Appleton: Nintendo whiffs on 'Tomodachi' slight toward gay players

The Fresno BeeMay 9, 2014 

There is a fine line between being old-fashioned and being prejudiced, and venerable game publisher Nintendo may have just crossed it.

The publishers of "Mario Bros." and "Donkey Kong" are adding to their impressive résumé by unleashing "Tomodachi Life" to the American public next month. The simulator game for Nintendo's 3DS system allows players to create different avatars and interact with one another in a virtual world. Players can even form romantic relationships and get married — provided they are of the opposite sex.

Nintendo announced Wednesday that it will not allow same-sex relationships of any kind despite considerable pressure from traditional and social media. Players will not be able to flirt, date or marry a member of the same sex in "Tomodachi Life."

The publisher caught a lot of flak over this, and it is about to catch some more.

My first thought was one that I often have felt when reading Nintendo announcements: They should have known better. A founding father of console gaming should have known that American young-adults in 2014 would not stand for unapologetic prejudice in their games.

I'd like to be able to say that the conscious decision to exclude a group from "Tomodachi Life" was made due to cultural difference or an ignorance to political correctness. However, that would be letting the company off the hook far too easily.

Nintendo employs people of all cultural backgrounds. Nintendo of America is right here in California and oversees all North American operations. It has had a year to transition from a Japanese launch to an American one. There is no possible way that someone — even if it was a lowly intern bringing in the coffee — didn't try to warn those in charge that a large portion of gamers in this country would reject the limits forced onto them.

Which brings me to the most important point of this situation: Limits are being enforced on a game that is marketed exclusively as being one without limits.

The whole appeal of the game is having the freedom to do what you want when you want to do it, and it succeeds in that respect 99% of the time.

The problem could be fixed in a few hours. The game already allows people to date and marry, but there is something written into it that blocks same-sex coupling.

There is no reason for it. Having a gay character wouldn't create logistical problems in the game or screw up a storyline. There is no storyline. If there were, then I could maybe understand Nintendo's position. If a writer's vision was of a man and a woman, nobody can force him or her to change that.

Maybe Nintendo figured that gay players could just skip the dating and marriage aspects of the game. It's true that they certainly could do that and enjoy a perfectly good gaming experience.

However, the game rewards players with a special achievement and new goodies if they get married. If gay players want those rewards, they have to pretend to be straight.

Think about if the game wouldn't allow players to be black. That would surely bring the scorn of millions today, but once, that was a fact of video game life. In general, games are taking positive steps forward each year, which is why many gamers are adopting such a firm stance against Nintendo's step backward.

I also want to clear up the idea that it is possible to choose an in-game sexual preference by accident. When "Mass Effect 3" came out, some people protested the game's forward-thinking same-sex relationship options because they were "accidentally" selecting the chat bubbles that would lead to a same-sex romance. This was simply not true as players have to put a conscious effort into building a relationship with any character in that game. It is even less possible in "Tomodachi" because you and another real person both have to agree to any kind of relationship choices.

The last point of contention is that Nintendo has every right to release the game as-is. Consumers have every right to buy or not buy that game for whatever reason they choose.

It's true. Nintendo doesn't have to change the game. If the company is prepared to take a small hit in its sales numbers, then so be it. I would think that a company that just reported major financial losses over the past year wouldn't want that, but I don't know much about the business world.

It isn't too late. This could all be water under the bridge tomorrow if a few people pressed some buttons. The ball is in your court, Nintendo.


Rory Appleton is a journalism major at Fresno State and a freelance gaming journalist. He can be reached at (559) 441-6015, or on Twitter at @RoryDoesPhonics.

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