Wednesday, May 07, 2014

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Hey Nintendo -- Excluding Same-Sex Relationships in Tomodachi Life IS "Social Commentary"

Tomodachi Collection Love Compatibility

Janine "Iris Ophelia" Hawkins' ongoing review of gaming and virtual world style

"Your friends. Your drama. Your life." That's the tagline for Nintendo's upcoming Tomodachi Life, a game that I have been over-the-top excited about since Nintendo began to tease it. But in the face of a fan-driven campaign for the game to include same-sex relationships and in essence represent more of their friends, their drama, and their lives, Nintendo has released one of the most ridiculous statements I've read in a while:

"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."

I don't know about you, but I'd call that a pretty strong example of social commentary. What part of heterosexuality is inherently more "playful"? Is it quirky to cross genders if you want to avoid living your whimsical fantasy life in the closet? Why is allowing people to represent themselves and their friends in a game that is pitched as a platform for representing themselves and their friends a political act for some and not others? Please Nintendo, fill me in. I'm all ears.

There are a couple misconceptions I want to clear up right out of the gate. Many people have the idea that same-sex relationships were patched out of the original Japanese version of Tomodachi Life, but this is not the case. There was some confusion because it was tangled up with talk of players' ability to create a Mii of one gender and customize them to look like the opposite gender, which would then allow them to have "same-sex" relationships, marriages, and pregnancies.

This option is present in the previous game, Tomodachi Collection, and it was not removed from Tomodachi Life. That said, forcing people to misgender themselves/each other as a work-around in order to create a light-hearted imitation of their reality (which is the entire point of the game) is also not a solution. At its best it still enforces a gay/straight binary with little room in between... Not to mention how difficult it is to maintain a purely platonic male-female relationship without romance blooming, and trying to limit those relationships (unless you're willing to feed them a magic asexuality potion) results in swaths of depressed Miis. Based on my experience with Tomodachi Collection (pictured top), I'd call it an aggressively heteronormative experience.

But here, let me put it this way:

Forcing an entire group of players to bend over backwards through the use of awkward workarounds because of their sexuality, something they have about as much control over as the size of their feet or the color of their skin, makes a very strong statement about how you think they fit into society.


The Miiquality campaign that Nintendo's response is directed towards has always discouraged boycotting the game, and #Miiquality founder Tye Marini's video (embedded above) explicitly asks supporters to buy Tomodachi Life and talk about it using the #Miiquality hashtag in the hopes that Nintendo will be willing to release a patch, or even simply consider same-sex relationships for the next game in the series. In spite of all the social interest and activism surrounding Tomodachi Life I never personally heard anyone say they would boycott it -- until today, that is. Even I'm having serious second thoughts, both about Tomodachi Life and the Tomodachi Collection gameplay streams I've been doing in preparation.

This is one of those cases where I believe that expressing my own feelings is as (or less) important than signal-boosting others, and a lot of good arguments have been made on Twitter since word of Nintendo's latest statement began to spread:

Be sure to visit Miiquality on Tumblr to show your support.

[Update 9/5/14: Today Nintendo issued a statement titled "We are committed to fun and entertainment for everyone". In it they apologize for not including same-sex romance options in Tomodachi Life, and go on to say "...if we create a next installment in the Tomodachi series, we will strive to design a game-play experience from the ground up that is more inclusive, and better represents all players."]

Mixed reality iris 2013Iris Ophelia (@bleatingheart, Janine Hawkins IRL) has been featured in the New York Times, and has spoken about SL-based design at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan and with pop culture/fashion maven Johanna Blakley.</


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Pussycat Catnap

This is the exact same thing gamers and game developers have been saying for decades about why the games are about the light skinned races killing the evil dark skinned races, or why there is sexism in fantasy, or why there are so few female leads, or why the non-white leads always look like stereotypes.

"[insert company here] never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of '[insert game here]'. The [race|gender|etc] options in the game represent a playful alternate world rather than a real-life simulation."

So why get all upset now, when nobody has been with us folks of non-white persuasion on this for the last 4 decades since Dungeons and Kill the Darkie launched in 74...

Now that a minority which can possibly include white folks as well is involved, suddenly its an issue...

Pussycat Catnap

That comment reads pretty harsh...

But the point stands. For decades there's been an open denial of all kinds of bias and outright extreme discrimination in gaming...

So its a little hard to feel sympathy, even for a cause I agree with, when its coming in the form of what looks like crocodile tears from an industry who's fans normally tell me that its just "being playful" or "idealized" to make a world that is hateful of others.

I feel a bit of "where were all of you when the target was these other people?"

CronoCloud Creeggan

"Dungeons and Kill the Darkie" is a bit of an exaggeration there I think. I don't think D&D's creators were "active racists" though they'd absorbed racism subconsciously of course....the problematic "dark elves" are a great example of that.

But they've tried to do better over the years. For example, in the Mystara setting there are no "dark elves" any dark skinned elves are that way because of environment and they DON'T live underground and aren't "an evil enemy race". Even the "evil underground elves" aren't dark, but pale, and two separate groups of elves. One group really isn't evil, but are a bit xenophobic and ticked off at surface elves for not welcoming them with open arms after their long years underground (they thought the surface world had been destroyed). The other nasty evil elves were a splinter group of that group, who got lost and were corrupted by an evi Immortal and even some of them secretly worship the old Elven Immortals.

