Nintendo Says It Will Remove Racist Native American Animation From Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Image: Nintendo

In pre-release marketing materials for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, set to release on December 7, the character Mr. Game & Watch uses racist Native American imagery during one of his attacks. Nintendo now says it plans to remove that imagery from the game and has apologised to fans, saying the caricature doesn’t represent the company’s values.

Fans spotted the character’s new attack animation during a Treehouse Live stream last Thursday, following a Nintendo Direct dedicated to the game. During the attack, the normally black silhouetted Mr. Game & Watch is holding a torch and bearing his teeth with a feather coming out of the back of his head.

It’s an homage to the character’s 1982 game, Fire Attack, in which players help a cowboy defend his fort from being burned down by Native Americans. The racist caricature sparked debates on forums like ResetEra and the game’s subreddit.

Screenshot: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, YouTube

Nintendo has come down firmly on the side of it being an offensive depiction. In a statement to Kotaku (as first reported by Eurogamer), the company said the following:

“Nintendo has been planning to distribute an update for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate that removes the feather from the silhouette of Mr. Game & Watch. The original game on which this depiction of the character is based was released more than three decades ago and does not represent our company values today."

"We sincerely apologise that this change was not noticed in our marketing material and are continuing our work to make Super Smash Bros. Ultimate an experience that is both welcoming and fun for everyone.”

The company did not immediately respond to a request for clarification on why it had decided to add the caricature to Smash Bros. Ultimate in the first place. Mr. Game & Watch’s character didn’t have this move in previous Smash games, and Nintendo had previously removed it from Fire Attack when the game was ported to Game Boy Advance in 2002 as part of Game & Watch Gallery 4.

In that version, the Native American characters were changed into bandits.

Sensitivity to racism around depictions of Native Americans has lagged behind other previously acceptable trends that are now considered taboo, like blackface, but it is catching up. Earlier this year, Major League Baseball announced that images of Chief Wahoo, the Cleveland Indians’ racist mascot, would be removed from the team’s uniforms starting in 2019 (though it will still be visible on team merchandise and elsewhere).


    Japanese people just don't think about this stuff, generally. They probably thought it looked cool, added it in, and didn't think to ask anyone at Nintendo USA if it was going to be an issue.

    NoA probably went into meltdown because that's not the image they want out there.

      Yeah whoever was implementing it was probably shown the original images and just copied them, the whole point of Mr. Game & Watch is to be like those old games.

      Good on Nintendo for just apologising and changing it instead of trying to defend it. As they say the casual racism thing doesn't make sense for Nintendo in 2018.

      So I guess what the announcement should have said is that Nintendo today isn't a company that uses that kind of imagery out of malice: they simply don't consider it important to check if such imagery is offensive.

        It's more that Japanese society is in about where the English speaking world was in 1980 when it comes to depictions of race. They don't generally want to be racist, but they have no idea why a thing is offensive because to them it's all in good fun and carries no emotional weight. It's slowly changing, but this sort of thing is just not even on their radar yet.

        Think about how everyone knows that 40+ bloke who is a nice enough guy, but makes weird racist jokes and justifies them with "Ah, it's all in fun. they know I don't have a problem with them. I make fun of everyone!" He doesn't mean badly, he just doesn't get why it's a problem.

        That doesn't make it ok, btw. But it isn't surprising.

          I understand all of that. But unless they have some system in place to prevent things like this happening in future, it seems a bit rich to claim "does not represent [their] company values today".

          If no one had pointed it out to them, it seems likely they would have published the game as is. And without any changes, what's to stop them repeating the mistake?

            This is that system. A mistake was made, then noticed, then fixed. It requires people to find the mistake, though.

            You're asking for a system to find the unfound without people being there to find it. So, I guess my answer is that there is no system for it. We don't have the technology to do that. The only thing we can do is hope that companies do the right thing like Nintendo did and that the people making the games learn from their mistakes.

    So it's the thing that looks like a feather that's racist? I mean, I get that it's pretty obvious it's meant to be an indian when you know the history but to anyone else it's just a guy with some kind of feather or ponytail in their hair. Ironically though, now it's just a black guy trying to start fires. Totally not racist just like it wasn't racist when they made the decision to remove the indian class from Bravely Second and replace it with a cowboy one.

