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Understanding Nintendo's Tomodachi Life problem
by Christian Nutt on 05/08/14 03:38:00 pm   Editor Blog   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 


 

I married Amy Farrah Fowler. I didn't want to, but I didn't have a say in it.

 

That's what happens in Tomodachi Life, the new game from Nintendo. You dump your friends, loved ones -- and beloved TV characters, if you're my husband -- into it. Once you do, their simulacra begin to act independently, doing stupid things -- things which you have little or no control over -- and you laugh about it.
 

That's the intent, anyway.
 

Things got significantly less whimsical this week, when a controversy that's been bubbling since late last year came to a head. Before the game was announced for a Western release, reports suggested that Nintendo had patched same sex marriage out of the game; worse yet, that it had been classified a bug. That turned out not to be strictly accurate. Same sex marriage is, however, still not possible in either the released Japanese or the forthcoming Western versions of the game.
 

So?
 

In the early part of the 21st century, marriage is the flashpoint at the junction of identity and politics. Same sex marriage has become one of the biggest topics of 21st century American discourse.
 

Marriage is important to Americans: We marry more than many other first-world countries, where marriage rates are dropping. Individual identity, too, is a particular fascination with Americans: We are who we choose to be, and we spend a tremendous amount of effort to do it. (Try marrying a European, as I have, and you'll find that the American perspective on this is not as universal as you might assume it to be.)

 

The fight to be able to express one's fundamental identity as gay -- publicly, and without fear of retribution -- consumed the gay rights movement for years. The freedom to marry the one you love, and assume the same rights and responsibilities as everyone else, has come to define the the movement in more recent times.
 

It's not hard to understand, then, why the Tomodachi Life thing blew up the way it did: When it comes to the gay rights movement, marriage and identity are politicized and have become intertwined.
 

Think about it. At the same time Nintendo is apparently promising a means of self-expression (or even self-insertion!) via its Miis, it seems to be breaking that very same promise -- in the first game it has released which appears, at first blush, to simulate real life.
 

At any other time in the evolution of the game industry, Tomodachi Life would have been treated as the goofy little curiosity it is. But with the world of game criticism expanding thanks to the democratization of the means of expression, controversy around the game became a fait accompli.
 

So, what the hell is Tomodachi Life?
 

My husband's been playing Tomodachi Life, because Nintendo of Europe has already distributed it to the press for coverage purposes. I've seen it because, well, he's my husband.
 

The game is atypical, and it's a bit hard to get until you see it in action. While the Nintendo Direct that served as its announcement is certainly representative of its mood, it doesn't do much to make the game itself comprehensible.

 

 

If you remember Tamagotchi, start there. But instead of a weird little alien chick, the virtual pets happen to take the form of whatever Miis you bring into the game. The player assigns them basic personalities (from templates) and, from there, they (including the Mii based on the player) act pretty much autonomously.
 

It's almost immediately apparent that the game was created not as a simulation of life or social interaction as much as it is meant to be a comedy sandbox: "She married him?" Marriage is an option not because the characters are meant to be living realistic simulated lives, but because it's another opening for a punchline. It's more banal but no more real than this "news story" from the Japanese version of the game which stuck my Mii's head on the body of a deer.
 


 

Everything is amped up in the manner of Japanese television. If you aren't familiar with Japanese TV, count yourself lucky. Japanese TV gave us America's Funniest Home Videos, which is all you really need to know for the purposes of this article.

 


 

Tomodachi Life is dumb but it's clearly supposed to be dumb, in other words: It's a lowest common denominator comedy generator as a game, not a serious simulation. It is a vague approximation -- a gesture toward a thing that isn't even really there. These aren't really your friends, and they aren't really living lives. It's not even really a game; it's a toy. It's a virtual anthill as Chuck Lorre might envision one, by way of Japan.

 

So why the big deal?
 

