Nintendo’s Queer Response To #MiiQuality In Tomodachi Life

Nintendo plan to release their new 3DS simulation game Tomodachi Life early next month. In it, players will have the ability to create “virtually anyone they can think of”. However, the problem with creating an alternate world is that the real world can never be fully represented in a simulation. Nintendo have worked around around this problem fairly easily: avatars will live on an island where their characters live an exaggerated life, and where simple actions can have unexpected results.

The players will be in Mii form, allowing them to retain their Nintendo persona, and the dialogue will be intentionally unrealistic, over-the-top and in line with Nintendo’s usual humour. Despite this, the characters lives will still be restricted in at least one way – there will be no same-sex relationships.

For the Japanese release, this was not much of a problem and the game was well received, but when news of this spread West, it was not as simple. The social media campaign #MiiQuality has gained traction over the last month in demand for the inclusion of same-sex relationships in Tomodachi life. Nintendo responded, categorically stating that this will not happen. Nintendo said that it “never intended to make any form of social commentary” with this stance, and that they intended to create “a playful alternate world rather than a real-life simulation”. They mentioned that they will continue to listen to feedback, but whether or not this refers to the ongoing #MiiQuality campaign is unclear.

Nintendo’s focus has always been on reaching a wide audience, especially with casual gamers. Over the last decade in particular, they have shifted focus to more age-friendly releases. As a multinational company, it is within their best interest to focus on the largest group possible, and today it would seem that this it true even to the detriment of more vulnerable groups (such as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender individuals).

Although Nintendo do not wish to make any social commentary, previous releases have contained LGBT friendly content, including Fire Emblem (Radiant Dawn and Awakening both had potentially gay characters). Though with the statement in mind, it is worth questioning whether this minor representation was the work of Nintendo or the Fire Emblem series co-developer, Intelligent Systems. It is possible that Nintendo, as a company, have never chosen to include a character directly stated as anything other than heterosexual, though trans character Birdo has previously appeared in Mario Tennis, Golf and Kart.

Inclusion of LGBT characters in narrative-driven games is an active decision, making it a common move not to put in extra work for a small demographic. These characters must be written, designed and coded for to fit within the confines of the story. However, when both a choice of gender and romantic interests are offered to a player, the chance of homosexual relationships is innate and must be specifically removed. Therefore, in Tomodachi Life, Nintendo specifically coded for heterosexual-only relationships, and then denied the request for this decision to be overturned.

Outside of Nintendo, games are beginning to include more gender and LGBT friendly options: Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age, Mass Effect, even Call of Duty – these games often involve a central character who can be manipulated in appearance and behaviour by the player – they do not aim to emulate real life, but they still attempt to give the player a feeling of involvement in the game. By not restricting their actions where it is not necessary, these games allow the player to be represented without excluding less visible groups. In a story where a character is locked into one gender, one race, or one sexuality, the player cannot expect the character to change.

In The Witcher, for example, the protagonist Geralt can seek heterosexual relationships but not homosexual. He is a canonically heterosexual character and therefore there can be no complaint in the player not being able to alter his persona to fit their own. Though when a game allows some players to create a representation of themselves, and refuses this to others, developers must consider if they are neglecting groups by removing their ability to represent themselves.

Including sexuality of any kind can be a tenuous road to walk on when developing games for both young and old players. However, if a player of one gender or sexuality is able to enter a relationship that is not considered obscene, this act should not be considered more graphic or unacceptable if it is mirrored in other players, regardless of gender.

Representing homosexuality couldn’t be distasteful if the actions of the user will remain unchanged; by retaining a same-sex romance option, without feeling the need to change a character in any other way, there could be no offence. Players who would not seek homosexual content would continue not to seek it and otherwise excluded groups would have a chance to play the game how they wish to.

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The simulation genre aims specifically to represent a small section of the world, be it a farm, a train track, or a neighbourhood. When a player enters a game designed to emulate their own life and cannot portray who they are on-screen, it detracts from their experience; a married couple playing an online game together might not be able to marry each other in-game. Same-sex relationships in simulation games are not unheard of – the hugely popular Sims franchise has included marriages for couples of any sexuality, and The Sims remains popular, with a fourth instalment due for release this year.

