Nintendo No Homo: New “create a family” game bans gay couples

Game mega-company Nintendo is finding itself in some hot water after the company refused to let players pair off in same-sex couples in a game called “Tomodachi Life.” The game is intended to recreate everyday life, including creating virtual families.

Nintendo of America is now claiming that “Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of Tomodachi Life.” Except that of course Nintendo intended to make social commentary by making heterosexual marriage a key component of the game, while banning the marriage of gay couples, even though gay marriages are not only legal in 17 American states, but in 16 countries as well.

So in a very real way, Nintendo made a conscious choice from to exclude certain legal marriages from its game.

And, lest Nintendo argue that the exclusion of married gay couples was an oversight when designing the game, it’s not an oversight now that Nintendo has refused to fix the product.

Tomodachi-Life

Before anyone says this is a silly complaint, what if Nintendo only permitted white players to marry white people, and black players to marry blacks? Or Christian players couldn’t marry Jews? How would you feel then? And more importantly, how will the child of gay parents, or a gay child themself, feel when they find out their “family” isn’t legit because Nintendo says it isn’t?

I usually bristle when people bring up the word “privilege,” because it’s often used as a racist, sexist, homophobic cudgel to beat people one disagrees with into submission while scaring them away from defending themselves. But the notion of privilege is real, and can be useful for describing why sometimes people don’t recognize a civil rights problem. So the word itself is no longer helpful because it’s been so abused.

But, the concept is still useful if used to explain, rather than belittle.

In this case, if you’re straight, you don’t even notice when a game requires you to find an opposite-sex spouse. When we all played Milton Bradley’s “The Game of Life,” we either picked the opposite color spouse to ride in our car with us, or we picked the same color in order to make a joke, to mock the concept of being gay. For the gay kid who played “Life,” he or she was intimately aware that they’d better not pick the “wrong” color.

And that, in essence, is privilege. It’s things you take for granted, and don’t even notice, but which minorities do notice, and find constricting. They’re things you don’t see as imposing any kind of restrictions on you, because the restrictions already correspond to your desires. Yet, in fact, others are being forced to live “your” way.

A great example of this problem is when anti-gays use the argument that “gay people can already get married.” They mean, you can already marry someone of the opposite sex. It doesn’t even register in their mind that you’re simply giving gay people the freedom to live like straight people — you’re not really giving them the freedom to marry.

Nintendo continued, in another statement:

“The ability for same-sex relationships to occur in the game was not part of the original game that launched in Japan, and that game is made up of the same code that was used to localize it for other regions outside of Japan,” Nintendo noted in an emailed statement.

Too bad. You’re now selling your game in other countries in which gay marriages are legal, in which gay relationships are legal. Not to mention, I’m pretty sure unmarried heterosexuals have children in Japan, so why exactly can’t Nintendo permit unmarried gay couples to have kids in the game as well?


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  • taipeipeter

    Unfortunately, I don’t believe that is true. Japan does not “recognize” marriage between a Japanese and foreigner of the same sex in terms of giving them any of the rights of married couples (such as immigration). Rather, in the past few years the government started to *allow* its citizens to marry foreigners of the same sex abroad by granting them the necessary papers papers to do so.

  • Disgusted

    You know what, the last transformers didn’t have gay people. If you want to say there was no marriage, then the last 3 hang-hovers had no gay marriages in them. I believe I should be able to have at least 4 wives, let’s include that life style choice in the game. I also think that super mario is a racist game, (no chinese people in sight). Let’s all complain about shit that doesn’t matter. What about artistic freedom? This is idiotic and whoever bothered Nintendo should re-direct that energy towards solving poverty or global warming or something.

  • lunasolara
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  • boytokyo

    Perhaps they aren’t aware that the Japanese government recognizes the same-sex marriages of its own citizens if they are married to a citizen of another country where it is legal.
    Or maybe they are worried about image vis-a-vis only a certain segment of their market.
    Sigh…Harmony.

  • Tom Holmes

    Apparently they recently made another statement saying that it would be too big a change to even patch in after the fact, but if they make another game in the series they’ll try to be more inclusive with it.

  • The_Fixer

    I dunno, a lot of games have “Easter Eggs” in them, and some games have same-sex Easter Eggs. Surely those took time and effort to implement.