In December, reports surfaced that same sex marriage was possible but was being patched out of the Japanese version of Tomodachi Life, well before Nintendo announced it had plans to localize it for the West.
 

Since the game's Western release was announced last month, Nintendo has been forced to clarify this issue, and has opened up to a couple of different journalists about it. You can find responses from Nintendo of Europe here and Nintendo of America here. The game never had same sex marriage, they say -- Westerners were confused by badly translated patch notes and misconstrued screenshots.
 

Japanese players were to blame: "Essentially they would create a male version of a Mii character and assign their gender as female, and that was how the two males were able to have a baby," Nintendo's Bill Trinen told IGN. The rest? Save file corruption bug fixes.
 

Things came to their inevitable head this week when Nintendo released an incredibly tone deaf statement to the Associated Press: "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."

 

The problem is that this option does not exist. As Patrick Klepek put it, "I hope Nintendo knows that excluding gay relationships is, in fact, a form of social commentary. It's inherently political."

 

Why does Nintendo's statement rankle? It speaks to a basic truth of gay life: Straight people don't understand our lives -- that living, for us, is an inherently political act. If you think this is an exaggeration, you've never had to push down a quaver to clearly and calmly say, in an obviously male voice, "my husband" to a customer service phone rep at an insurance company, or had a government official ask which one of the couple is "the bride" when he's filling out a form, only for him to abruptly realize the absurdity of the question when he notices your expression.
 

Worth considering also is the idea that regardless of whatever the Japanese version supported or did not support, the Western edition of the game should incorporate same sex marriage in the name of cultural adaptability and fairness. I am not unsympathetic to this perspective, of course.
 

On the other hand, you must also consider the much larger political problem the company would have on its hands if the same sex marriage switch was simply flipped. In considering this, the anarchic, sandbox nature of the game must be considered, too: As the player, you can't really make anybody do anything.
 

A simple problem becomes instantly complicated. Should Nintendo make an option so that players can set their Mii as bi, gay, or straight? Should it enable gay marriage by percentages that reflect real-world homosexuality rates? Should marriages only happen if the player okays them? Or should players be offered a bunch of options? Must Nintendo put all of these options behind an age-check barrier so as not to alienate the parents of its younger customers, given the political climate?
 

Of course, you have to struggle not to cynically assume that a deliberate decision was made to throw a minority under the bus -- to avoid a big headache by creating a small one.
 

When Animal Crossing: New Leaf came out, there was a much smaller outcry around the fact that the game doesn't support a variety of skin tones in its character creation: All you can make are characters that appear to be caucasian. (Well, to Westerners, anyway -- they appear to be cartoony Japanese to the Japanese, judging from the fact that both territories use the same box art.)
 

 

I was extremely sympathetic to this criticism of the game, despite my well documented love for it. There's no good reason that this choice shouldn't be implemented and every reason it ought to be, especially given its technical triviality. It's easily explained as cultural shortsightedness on the part of the original Japanese development team, which is racially homogenous.
 

My feelings get murkier with Tomodachi Life.
 

Encountering the game and seeing it for what it is definitely helps. It's no platform for self-expression or personal creativity in the way that Animal Crossing is. I've written about how Animal Crossing is a safe place to explore your identity. That turns out to be backed up by the creators: "The concept of the game is that you've got your real world, but there's another world where you can go in and express yourself freely… That's the core concept of Animal Crossing," producer Katsuya Eguchi told me recently.

 

Tomodachi Life just isn't intended the same way. It does not have that possibility space. You can't even exert much control over it. To see it in action it is to immediately understand that.
 

At the same time, no matter how shallow, we expect our pop culture to reflect reality as it is, not as its producers envision it. Demanding that it does has long been a tool for social change.
 

It's difficult to dismiss this argument; at the same time, I think applying it to Tomodachi Life is giving the game a lot more heft than it actually has, which is easy to do if you haven't actually seen it up close.
 