It is not Nintendo’s job to make social commentary, nor must they be expected to. They are instead tasked with ingenuity, with finding ways to push their media forward. It is their job to look at what has come before them and how to improve upon it, yet their statement means that Tomodachi Life will not be as progressive as a game released five years ago. It may not Nintendo’s job to make social commentary, but it was their choice to turn down this request from their fanbase. Through this refusal, Nintendo are actively telling consumers who play their games that they do not need to be represented.

In March, Nintendo released a statement saying they wanted to modernise their business and attempt to improve the quality of life of their customers. This was in reference to a possible branching out in directions other than video games, but surely this logic would also be applied to their future releases. It remains possible that future updates could realign Nintendo with modern day beliefs, and their fans’ requests. Until then, Tomodachi Life will remain a fun and quirky, but heteronormative world where I can’t be myself.

42 Comments

  1. Maybe it’s because I’m a heterosexual male, but I never feel the need to be represented in games. I’ll play a female at any given opertunity

    • In a story-driven game I agree. I don’t care who the character is, it’s not supposed to represent me. Gay/straight, male/female, kind/psychopath makes no difference.
      The issue is that if you are creating the character yourself and romatic relationships are part of the game, you should be able to choose whatever sexuality you want.

    • For some people that could be because heterosexual males are the most targeted demographic, so they would feel more enticed by change when given the choice. Equally, there will be people who genuinely don’t care and will play as anything, at any point.

      I was trying to to say that, should some people want to represent themselves (assuming the game offers it), everyone should have equal opportunity to do so.

    • maybe it doesn’t bother you because there are no shortage of protagonists that represent you.

      some games are about escapism, doing or being somebody/something you couldn’t in real life.
      and that’s great, but a game like this, is about putting yourself in the game’s world.
      your in game character is supposed to represent you.

      • Personally I don’t think I’ve ever played a game with a protagonist that represents me. I don’t really play games to be someone like me. Fair play if that’s what you want though

  2. Great article. I particularly agree with the paragraph about innate homosexual choice given the way the character creation works. The fact that they must have chosen to disallow homosexual relationships is where the problem lies.
    As you say, it’s fair enough for a story driven game based on an existing protagonist not to allow the player to make those decisions (although some, like Mass Effect, still do) but to let you entirely create a character and then tell you he’s not allowed to be gay stinks of bigotry, either overt or subconcious, by the developer.

  3. Also to add: When I played Skyrim I married a Nord dude because he was really nice to me. My character was a male Khajiit. I really like that the game basically just has a bunch of people you can get close to and then marry and it literally makes no difference what gender (or race!) the two of your are.
    It felt like it would have required specific code to stop you marrying the same sex and the developers obviously didn’t see the point, and good on them.

    • Good point. My orientation in real life should have no impact on how I want to explore any relationship in a game world. If something develops that way while I’m playing, I’ll go with it. Emergent gameplay and all that. I am comfortable enough with myself that at this point, video game is not really going to change anything…

      That said, are there legal/rating issues coming into play here? If there is potential homosexual content, will that affect the games certification when it comes to localisation?

      Not sure on that one. Just because I was able to build a 60 foot golden cock and balls in mine craft, didn’t mean they had to make it an 18 cert game…

      • but there’s not going to be any sex in the game, gay or otherwise.
        nobody’s asking for same sex couple to be able to have sex in the game, just that they can form the same relationship that opposite sex couple can.

        that shouldn’t affect age rating, apart from backwards dictatorships, thinking of russia here, where the sims is apparently going to get an 18 rating due to the homosexual options in the game.

        i don’t know if you meant it this way, but equating homosexuality to building giant sexual organs in minecraft is kind of insulting.
        or maybe i’m just overly sensitive about people thinking being gay means i’m obsessed with sex.

      • No, gay sex is just as filthy as straight sex, it gets the same rating from classifcation boards in the civilised world no matter what is going in to what.

        Legally then yes, there may be a problem if the game was sold in African or middle eastern countries where being gay is illegal.

      • Apologies Hazelam, I was not trying to equate homosexuality with being obsessed….Just wondering if the acts of the players of a game can affect a game rating regardless of the original intent of the development team. Nothing more.

