selectively quoting one translation of that.


    Context is also really important here, those words were likely written by either the engineer that fixed the bug or QA. This is really important because as an engineer I can tell you it's definitely appropriate to classify any technical defect as strange behaviour.

    This has definitely been taken out of context, or at the least, blown way out of proportion.

      I've not looked into the story enough to hold a strong opinion and while I fully support the underlying cause being referred to here (equality etc), I have to also believe that at a minimum the points you raise contributed to this. If in fact this was written by QA or similar role then that seems entirely reasonable, especially when you add in language and context.

    Mark, Jason, and Kotaku stop trying to make a non-issue an issue. We can see Mark that you're not passionately on this soapbox for a cause but only screaming and yelling for page hits. Go home, you're drunk and no one is buying your tripe.

      I am very passionate about the issue.

      Also, I don't drink.

      (I also don't sell tripe)

      I don't think I've ever seen Mark do any thing for just the page hits, man.

      *facepalm* gg mods

      Last edited 08/05/14 11:20 am

        holy shit, I don't think I've ever seen a more 18th Century comment on this website.

          I think he might mean two men having a child naturally together ( through pregnancy) is unnatural.

            Biologically unnatural, sure. But the addition of messed up makes his intent very clear, and he's not just talking about biological capacity.

        What was the time capsule you seem to have lived in like?

        So you could argue it's more natural for a kid to grow up in a home with two straight parents who don't love each other anymore and create a hostile growing environment as opposed to two homosexual parents who are committed to each other and their child?

        It's not possible to make broad generalizations of what's wrong and what's right on most issues out there (it's why we have a legal system that functions on a case by case basis), but when it comes to two people who love each other wanting to raise a child we have strict definitions? Hypocrisy much?

          it's pretty obvious he meant males can't get pregnant which is what the game bug allowed to happen /facepalm

        I can't believe this comment exists. I just can't believe it.

        No one is trying to force anything down your throat.
        Live and let live, already. Christ.

        PS: Even though you edited for spelling, you still missed "out"

        Last edited 08/05/14 12:48 pm

      Actually I'm really appreciative of this article, although the issue doesn't directly effect me it still hits close to home.

      I saw Jason's article and got involved in the comments because I couldn't believe some of the stuff that was being said about it and how many people just missed the point.

      It's kind of nice to have Mark do a follow up that hits on a lot of the points that Jason's much more factual update missed because that wasn't his focus.

      I still tend to assume that when I see Serrels name I'm going to get some actual journalism, his R18+ articles were actually the reason I started following Kotaku.

    EDIT: This was a reply to someone but the comment system made it it's own and then it's not as funny. Carry on.

    Last edited 08/05/14 11:34 am

      Let me guess: you tried to post the comment, got the error about posting too quickly (even though you weren't), and then hit the submit button again?

      While the site remembers the text of the post you were making when you get that error, it seems to forget which post it was a reply to.

    Out of touch and inconsiderate is not the same as intentionally bigoted though.
    And expecting change from Nintendo has always been futile.

      Yeah, Nintendo has always seemed like grandparents to me. Grew up in a different time and they have their ways. They still like their no good punk kid grand children with weird ideas though.

      Ignorance is not an excuse, and neither is tradition or history. "I didn't KNOW slavery was wrong, we've always done it!"

        Maybe not an excuse, but certainly a mitigating factor.

        To take your example there were people that were brought up to believe that Africans were actually inferior. They were taught these things by people they trusted who were well respected in their communities. I'm not saying they couldn't have realised that slavery was wrong, just that a massive cultural bias is a hard force to beat. We can talk about morality in more shades than just black and white.

        I'm sad that nintendo chose to do this, but I can understand their position.

    Just had a massive debate about this in class, thanks Mark, great timing :)

    As someone who falls under the LGBTIQ banner (reluctantly as I firmly believe that such labelling is half the problem in an open and accepting society), I can see why this causes such grief to some people and why other's are claiming a mountain out of a molehill.
    At the end of the day, patch or not, update in the future or not, it is simply the reflection of yet another company/organisation/government that buries their head in the sand trying to ignore today's dynamic society yet still forcing their opinion on the consumer (which in turn perpetuates the fear of change for the next generation of people).
    I can only cross my fingers that as the companies and governments mature, a more meaningful openness will eventually filter through to accepting and embracing change rather than being fearful of it and burying a head in a sand over it or turning a blind eye.

    I'll risk the downvotes for this clarification:

    In Japanese, the word normally translated as "strange" (romanised: "hen") has a very broad semantic range including, among other meanings, "unusual." To describe homosexual relationships as unusual is accurate, both historically and present-day demographically; and the word "unusual" doesn't need to carry any connotations, positive or negative (for example, a person can be unusually talented or unusually ugly.)

    If you wanted to pick up a word in the patch notes that carries higher chances of being a value judgement, try "fix" over "strange."

    EDIT: Seems that @vanit beat me to it, and that I picked up on the wrong word. I'm not familiar with the exact semantics of "okashii," but it's possible that the above logic still holds.