A man and a woman
 

Funnily enough, what bothered me was not so much is the omission of same sex marriage, but the enforcement of heterosexual marriage: The idea that whether I wanted it to or not, my Mii -- an image that has represented me since the Wii launched eight years ago -- would marry a woman.
 

That, in some way, seemed to vacate my identity. Not just that: For a second, it almost seemed like it would eradicate my marriage, much more thoroughly than the impossibility of getting married to a male character would.
 

Marriage is far from trivial to most, but to me, it has a specific significance: The marriage I entered into late last year wasn't even a legal possibility six months prior to the ceremony. My husband is a foreign national, and it was only the invalidation of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act -- which we waited for in pain and hope -- that made it possible for us to get married and be together. We worked hard for this.
 

I don't want to put too much significance on this: When my Mii married Amy Farrah Fowler's Mii, I protested -- but my husband and I laughed together. We have the luxury to laugh, though. We're already married in real life.
 

The PR disaster
 

In the end, it comes back to identity and marriage, and their totemic power for many gays. Like many others, it is impossible for me to sideline my feelings. We have internalized the idea that to suppress our identities is to betray ourselves. This is what Nintendo showed a lack of understanding of in its response to the Associated Press.
 

Nintendo hasn't often had to tread this path before. The company's American branch has rarely, if ever, had to contend with serious discussions of its in-game content: Nintendo's games have largely focused on fantasy worlds and scenarios. More significantly, it's used to shipping mainstream games to mainstream retailers and its communications beginning and ending with a coordinated marketing effort.

 

I don't doubt the potential for Nintendo's developers to be able to solve this issue through a mixture of clever programming and game design -- that's what they do for a living. But it's not going to happen for this first release of Tomodachi Life. The Japanese game shipped ages ago; the Western version has been through localization and testing. The promotional contracts with Christina Aguilera and Shaquille O'Neal have been signed. Nothing is going to change.

 

For now, the tool Nintendo has at its disposal is public relations, and that's the company's Achilles' heel.
 

Nintendo should have considered what would happen long ago -- certainly no later than December, when Western news reports began to surface about the Japanese patch, and reactions to that became clear. A strategy could have been crafted to mitigate, rather than maximize, the damage.
 

The whole situation seems to be the product of the worst kind of naivete: The naivete of people who should obviously know better, which is the most brutal kind.
 

Conclusion
 

In the end, I find it difficult to sum up all of my feelings and thoughts on what Nintendo could have done or should do with Tomodachi Life into a neat package. Things are more complicated than that.
 

I'll leave you with an observation instead: There's a world out there that these games enter into once they've been completed, and Nintendo can show a surprising lack of understanding of that, sometimes.
 

In Japan, it's easier: Things are a bit smaller and more manageable. It's easier to pretend they are, anyway. In the West, the company is swiftly finding that the reality it lives in is not the one it wished for, and that is something that applies not only to Tomodachi Life.


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Comments


Dane MacMahon
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Wow, this is a really well written article that gives a lot of insight into your perspective without sounding angry or judgmental at all. I really applaud that, and I feel like I understand the feelings involved much, much better. Well done!

Andrew Brozek
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What a fantastic write up! Understanding how the game actually works provides some much needed context to why Nintendo would actually make such a strange, line in the sand decision and we aren't just left scratching our heads.
Still, it seems like a case of not thinking through the consequences of the game's design when you have no control over the events that play out, especially when you put you and your real life friends in the game.
I really would have liked it Nintendo would have just said that they are taking our feedback into consideration and will address the issue in a future patch or even a future game.

Kylan Coats
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Great article showing empathy not only for the fans, but also Nintendo itself.

The Nintendo press release hurt.

I'm a long time Nintendo fan; holding on to my Wii U and Kickstarting Wii U games in the hopes that the console will eventually turn around. This little game actually had me considering finally getting a 3DS for myself and boyfriend. Read the #Miiversity info and thought, "Surely Nintendo will include same-gender relationships." These are innovative, forward-thinking, empathetic people. The Wii was brilliant! Samus broke gender stereotypes! Birdo is...well...a wild card, but still there!