        I suppose I could have thought of a better analogy…60 foot golden “something that some people may or may not find offensive” Swastika? 3x letter “K”? The “what” is not important, the fact that you can is what I was getting at.

        But I suppose that’s the point of the “Game experience may change during online play” warning we always see…

      • no worries, Nocure.
        like i said, it’s probably more me being overly sensitive about that kind of thing than it actually being offensive.

        that and getting wound up by the Neanderthals on n4g.
        i should start viewing the mobile version on my pc, that doesn’t show the comments. ^_^

        and i do get what you’re saying.

        for online stuff, don’t they have disclaimers that state “online interactions not rated by” whatever that country’s ratings board is called?

        imagine what rating the COD games would get if they were. O_O

        and TC, you have such a beautiful way with words. ^_^

      • Exactly. If online play had to be rated, we’d be lucky if games ever got released at all!

  4. I understand that people want this feature, and this campaign will likely have an effect on a sequel.

    But, putting it into context, this is a relatively old game. It’s super Japanese and was likely not planned for a western release during development.

    This was a choice made by the developers, and in a way I feel like we need to respect that as well. I don’t think they meant any offense. This is the way the game turned out, and we need to deal with it.

    I hope they’ll make the change for the likely sequel (given it’s success so far). And until then; if you don’t like it, vote with your wallet.

  5. Intelligent Systems are the folks behind Paper Mario as well, and in The Thousand Year Door on Gamecube there’s this transgender ghost (Vivian), but all references to this were removed in the English translation.

    • Oh, nice catch! I loved Vivian in The Thousand Year Door, so that’s really cool to hear. It’s a shame that they dropped that aspect of her in the localisation.

  6. Isn’t this the game that had a bug in the original Japanese release that allowed same-sex relationships?

    Which they then “fixed” with a patch that took care of the problem of “human relationships that became strange”. Can’t have any of that gay stuff going on, it’s “strange” apparently.

    Nintendo claimed it was a different bug they were referring to, and they meant “altered” not strange anyway and it was all just a problem with translation. (Even though it looks like it was confusing native Japanese speakers as well)

    Also, is it really wise to use the word “queer” in the headline when many people might find it offensive? Possibly takes something away from the seriousness of the rest of the article.

    • I didn’t expect the word ‘queer’ in the title to come across as a pejorative, but I understand that reading is subjective and readers’ perceptions may differ. I was using it under its definition of ‘peculiar’ (in regard to Nintendo’s response), but to highlight the gay theme of the article.
      If it offends you, or anyone else, just say and I’ll raise the issue with an admin.

      As for the ‘fix, I looked it up and it looks like you’re right: Tomodachi Life initially contained the ‘bug’ of same-sex relationships. The fact that they then patched it to remove it is horrendous. If they consider same-sex relationships strange, perhaps they need to improve their networking.
      On a brighter note, that also gives hope to the localised release for a future patch where they’ll go back on their decision.

      • In this case, no, it’s not (personally) offensive. I just kind of really don’t like the word, although that’s mostly if used in an aggressive way against me (as has happened in the past). Or in that horrible “reclaiming” the word sort of way. (Those people need a good slap. They might be happy calling themselves that, but you don’t get to call me that when a simple, totally non-controversial “Andy” would suffice)

        As for these “strange” relationships, I’m going to be generous to Nintendo and suggest they might just be being honest about all relationships in general. They’re all strange, involve 2 or more people who piss each other off at least 50% of the time, are both prepared to swear in court that the other snores, and frequently involve 1 party wanting to introduce assorted body parts into uninterested or impractical places. I’m amazed they ever last more than 12 minutes, really.

      • Use of the word “Queer” was genuinely apt, I found. Saying that, I’m straight and pretty much nothing offends me. Only the word “Andy”. :-P

        Seriously, though. It’s interesting to see how developers from different cultural backgrounds handle situations they either didn’t think about or positively shy away from because of their own beliefs and societal construct.

        It won’t affect them too much, I feel, but it would be good to see them take a more open-minded approach with future titles.