    To my way of thinking, this was as a result of exactly what John suggest it is – privilege and not thinking this through. As he asks, and I do as well, do they limit the race of the characters? In this day and age with heightened awareness of LGBT issues, that’s pretty much unimaginable to me.

    This smacks of laziness and this is a bad time in history to be lazy about this kind of thing.

  • zerosumgame0005

    Not knowing how they coded it there will probably be “switches” that need to be blocked and others added because the results of a date can take lots of different paths. One big one would be no option for pregnancy without medical intervention, as well as adding such interventions as well as adoptions and likely other consequences. One big thing they need to watch out for is not weighting the possibility of STD’s too. Can you imagine the (deserved) outrage if suddenly every gay couple in the game had AIDS? That would be the death knell for the company.

  • http://www.americablog.com/ Naja pallida

    Hey, even Lindsey Graham deserves better than John McCain.

  • pappyvet

    Exclusion of married gay couples was an oversight when designing the game. UhHuh.
    Funny I don’t hear of any other groups being so misplaced.

  • Monophylos Fortikos

    The excuses being made feel more like genuine homophobia at work not just a cowardly attempt to placate other homophobes. Besides, how much business could they possibly lose? The kind of Jesus freaks who would be offended enough to kick up a fuss about the game weren’t ever going to buy it, surely?

  • PeteWa

    lol
    omg… whatever. as if allowing for any combination would be any more or less work than translating language. wow, now Mario can date Yoshi when he could only date Princess Peach before, it would take next to no work to change that.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Well, this map here is pretty good:

    http://www.freedomtomarry.org/states/

    But I know there are a few states in particular where, at present, the laws go beyond merely banning same-sex marriage — particularly Ohio and Virginia.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Is it your position that the existence of gay people and same sex relationships are things only teens are mature enough to know about?

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    ‘Relationship scenarios’ like what? It’s not like our dates are any different than those of straight people.

  • kingstonbears

    And we laugh at their current failures. Nintendo meet 8 track, 8 track, Nintendo.

  • Lala

    There was a game corrupting glitch that was patched

  • Lala

    It’s a fairly simple process to translate scripts in games, but adding in different relationship scenarios would require a lot more work and could cause bugs. Not saying that they can’t do it, it would just take some time.

  • Lala

    The Sims is also rated T

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    I find myself wishing they’d just been honest about the decision: “We were more afraid of upsetting the homophobes than the gays and were just hoping nobody noticed.”

  • PeteWa

    Nintendo: Our code was already written, so it just had to be that way!

    and that’s why everyone now playing this game in the U.S. and other countries must learn to speak and write Japanese. it was just the original code, and there was nothing they could do about it! it’s like the bible, set in stone.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Exactly.

  • Drew2u

    That’s why I hope there’s a map of “islands of equality” to reference.

  • Drew2u

    And I say to you, “Go for it!” Haha
    It’s not like I boycotted products I never consumed (Duck Dynasty), but did call for others to boycott.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    In many respects, the way I feel about it, it’s all moot anyway. I buy no Nintendo products and own none that I know of. The gaming console I own is a PS3.

    Still, I’ll gladly join in and bang the drum to protest Nintendo’s wholly arbitrary anti-gay game design decision.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    My map of “States My Wife and I Dare Not Visit or Travel Through” still covers a depressingly large area of mainland U.S., although ever since the SCOTUS DOMA ruling last summer, even some of the deep Red “Danger Will Robinson” ones seem to be cracking open.

  • Drew2u

    A guy I saw, a couple years ago, was fired from his job by talking to his boyfriend on the phone during his lunch period. Different state. I’m lucky that I live in a state with employment protections, but it bothers me that people I care about live in states that don’t have those same protections. I’d say boycott every Right-to-Fire state. Maybe make a RoadTrip Ally app for those long car rides across multiple states?

  • Drew2u

    Be honest, it’s the stars, innit?

  • Drew2u

    But coming in now and calling for a boycott feels similar to OMM coming in on the last episode of “B in Apartment 23″ “GFCG” (or whatever those shows were) and claiming victory in shows that were already sliding into obscurity.

    And while the systems are doing “bad” (last I heard Nintendo still had money. From your article link: “even if it ends up as a very expensive mistake, it’s a mistake that Nintendo can more than afford.”), there’s still the new mario kart, smash brothers, pokemon, and potentially a new Zelda on the horizon. Also, considering Nintendo may be reaching out into DLC-Figurine territory like Skylanders and Disney, Nintendo isn’t out of the fight, just yet.