And then the callous press release. Ouch Nintendo...

Justin Kovac
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How would/do you feel about Harvest Moon? A lot of the uproar is over the response by Nintendo, not really the game itself as you note. Else this would have been big news for every Harvest Moon release. I see Harvest Moon gets asked marriage with each new release but I have not found any response from Natume. I saw one quote that mentioned that the ESRB could potentially change Harvest Moon from E to T. The Sims already has a T for all the other stuff in the game. Be curious to see what ESRB would do if a game like Tomodachi Life or Harvest Moon includes gay marriage and is gender equal on relationships.

One of the more well written articles out there on the subject.

Kevin Fishburne
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I don't think the ESRB would modify a rating due to the inclusion of LGBT relationships as long as they weren't sexually explicit (which goes for non-LGBT relationships as well). If they did they'd catch some serious hell for it, as it implies that LGBT relationships are perverse while straight relationships are not. That's a bit medieval.

Christopher Jennewein
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I think the concept of relationships in general should be given a T rating. I suppose Harvest Moon makes it seem innocent, but some of the scenes contain exchanges that most kids wouldn't care about when it comes to the relationships.
Regardless, I don't think we'll see same-sex relationships coming out of Japan anytime soon.

Steven Stadnicki
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One tangible difference between Tomodachi Life and Harvest Moon: in the latter, there's a set pantheon of characters. Players are participating in the story with some degree of agency, but they don't have the wholesale freedom that Tomodachi gives.

In Harvest Moon, people might grumble over 'why aren't there same-sex options' just as they might with any dating sim, but the fact that there *is* a fixed set of options means that content needs to be explicitly created for each option. That's just not the case for Tomodachi; since it's an 'anyone x anyone' title with an arbitrary cast, there _is_ no 'custom' content related to any of the given characters, and thus (essentially) no additional content-side work to enable same-sex relationships.

Rob Wright
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This is great. Not just the personal and political insight, but also the analysis of the game design itself. The comparison to Animal Crossing was really interesting, and I haven't even played Tomodachi Life, but after reading this piece, I feel like I have. Bravo, Christian.

Kevin Fishburne
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Great article. Hopefully Nintendo will just patch the damn thing and call it a day after a brief apology. I'm thinking Nintendo's choices here don't come from bigotry though, as I'm pretty sure the Japanese are pretty relaxed/progressive about sexuality. I mean, tentacles and all that stuff. I think they simply may have been being thoughtless.

Christopher Jennewein
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Great insight. It's nice to hear from someone who has played the game. I'm looking forward to Tomodachi Life, and while I'm sad it doesn't allow same-sex relationships, it still seems like it's good for a lot of laughs. I hope we hear from Nintendo of Japan on the issue.
Great job, Christian! Thanks!

Joe Zachery
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Keep Politics out of my video games. Just want to put a quarter into a machine or hit power. Then sit back, and play a game for a hour. Is that really too much to ask. Coming from a black male who would love to see a lead black character in a game. Still I understand the business, and how this industry works. So if you want things done it's more likely to happen if you do it yourself. This game like the original game on the DS. Most likely was never plan to come to the western market. Just like Captain Rainbow that has a part of the gameplay devoted to a gay situation. Nintendo most may have decided to bring it here to fill in the holes in their 2014 3DS lineup. Now we have people wanted them to change a game. That was created over a year ago. Strange times we live in!

Joseph Cook
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The implication that including gay marriage in a game like this is "political" is pretty much the entire point of Christian's article. Its existence isn't a political issue any more than the inclusion of heterosexual marriage.

It's really no different from what you brought up - that you would love to see a lead black character in a game. Those who argue against including such characters usually do so by saying "I don't want this black character forced in my game".

