John M. Becker

Nintendo's Newest Game Excludes Gay Characters

Filed By John M. Becker | May 08, 2014 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: cultural differences, double standard, gaming, gay marriage, Japan, marriage equality, Miiquality, Nintendo, same-sex marriage, social commentary, Tomodachi Life, Tye Marini, video games

tomodachi-life-gays.jpgTomodachi Life is a new life simulation game from video gaming giant Nintendo. A trailer for the game -- which has been a huge hit in Japan and launches next month in the U.S. and Europe -- promises that players can "create virtually anyone you can think of" and that their avatars, called Miis, can even "fall in love." But only if you're straight, that is: the game deliberately excludes gay couples by forbidding Miis of the same sex to flirt, date, or marry.

A campaign called #Miiquality (Facebook, Twitter), spearheaded by 23-year-old Arizona gaymer Tye Marini, is urging Nintendo to change course and allow the game to reflect the lives of gay gamers as well as straight ones. The reason this matters, according to Marini, is that relationships and marriages are an integral part of the game -- for example, certain features can only be unlocked if you're married. In a video posted online, Marini says,

"I want to be able to marry my real-life fiancé's Mii, but I can't do that. My only options are to marry some female Mii, to change the gender of either my Mii or my fiancé's Mii or to completely avoid marriage altogether and miss out on the exclusive content that comes with it."

But Nintendo is doubling down and refusing to bring virtual equality to Tomodachi Life. In a quizzical statement provided to the Associated Press that was apparently intended as an explanation, Nintendo America said:

"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."

Holy tone deafness, Batman! The thing is, Tomodachi Life is supposed to be a game where players create avatars that reflect themselves, but Nintendo's policy currently doesn't allow gay and lesbian gamers to do that -- in fact, it blocks their lives and relationships from being represented at all, effectively erasing them from the game's virtual world and forcing them to pretend to be straight. So while Nintendo may well have intended not to "provide social commentary," its refusal to allow gay and lesbian characters does exactly that.

The AP notes that Nintendo's policy of deliberate exclusion stands in stark contrast to that of several other popular games:

While many English-language games don't feature gay characters, several role-playing series produced by English-speaking developers, such as The Sims, Fable and The Elder Scrolls, have allowed players to create characters that can woo characters of the same sex, as well as marry and have children. Other more narrative-driven games, like Grand Theft Auto IV, The Last of Us and Gone Home, have included specific gay, lesbian and bisexual characters.

For now, Marini isn't calling for a boycott of Nintendo. Instead, he's urging supporters to keep applying pressure to Nintendo on social media, under the hashtag #Miiquality. He hopes that Nintendo will fix the problem by releasing an update to Tomodachi Life and making future games LGBT-inclusive.

Tye's video about the #Miiquality campaign is after the break.

#Miiquality from Tyeforce on Vimeo.

UPDATE, 12:10 P.M. EDT: Reader and activist Scott Wooledge alerts us to a tweet from openly gay U.S. Representative Jared Polis (D-CO) weighing in on the controversy:



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