First of all, Tomodachi Life looks wonderfully bonkers and as soon as I saw that video I tweeted, ‘It’s like Nintendo made a game just for me.’ (Me being an awkward over the top parody of Peter Molyneux.)
Since then, the excitement around that game has become a bit sour. This is not necessarily because the game only represents relationships between men and women, but mainly because Nintendo’s official response was essentially, ‘Hey, it’s just a game lol. We have no obligation to make social commentary.”
You can read the official statement with the actual quotes here: http://abcnews.go.com/Entertainment/wireStory/nintendo-virtual-equality-life-game-23620844
Earlier today, I made a reference this situation with the following tweet: “I still get praise for allowing gay relationships in Fable. To be fair it was possible by default, we just decided not to disable it.”
I was surprised by all of the seemingly confused people sending me messages justifying Nintendo’s stance. These people noted to me that the game had already shipped, as if suggesting that this made the erasure of same-sex relationships okay. They missed the point of my tweet, which was that at some point during Nintendo’s development of Tomodachi Life, there was a conscious decision made that ended up hurting people within the gay community. The general response I received was that Nintendo had done all this hard work and so wanting them to rework it would be unjustified.
The key word in my tweet is ‘default’. When Nintendo coded the Mii’s into the game they are either male or female. They are not assigned as gay or straight in the code. So by default, any Mii character in Tomodachi Life could be imagined as gay or straight. The default character design does not have sexual orientation woven into it.
But Nintendo then included a feature that allows two characters to interact together. These interactions can be anything from dating to getting married. The point I want to make is that by default ALL characters would have been able to interact because code doesn’t judge. Code does not have a social agenda. Code does not make choices, nor does it make social commentary. But my point is that sometimes when a conscious choice is made, social commentary is made whether intentionally or not. Someone had to go in there and program the game so that women and men could date or marry, but not extend this interaction to encompass relationships between women and relationships between men. The choice NOT to do this is still a choice.
Going with the default (which is, to allow romantic coding to allow relationships between any and all characters) would have worked fine too. Nintendo wouldn’t have had to hire artists to draw horribly stereotypically gay-looking Mii characters or bring in voice-over people to do their best gay voices because gay people look, act and sound just like any of us. Gay people are an ordinary part of the world, and that’s the very thing that transforms their erasure into a statement, even if it wasn’t driven by a desire to make social commentary.
As Nintendo stated, this is just a whimsical and quirky game. No one intended to be political. Unfortunately at some point, somebody changed the code so that only 0 could interact with 1 and that that 0’s and 1’s could not interact. I am not suggesting that it was out of hatred. Maybe it more out of ignorance, possibly fear of the kind of waves this would create.
By default, the game would have included and celebrated everyone, but someone had to tinker with the default. And that’s why I think we need to talk about these issues as a gaming community – because erasure affects people and sends out a message about what kind of world is acceptable. I think it’s important to understand that for whatever reason at some point during development, someone or a group of people made a decision to disable the ability to represent gay relationships. I love the odd realities created by Nintendo. I really do. I love the strangeness and the creativity of the worlds they create. But eliminating gay relationships is destructive, not creative. Instead of creating new, surreal realities, you are chipping away at reality, a reality that has taken many, many years to become accepted (and which has yet to be fully accepted, to be honest).
And this is why I think it’s important to have these conversations. Everyone should be able to feel welcome in the gaming community. Let’s have games contribute to expanding reality, not erasing it.