On the contrary to both examples, both imply that there's a "default" vs. "different". "Default" meaning straight white male, "different" meaning non-white / non-straight / female / anything else that's not a straight white male. Which is just awful.

Leon T
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Including gay marriage isn't what's political. This movement to include it is.

Joseph Cook
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Wow.

"I don't have a problem with you being gay. Just please stop asking for equal rights and representation."

Eric Harris
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Wow Joseph you are raving hard for this gay marriage thing. You don't see black lead characters in games because black people do not make up the majority of the producers. You see many gay people on TV (more than minorities) because Hollywood is full of homosexuals. And this is a "cultural movement" specifically, a change in morals.

Joseph Cook
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A change in morals?

Are you saying that gay marriage is more "immoral" than heterosexual marriage or something?

Eric Harris
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Absolutely! Morals are based on society. There are things in US culture that are immoral in Eastern culture. Homosexuality was not "immoral" in ancient Greece. Homosexuality was seen as immoral in the last century in the USA, as it was not acceptable to the majority. Now homosexuality is becoming more accepted so it is becoming "moral". Hence the moral shift. Read a book Joseph or take a sociology class, before you start spouting off stupidity.

Amir Barak
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"because Hollywood is full of homosexuals."
BWahahhahahaha. Really? No one is going to comment on this? come on...

"And this is a "cultural movement" specifically, a change in morals"
No, it's a "human rights movement" dumbass. Just because some idiots believe in a big fairy in the sky which told them to stone people of different looks and/or behaviours don't make that right.

"black people do not make up the majority of the producers."
You got statistics to back that up mate? 'cause otherwise that sentence has no relevance to the argument. And on that note, how many game producers are hulking war machines, super-powered and/or have huge gravity defying tits? So yeah, not a good enough reason.

"You don't see black lead characters "
Let me put forth another little theory instead. You don't see many large budget and publicized video games with diverse lead characters because most of those games are really badly written, have boring repetitive gameplay and cater to the lowest common denominator (ie. stupid people, which unfortunately are a dime a dozen in the world).

Humans are far too easily inculturated into xenophobia and are far harder to made see beyond their own very limited view.

Eric Harris
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Amir,
"During the fall 1999 television season, the big four television networks premiered 26 new series, There were 17 gay characters on the four major networks-about the same number of Black, Asian, and Latino characters combined. A big reason for this is that there are many gays in Hollywood and not many minorities"(Brownfield, 1999)

definition of moral-"Concerned with or derived from the code of interpersonal behavior that is considered right or acceptable in a particular society"(http://dictionary.reference.com/)

Here are some links with those statistics you asked for:
http://mediasmarts.ca/diversity-media/visible-minorities/visible-
minorities-entertainment-media
http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=24625
http://www.intelligentgamer.com/news.php?extend.51

Most of the AAA titles are not poorly written and cater to the mainstream, which is why attention to stereotype is so important. The fact that you attack this, shows your bias towards the rights that only interest you.

Nintendo was not trying to hurt anyone with their game they are not as culturally sensitive or concerned with political movements and social change. They made the game before gay marriage was legal anyways so it wasn't pre-meditated. Now that I have answered your insults, can we be civil now?

Brownfield p. (1999, July 21) As minorities' TV presence dims, gay roles proliferate. Los Angeles Times, p. A1

http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/moral retrieved May 9, 2014

Amir Barak
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" many gays in Hollywood and not many minorities"
And none of them are black, hispanic and/or other minority cultures? Are you seriously saying only white people are gay?

I can't actually find the article by Brownfield to read the full version. You mind linking it? From the quote you've given it appears to have some questionable bias in it. And the other articles mostly talk about cultural and skin color diversity as is lacking from video games, what does that have to do with Tomodachi Life?