    I’m not saying a boycott won’t be effective, I’m also not taking any current losses as a scalp and am seeing that Nintendo’s best-selling titles are yet-to-come. At that point, you’re looking at boycotting games that are well-known international bestsellers.

  • dcinsider

    You’re not THAT unattractive! :)

  • 4th Turning

    “Nintendo has reported its financial results for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2014. Sales and operating income fell short of even lowered projections that were released in January 2014.”
    vodka/coke/nintendo/next-we got more dollar votes than we think!

  • Lthomas320

    BAM!

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM
  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    That’s what I usually say – you want straight women to marry gay men, really?

  • Tom Holmes

    It was actually a bug involving the process that imported characters from previous games in the series. It resulted in the characters’ relationships getting mixed up, occasionally resulting in same-sex marriages being created out of nowhere. And apparently the bug would actually break the save file after a while.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Well, while Nintendo made a huge splash with its original Wii platform in ’06-07, their latest iterations have been a flop, with sales projections cut by 2/3 for this year. The top problem is they just can’t get any of the ultra-popular games to be published for Wii U, and Nintendo itself has suffered losses three years in a row.

    http://www.ign.com/articles/2014/01/17/does-it-really-matter-if-the-wii-u-fails

    The whole purpose of a boycott is to draw attention, much as the nascent Mozilla/Firefox boycotts probably influenced what happened with Brendan Eich. All that has to happen is some Marketing PR firm to start asking the survey question, “Have you heard that Nintendo’s ‘Tamodachi Life’ game bans same-sex relationships between its avatars?” And if the answer to that is ‘Yes’, a number which will increase as the news begins to spread, the followup question is, “Does this make you more or less likely to buy a Nintendo Wii?”

    When the answer is mostly “Less Likely” — which is probably going to be the way the younger crowd goes — the idea of a boycott stops being a laughing matter. Especially for a company already in deep financial trouble.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    What’s really sad is how many people erroneously believe that such a firing would be illegal or, as one commenter kept insisting the other day, could be taken to court anyway if there was “enough evidence” the firing was motivated by anti-gay animus.

  • http://www.rebeccamorn.com/mind BeccaM

    Yep. All the time. Or, “So you’re cool with your hetero son or daughter marrying someone who finds them sexually repulsive?”

    Then again, I have yet to run into anybody who makes that particular argument, how there’s no anti-gay discrimination in having hetero-only marriage because gay people are ‘free’ to marry an opposite sex person, who does not also believe that sexual orientation is itself a choice.

  • Thom Watson

    As another example of their blindness to their privilege, Nintendo’s response included the statement that the company was “absolutely not trying to provide social commentary,” when the exclusion of same-sex couples and relationships is in and of itself social commentary. It’s a statement that gay people and their relationships are less than, need not be considered at all, or can be erased when they occur. Nintendo’s decision is practically nothing BUT social commentary; there’s nothing passive and innocent about maintaining a discriminatory status quo.

  • Drew2u

    A great example of this problem is when anti-gays use the argument that “gay people can already get married.” They mean, you can already marry someone of the opposite sex. It doesn’t even register in their mind that you’re simply giving gay people the freedom to live like straight people — you’re not really giving them the freedom to marry.

    Ever want to ask someone who says this, “Okay, then. Give me your daughter to marry. Let her be married to an out, gay man. I’m sure she’ll love you.”

  • Drew2u

    Potentially my boyfriend could be fired at his job if he has a photo of us together at his desk. Not exactly heartwarming…

  • Drew2u
  • Indigo

    That’s easy, don’t purchase Nintendo games. It’s called a “boycott.”

  • will

    I read somewhere that the previous version of the game actually allowed same sex couples but it was a mistake that was later “fixed”.

  • Elijah Shalis

    At least The Sims allows for gay couples. That is way more popular.

  • http://AMERICAblog.com/ John Aravosis

    Privilege is usually used by people who can’t come up with an argument. But any gay person knows what it is – we’re all familiar with the concept of flaunting, that by putting a photo of our loved on our desks at work, we’re flaunting our sex. Whereas when straight people do it, they’re not. That’s privlege. And it’s an accurate and helpful concept when not used by people who simply hate and don’t have the intellect or desire or decency to come up with an actual argument.

  • mirror

    I’m glad to see you cop to the phenomenon that privilege blinds you so you can’t see it.

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