Hey Nintendo -- Excluding Same-Sex Relationships in Tomodachi Life IS "Social Commentary"
"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:
I am not even remotely as angry about no same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life as I am with the rhetoric of Nintendo's statements— Todd Harper (@laevantine) May 7, 2014
Let's be clear, Nintendo is more than welcome to block same-sex marriage in its game. What is shitty is saying this makes them neutral.— Almost Kris Ligman (@KrisLigman) May 7, 2014
I was gonna buy it anyways! All you had to do, Nintendo, was not actively tell me that you think my existence is icky and "political."— Nick Sondgeroth (@drevilbones) May 7, 2014
@ElizSimins this makes me incredibly sad. Gay characters in RPGs are what stopped me having any fears about coming out growing up.— alex (@lexicobob) May 7, 2014
You know, it's too bad, because Tomodachi Life seems pretty exciting and cool! If only it could actually represent my fucking existence.— Christine Love (@christinelove) May 7, 2014
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."]Tweet
Iris 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.</