In Mystara, no race is ever 100 percent evil or good, not even ones like Orcs or Goblins.

That said, I am VERY disappointed by Nintendo's statements.


"Dungeons and Kill the Darkie" Pussycat?

I usually enjoy your posts, but for this? What a load of crap you have slung this time.

I began playing D&D in '78 and still run my campaign. There are very few negative stereotypes of people of color in any iteration of D&D I have seen. Drow are black like coal. They are not dark-skinned like my own Arab dad or like Africans. FWIW, Frost giants and Vampires are whitey-white and they are evil, too.

There is a TON of misogyny in games online and in print, but I've rarely seen racism. Some of the aspirational characters for players have been warriors or mages who are from dark-skinned cultures, in both D&D and Savage Worlds, the systems I know best.

Pussycat Catnap

@Iggy: I guess you're blinded by white privilege.

Drow origin: Black as coal because they sinned against their God. Thus evil and deserving to be wiped out.

Origin for Africans in US Slave South, and Mormon Church until 1978: Black because they carry the mark of Cain, having sinned against God, thus deserving of slavery.

D&D Orc: Dress like Native Americans, Act like stories of "Injuns" said natives acted during the Indian Wars and into the Cowboy movies of the 1950s.

Good races: all light skinned and based on European cultures.

Evil races: mix of tones, usually darker. Based on the stereotypes used by various European groups to justify killing those they killed - be is campaigns to kill gypsies, celts, Jews, and other whites, or Africans, Native Americans, Middle Easterners, and Asians. This comes through in origin stories, fashion, and cultures.

D&D excuse: "To despite a "simplier earlier morality where things were more clear cut."

Genocide is always clear cut and simple.

But if its in your history to be the oppressor, and you now benefit from that on every level - you may not think of how these stereotypes still impact others, and how seeing this bias portrayed as entertainment hurts.

A lot like how Nintendo is blind to its own bias... thinking its just being 'simpler' by choosing bigotry.

That all said... knowing these negative stereotypes takes either being a victim of them, or being active in a hate group. So I do NOT think D&D's authors did this by accident.
- Because most whites have no freaking idea what people are talking about when we bring these up... as they sit they and engage in a fantasy that teaches them to dehumanize us and gives them subtle clues to relate those races to us, or to get defensive, as you have, about defending the perpetuation of hate.


@Pussycat, let's just let the D&D stuff drop. Your mind is just so biased against it by your own experiences as an person of color that you can't argue reasonably. You could make a reasonable case against Tolkien's depiction of dark-skinned folk, but the D&D Orc was a big green pig in the original books, as it continues to be in Warhammer.

Just do not talk to me of white privilege. I'm an Arab-American whose grandpa from Lebanon had dogs set on him, got shot at while pedaling dry goods in rural VA, and was often called a "sand [racial slur]." Grandma never learned to write in English or speak it fluently. I have relatives who suffered under the Colonial powers. No relative I know of was a slave to the Ottomans, but my great-grandmother starved to death in the WW I famine that hit the Ottoman colonial people really hard.

Yeah, my mom was Scot-Irish but one of my older sisters was so dark that a neighbor told her she could not play with her daughter. My mom found my sis weeping in the bathroom and trying to "wash the color off" her skin. Dad went down the street and set that honky family (he called such whites "honkies" once the term got cool in the 60s) straight in a very Middle-Eastern way for "making my little girl cry." They were thereafter appropriately terrified of him (think Tony Soprano with a taste for falafel). Of course, had a black dad done that in the 50s in Richmond, he'd have been lynched.

Let's forget it. You are understandably embittered by the very real prejudice you have experienced.

Arcadia Codesmith

Cred noted, Iggy, but what Pussycat is talking about is a very real phenomenon. You can make the case that orcs are orcs and the term is virtually synonomous with "goblin" in folklore predating Tolkien, but the oiliphaunt-riding, scimitar-wielding Southron allied with Sauron are a cultural mish-mash of African and Arabic stereotypes.

AD&D makes extensive use of fantasy culture counterparts, usually jumbles of stereotypes, cinematic representations, westernized simplifications of complex concepts, and occasionally a dash of lazy research.

So leaving aside analogies of drows and orcs, we have the entire continent of Africa represented in the Forgotten Realms setting by the savage jungle island of Chult, which is the place that people who know nothing about Africa imagine Africa is like.

The same dynamic carries over in titles like Elder Scrolls Online, where the only option for a dark-skinned human character are the warlike pseudo-Arabic Redguard.

We can take it as a given that the fantasy genre as a whole deals in archetypes and stereotypes, but even within that context people of color get short shrift. Dark-skinned people weren't absent from Medieval and especially Renaissance Europe (hence Othello and Sir Palamedes), but it seems that every game based on these eras has either zero "good" NPCs who aren't lily white, or at best a few shady traders of negotiable virtue.

Is it better to be almost completely ignored in a fantasy setting, as gays usually are, or to be presented as a stereotypical stock character dictated by your skin tone? I don't think either is ideal. And I don't think it's a stretch to call it out as racism.

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