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.
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?