  7. firstly, great article, i was wondering if, and how TSA would be covering this.
    and this is just right.
    you don’t paint Nintendo as the bad guys, but they’re not blameless either.

    so, they “never intended to make any form of social commentary”.
    too late.

    they’ve taken their stance, and it’s that the concerns of the people supporting miiquality have no effect on them.

    now i don’t think that’s due to bigotry, that’s not what i’m saying.
    but i do think there’s an element of cowardice behind it.
    they know the right wingers, especially in the US would have a field day.
    fox “news” would go ballistic.

    this way, it’s easier.

    i’d like to go into the background of this miiquality campaign a little.

    it was started by a guy called Tye Marini.
    he lives in Arizona with his fiancée Andrew.
    he’s a big Nintendo fan, he even runs a streetpass group.

    he wants to be able to marry his real life fiancée in the game and thereby gain access to all the exclusive content that can only be accessed by being married, in game.

    watch his video.
    http://vimeo.com/93044318
    and try and tell me he doesn’t have a point.

  8. Firsty I should declare I do not accept gay relationships as normal/fine. As my late father pointed out; “homosexuality wants to be accepted, but they do not recognise we want our natural instincts to be accepted too”. Short: There will never be ageneral understanding from either.

    However, i’m not aggressive towards it all and merely choose to respect all opinions without trying to upset anyone. But I believe it would be wrong for gay people to deny their feelings as much as it would myself to deny I simply dont agree with it all.

    Whatever “my” feelings are on the matter does not mean they are right, nor others in the same boat. When my missus asked what would I do if my own son preffered men – I simply replied “love him all the same, protect him twice as much”. I will try and prevent all gay scenes and references from reaching his eyes, so that if he later on knew he preferred men – I would know it is truly heartfelt and not this “fashionable to be gay” rubbish.

    Relation to this game? I would not allow my son to play it if same sex relationships was present. Right or wrong that is my (perhaps selfish) decision.
    But, from an overall perspective – it is denying a very real and present “right” for individuals to express genuine feelings. It doesn’t hurt anyone and I think Nintendo took an easy root out.

    I’ll never understand it all, but I am allowed to never understand it. So why shouldn’t the gay community be allowed to understand and display it?

    • Ah, the old “it’s ok, as long as it’s out of the way and we don’t have to see it or think about it and protect the children” argument? Which gave us years of having to wait 5 years longer before any sort of sex was legal, and even then you technically had to do it behind locked doors with nobody else in the building.

      To be honest, heterosexual sex is weird and mildly disturbing, involving body parts I can’t quite understand. But a lot of people seem to enjoy it, so who am I to object? It’s not even an issue for me, because I’m not going to be doing it. It’s just something I know exists, but which I don’t even think about because it’s of no interest to me. Like marmite. Horrible stuff, wouldn’t go anywhere near it. But some people like it, and who am I to stop them?

      The second half of what you wrote there is what really pisses me off though. Why would your son need protecting more if he was gay? Do you really think anyone would be gay just because it was “fashionable”? And what do you think you’d achieve by “protecting” your son from anything gay? If he was, how do you think that’s going to work out? Growing up knowing he’s different but being denied anything that might actually make him still feel normal?

      That whole attitude is worse than some of the crap the swivel-eyed loons in UKIP come out with. At least with them, everyone just thinks “Oh, do shut up, you bunch of muppets”. That low level “it’s allowed, but it’s still not right and must not be encouraged in any way” crap (which Nintendo seem to be going for) just nibbles away at people for years.

      • Twice the protection against those that beat the crap out of gays because they take an aggressive stance.
        My cousin “came out” and we’ve had to fend off violence towards him far too many times. That is all.

      • It’s just something I know exists, but which I don’t even think about because it’s of no interest to me.

        Oooo, like Game of Thrones. I believe I’m the only one with this opinion.

    • Keeping your son from seeing homosexuality is not ‘protecting’ him, it’s hiding him from reality (or at least a part of it) and passing on your own prejudice.

      You seem to want your opinion to be accepted as valid but it isn’t because it is bourne out of ignorance, not any base in fact.