    Last edited 08/05/14 11:53 am

      Agreed that patch notes are not the best place to seek value judgements.

      IIRC the word used was 'hen' it was something else.

      But yeah, you're right about that word. I lived in Japan and 'Henna' is used constantly for multiple different things.

    There seems to be a lot of misinterpretation around this particular issue. The bug patch notes that coolhandluke mentioned are a big one, as is the interpretation of "strange". But another seems to be Nintendo's latest words on the situation. “The ability for same-sex relationships to occur in the game was not part of the original game that launched in Japan, and that game is made up of the same code that was used to localise it for other regions outside of Japan.” - This says to me "We're just localizing it, we're not changing game mechanics." But people have jumped up and down screaming because they won't patch gay marriage in.

    I'm a supporter of gay marriage and it really annoys me that we live in a world where this is even an issue. Especially since games like The Sims have had gay marriage for years without making it a big deal. That being said, people are really making too big a deal out of this particular situation in this particular game. And if it wasn't for the initial data corruption bug and consequent patch notes confusion, then there wouldn't be a public outcry.

    As much as they are on the wrong side of this, I really feel sorry for Nintendo.

    I'm curious about what you talk about as a "history of trying to straight-wash video games"? I'm not saying you're wrong but I was wondering are there examples of this in the past.

    As a counter example, Birdo is one of only a few transgender characters I can recall from video games.

    @markserrels: presumably the patch notes were in Japanese. Japanese has multiple words which can be translated into English as 'strange' but which don't necessarily have the negative connotations of the English word. I think you really need to see if the change was interpreted negatively in Japan before you really get upset over word usage in a one-line translation of a patch note.

    When I read the first statement article on Kotaku, my first thought was that the article was being slightly unfair by claiming that it's not possible to 'no comment'. Which really leaves anyone anywhere anytime completely fucked if they don't want to participate in any conversation when their silence or 'no comment' is being read as a comment.

    "I don't want any part of this, I'm going to just stick with the status quo and let you guys deal with it," is pretty cowardly, but also not too surprising when your master is not creative integrity, but money.

    So yeah. "We're just going with the status quo, we don't want to get involved," I don't have much respect for, but given the number of subjects I actively don't want to engage in because I don't have a horse in that race and am uninformed, I can't really hold it against them. I didn't leave any comment.

    In that article, I didn't read any mention of, "Relationships that are strange."
    Now, that... see. That colours the conversation. I'm thinking they shouldn't have done that - patched, I mean. It might not have been intended, but why not leave a progressive, valuable bug alone?

    (Edit: Oh, they couldn't leave it alone because it was linked to a data leak error? Hm. OK, so I think my first thoughts are probably standing. They made a hetero-normative value game like everyone else on the damn planet, fixed something that was allowing the illusion that this wasn't what they had done, and wanted to say that they didn't do it because of any particular social values but because it was a bug, and please don't ask us to address this issue about changing the status quo, we don't want to be the ones to do that? Not praise-worthy, but not worth much more blame than... well. Everyone else ever.)

    Last edited 08/05/14 12:29 pm

    I know nothing about Japanese, so I can't comment on the issues of translation.

    But my opinion is this: regardless of the translation, there was an unintended feature in the game that allowed two male sprites to marry. They decided to patch it out. That was a conscious decision. The translation of the word doesn't matter nearly as much as this overt action.

      Not singling you out, but your comment is wholly about this particular point..

      Are you assuming that the game wouldn't be broken, if the patch wasn't applied? I think it's fair enough to also assume that Nintendo needed to patch it, since it was broken and would lead to more broken things.

        Fair enough, if it was linked to other data issues.

        But I still find it hard to believe that not one person in that office looked at it and recognised that it was an issue that was going to be bigger than data loss? Surely they could have lost the bug, but kept the feature, and I would be unbelievably surprised if that possibility wasn't discussed in that office at least once.

          It's Nintedo. They are Japanese. They literally give zero fucks about the Western opinions. Have they not proved this numerous times in their history? Gamecube, Wii, WiiU, 2DS ..

          I am also sure that "key, what if we leave it in for the westerners" was discussed. For sure. So then there were two options.

          1. Fix the patch, make it exactly the same as JP version.
          2. Fix around the glitch, making the game work as originally intended, but keep the gay marriage in.

          Even then, to say that they are assholes is a long stretch. Who knows how the factors panned out in making the decision between the two? Maybe it was too hard to fix and leave it included? Maybe it would delay the game and leave exposed? Too expensive?

          WHO KNOWS? Well, we surely don't know. And so we can't go around shouting from the rooftops that Nintendo is a devil company that things gays are strange.

          I'd have raised it for investigation, personally, but I think another thing to consider is that you're a wordsmith, not an engineer. They do think differently. Things aren't 'right or wrong' based on social context as much as based on what the design doc says.