      Yeah, "things" are not inherently racist, but symbols are. Symbols are literally a man-made interpretation overriding the natural meaning of a thing. A feather by itself doesn't mean much. A feather inside an inkwell means writing. A feather in the proximity of a foot means tickling. A feather on the head of a loincloth-clad person is a caricature that has often been used in ways that harm or misrepresent Native Americans.

    Good on them for speaking up and clearly stating that they made a mistake and will rectify it.

    If only capcom had the same attitude to their problematic depiction of Africans in RE5 but I guess there wasn’t an easy fix to overhaul entire sections of that game.
    What’s racist in one country may not be thought about in another. And that’s whats going on here. Times are changing though and that’s a good thing.

      I played through RE5 and at no point did I ever encounter anything I would consider racist. What sections of the game are you talking about, specifically?

        Well there was that scene where caucasian Reynard Fisher got chopped by the hate squad

        the entire game is a white man killing african savages wearing "traditional" ogga-booga masks and shit didn't seem a little... tone deaf?

        Don't get me wrong, i liked the game and I'm almost certain no ill-intent was there at all. i finished it twice in co-op with my girlfriend at the time who was a black woman. She enjoyed it, too. But it really was a demonstration of how the Japanese don't understand the cultural stuff the appropriate. they just think it looks cool and go with it.

          You have an AI partner that is a black woman in the game though. You might be shooting African "savages" but they aren't human, they are possessed by the virus thing. Context matters.

          I don't see how RE5 is any different to, say RE4, that features an American shooting up a European village where they attack you with pitchforks and torches.

            Saying "the black people aren't really human" doesn't make it sound less racist :-)

              That reminds me of an incident in high school where a friend of mine had his blue pen ink run out in the middle of a class. Another mate offered him a black biro but he said something like "Oh no, I don't like blacks" just as the teacher walked past. Needless to say, things went south pretty fast.

            Why does context only seem to matter in diegetic terms? It's a really strange phenomena that people who play games don't seem able or willing to parse text or acknowledge subtext and they only seem to care about diegetic context, rather the historical and contemporary context that informs the game.

            Sure, context matters, but why only ever that one specific reading of it?

            You say context matters while completely ignoring the context of the last 400 years of white Americans committing violence toward black people. So yes. Context matters.

            I'll say it again: I like the game. I played the whole game co-op with a black woman who also likes the game. Several of our mutual black friends also played the game and liked it. It's not like everyone screamed bloody murder about it and nobody is attacking it. But the racial context surrounding it was tone deaf, which is pretty much par for the course for Japanese developers.

            Also, in the vein of "context matters" it should be noted that your black partner speaks perfect English and has a British accent. Contextually, she fits into the mold of the educated African that the British used to trot out to show how they could refine the Noble Savage and make them Civilised.
            These tropes are well established and are contextually significant, even if the people who made it didn't realise it and never meant any harm.

      Didn't Capcom change the make up the crowd to include Caucasian and African characters after this was highlighted prior to release, so you weren't just shooting African characters? I remember something like that.

    Erasing native American culture mirrors the actual history of the United States.... So uh, cool Victory I guess? :-/

    Everything is racist! Ban everything!

    Eh, seriously. If something is being presented as an historical artefact rather than as a modern creation, it should be viewed through the cultural prism of its time.

    But even then, if someone did a blackamoor figurine today I wouldn't necessarily find it racist. Racism is about attitude more than anything else.

      Agreed. I'm interested to find out how many who complained are actually Native Americans. Seems like a lot of people just like to complain about everything even if they themselves are not the one being offended.

      I think you fail to consider things from the point of view of those represented. I confess that had I seen that little animation in the wild while playing the game, I'd probably had not thought much of it. The thing is that if you are a Native American (or whichever race, when it comes to other kinds of racist depictions), this is not just a random little thing, but rather another pebble on a mountain of damaging or insulting caricatures that they cannot help to notice throughout their lives and which inform other people's attitudes towards them.

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