      Oh and homosexuality is actually very natural. It’s been observed in over 3000 species who act solely on instinct

      • The fear of spiders is also instinctive, but i’m not going to telk someone that is wrong and you should accept spiders for what they are. When I first saw two guys kissing in Eastenders as a child I “instinctively” went “ewwww, that’s not right”.
        As i’ve grown up I have become more aware that no one has the right to say fancying the same sex IS wrong no more than anyone has the right to say “you should accept it and not be uncomfortable or disgusted”. It is as normal to not understand it as it is to want people to understand it. There is no right or wrong for either side, unless it is agressive (as i’ve witnessed and broke bones defending despite opinion).
        protecting my son is referring to protecting him if ever he came out as being gay, as in protecting from people who would be agressive towards him. As a parent I do hope he is straight, anyone not liking that can call me what they like – that is my instinct, as with drug abuse and even smoking – I hope he never does it. It is my God given right to have this opinion, it is your God given right to not agree or disagree, as it is to not feel threatened because of your sexuality. End of

      • You can throw around the word ‘instinct’ all you want but that’s a word you are using for prejudice.

        There is also a big difference between ‘not understanding’ it and trying to hide yourself or your children from it. If you think it’s icky, fine, but trying to keep your kid from seeing it in the world will just give him the same prejudice you have.
        It’s no different from trying to allow you son around dogs even though you have a fear of them because you don’t want to pass that neurosis on to him.

        I don’t ‘understand’ homosexuality in the sense that I can’t see how a man can find another man attractive but only because I don’t. I also can’t see why people find massively fat people attractive but some do.

        Comparing being gay to smoking and doing drugs? Classy.
        Perhaps you can give one reasoned argument why him being gay is negative in any way?

  9. I think were very lucky to live in the largely liberal west, we don’t hear those in positions of responsibility call homosexuality strange these days because they either don’t believe that anymore, never believed it or fear public criticism. We’ve bred acceptance and bully homophobes and racists into keeping their opinions to themselves and that’s a great thing. I’m not sure Nintendo are taking a homophobic stance, I think it’s a cultural thing that we (we Brits at least) find hard to understand. From the little I’ve read MiiQuality have not gone to Nintendo with all guns blazing but have respectfully put their opinions across, they may not change anyone’s mind this time but they understand the need to say something in order to influence decisions in the future and Sam, your article is very well considered and well written. It’s nice to see the usual intelligent comments from the TSA community, no Jeremy Vine recreational outrage.

    • I tend to agree. I don’t think they’ve tried to upset anyone but it is the right thing to raise the issue and point out that it’s not ok to exclude homosexuality any more. That is, after all, the only way to engineer change.

  10. I’m not homophobic at all but every time a story like this comes along I cringe knowing exactly what sort of comments and articles are going to come from the affected community (be it the gay, black, Muslim, or whatever community).

    “Big game developer doesn’t allow homosexual relationships in one of its games… That absolutely HAS to be an attack on the LGBT community and highlights that they are homophobes! We must stand and fight!”

    No. It’s far more likely to be a cultural or technical reason. I just can’t help but feel that those in the minority are constantly looking to be offended and assume that every hint of exclusion is a personal attack at them.

    Urgh. Equality and an end to discrimination is what people want and yet it’s very rare I hear a homophobic slur these days – in fact the people who keep bringing it to the fore are those in the minority themselves, determined to make an issue out of every little detail…

    Reminds me of women…

    “We are as good as men and deserve to be treated equally!”

    And yet, you dare suggest the mrs puts the bin out\puts a shelf up\bump starts her own car herself!

    • Did you read the article? Or any of the comments?

    • Rare to “hear a homophobic slur”? Well, I’m glad that’s all done with then, although I’m slightly annoyed that I appear to have missed the memo about that one.

      The more comments I read on various sites today about this, the more it proves just how far we’ve still got to go. What chance has anyone got in Russia or large parts of Africa when we’ve got people in countries that supposedly know better basically going “Oh, those gays, making a big fuss over nothing”

      Do I need to dig out a list of all the cases of violent homophobic attacks in this country recently?

      • I’m not saying homophobia is dead, far from it, and I’m certainly not saying that violence and discrimination don’t happen… But this country has come a long way since the 80’s, or 90’s even.

        When I say I rarely hear a homophobic slur, I mean publicly and in person. If anything, when I do hear someone mouthing off it’s usually a mouthy kid acting tough in front of his friends, who’s quickly put in his place by the nearest adult… A far cry from what it used to be like!

        It’s the kind of behaviour we’re talking about here that needs to be dealt with. Not the inability to give yourself a gay avatar in a game or Emmerdale not having enough gays in the village!

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