          Also, the Japanese have a very 'don't make waves' culture. Everything I've read on the subject points to them as a collectivist society rather than an individualist one like ours. The underlying psychology changes all sorts of things we'd take for granted. (Which is one of the really fascinating things about watching anime - the subtle differences taken for granted.)

    sites like kotaku are the ones who created this issue. Nintendo never removed a gay marriage feature, a bug allowed men to be seen as females and allowed them to birth kids and was fixed. The sites reporting they removed gay marriage are just looking for headlines. I would have liked if nintendo patched in gay marriage proper but considering how few games allow for that and the fact they are releasing a game that's already built and released in japan it's not a big issue they haven't.

      The way I see it, the guy that released the patch notes wrote that. How that shows how the freaking entirety of Nintendo thinks is beyond my comprehension. Do people realize how patch notes work? And who writes them? Do you think Nintendo's top men went over there and made it that way. Noooope, it was a developer or two that wrote it.

      But of course, the problem had to be made worse by journalists. 'Cause that's the best way to do things...

    I can't say that I've read every comment here but I just wanted to say, as a gay man, thank you to everyone here who has reacted positively to this situation. Below is a portion of what I said in a GoNintendo article the other day, reacting to Bill Trinen's IGN interview. It sums up my feelings towards the matter:

    "[...] I get the political and religious value of excluding gay marriage from the game and I guess it's kind of a bad thing for me when I say that I'm okay with being devalued in a society where people who have nothing to do with my life have some say in how happy I'm allowed to be in a relationship with my partner. What annoys me though is Trinen's response, skimming over why gay marriage wasn't included in the first place. We all know why it wasn't, so why not just come out and say it?"

    (It's also worth pointing out that someone in the same thread suggested that because people expect gay marriage in a life simulator, we should have demanded Tolkien written versions of LotR featuring Frodo as a female and as a gay man since we want to be recognised in another person's creative freedom. Wut.)

    Jeez, you seriously underestimate the number of gay people who play video games (or hell, maybe the number of gay people in general), this is an ongoing trend for you. I'm part of a group in Sydney of gay gamers and there are over 1000 of us.

    AND BESIDES. It's not about how many people there are who would benefit from the feature. It's about having the option for those people that it would benefit. It's an easy enough thing to do, Sims does it, Elder Scrolls, Fable, it's not like the choice of sexuality in games is anything new and uncharted. But give players an option, to serve everyone all at once!

      All of the games you just mentioned have been developed by Western developers, where there is currently a lot of talk surrounding gay rights. While I'm not against gay marriage, people have to realise there's a difference between Western culture and Japanese culture. This thing has been blown way out of proportion here because of these cultural differences.

      Something to think about.. if this was a game developed in the West and people from countries where polygamy is seen as legal and acceptable were up in arms because they couldn't marry multiple people in a game, would we take their complaints seriously, or dismiss it as stupid?

        I pointed this out to you in the other article, so I'm going to copy it again here:

        Lastly I want to comment on the argument that in Japan gay rights aren't an issue... Which is BS. There is just as many gay Japanese as anywhere else in the world (About 10%), they just have a repressed traditional culture which hides these issues more.

        When I visited Japan about 10 years ago I was kind of shocked at the institutionalised sexism that is everywhere even within high school. Or you look at progressive youth based areas like Harajuku and realise most of Japan (Including tourism boards and guides) just pretend they don't exist.

        It's not a reason to give them a pass, it's a reason to kick up a fuss to make them realise this shit shouldn't be on and won't be accepted by an international community,

        Also oddly enough, many western games do allow polygamy too. Looking at Fable, ESO and the like.

        My comments make more sense when you read them as a response to darren's comment... specifically:
        People who own a Wii U. Not many.
        People who own a Wii U and this weird quirky game. Even less.
        People who are gay and own a Wii U and this game. Maybe 1?

        I was trying to cut down the idea that a) the implementation of same-sex coupling would benefit such a ridiculously limited number of people, and b) it doesn't matter how many people it would benefit anyway, the fact is it's benefiting people.

    Unfortunately we're not talking a company stance, but an entire countries cultural stance. Being gay in Japan is "sinful" and "nontraditional", right down to the point where children have been disowned by their families because their sexual preferences do not mesh with the extremely old thinking style of the older Japanese generations (Think from your parents backwards).

    A company that is extremely deep in Japanese tradition in both ideas and work ethic, are not going to turn their backs on that style of thinking because in their main market, Japan, it would cost them a shitload of money in the end.

    However, there is NOTHING stopping Nintendo of America to look into the issue and even recode the scripting to allow gay marriages... Except Nintendo of America only localize, not develop.

    But aparently worth commenting on to inform me?

    Last edited 08/05/14 4:34 pm

    I've read in a number of threads on this topic with odd statement's made by commenters about how same-sex relationships apparently just aren't in Japan's national consciousness to include... there's more than enough anime, manga and fiction that utterly disproves that that notion.

      Games, anime, and manga are generally shunned in widespread Japanese culture.

    LGBTQ? I thought it was LGBTI? What does the 'Q' stand for?
    Qsexual? Like for people that are only attracted to the many incarnations of Q from James Bond?

      Stands for Questioning, mate. As an Asexual I found it odd that the A was left out but whatever.

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