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 This is a historically stubborn company, applying its stubbornly outdated attitudes in a way that excludes others.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.