"Most of the AAA titles are not poorly written and cater to the mainstream, which is why attention to stereotype is so important."
Did you actually play Gears of War lately? Call of Duty? Medal of Honor? Titanfall? Thief? Resident Evil? poorly written isn't just about having mundane stories and flat characters it's also about the way gameplay is used to narrate the story. And yes, most games are poorly written because it's hard to write well. Most stories in video games are cardboard cutouts of Vogler's "The Hero's Journey".

"The fact that you attack this, shows your bias towards the rights that only interest you."
I actually reference diversity as lacking, not homosexuality, so your argument is invalid (also read up on my thoughts about Gone Home if you want a good chuckle).

Anyway, I'm not sure what you're saying about Tomodachi Life anymore, is any of this relevant to the fact that Nintendo made a dumb mistake then made an even dumber decision and has actively gimped their life simulator?

Eric Harris
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You know what I was saying. I answered all the questions you raised. The reason why you can't tell what I a saying about Tomodachi Life is because you think I am arguing against gay marriage. In reality I am supporting Joe's statement that this was because of cultural difference not an anti gay stance by Nintendo.

It wasn't a dumb mistake because the whole issue is outside their scope of cultural knowledge of the USA. They just don't have that kind of an issue in Japan so when they sit down to make a game for their market the don't question whether they have enough options, but Nintendo is far from anti gay or gay bigotry.

If you define poorly written as using a story formula the I am not sure how you enjoy video games, movies, or any form of media for that matter. The sites were reference to your questioning the validity of my statement that game producers are not a diverse group. You attribute lack of minority characters as poor writing, I suggest through the links that it is because a lack of diversity in creative and executive staff.

Amir Barak
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And yet none of the producers are towering amazons with huge breasts or are superpowered space marines. Look, I'm saying that inculturation is deeper than skin color and money. We're all inculturated to some degree with biases, there's no guarantee that a person of darker skin would write anything but cliched black people.

Releasing a product into a culture you have no knowledge of (especially when that product is suppose to reflect the culture) is dumb. Hence a dumb mistake. Not that I believe that for a second by the way. Surely you realize not all of Nintendo's employees are Japanese, right? They also have overseas branches, are you also claiming none of those have any knowledge of the cultures they work in? come on...

"You attribute lack of minority characters as poor writing,"
No, I attribute it to bad writers. Again, you don't have to be a woman to write a game with the main character being a woman.

I don't know what your stance on gay marriages is nor do I care, we're talking about a lack of it in Tomodachi Life. You keep bringing the issue of your stance on it for some reason.

"In reality I am supporting Joe's statement that this was because of cultural difference not an anti gay stance by Nintendo."
Eh, yes, you're absolutely right there. Their culture is intolerant of gay relationships and mine isn't. So yes, it is quite a difference in cultures there and I think you're supporting the wrong culture. Culture is a funny thing, people tend to hide some pretty terrible ideas behind the shield of "it's a different culture". I don't subscribe to that notion.

Also check up on their latest update. They finally acknowledged the mistake and apologized for the harm. So, yeah, none of what you said is supported by Nintendo.

Eric Harris
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Well the representation on female form is a wonderful topic. I wouldn't mind discussing it with you outside of Chris post. I know from an interview that a female music producer, who was Japanese, was not satisfied with Chun Li's appearance in Street Fighter II. I know you don't believe that the creators of the art are not reflected in the art work, but that will depend on how you define art. If you can still think that in the way of the evidence that I provided, in addition to the findings you could discover by skimming www.imdb.com, then I will leave you to your opinions.

Again about the writing, a minority does not make a story unique. Many cultures have similar stories with characters from different ethnicity. For example if I make the Prince of Persia dark skinned, the story doesn't change, but if my target audience is predominately Caucasian, my marketing director might suggest a character that has more Caucasian characters. Yes it is really that bad, Google Earthsea. The novel and the TV show were very different.

Japanese culture is not intolerant of homosexuality. Especially in video games: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_LGBT_characters_in_video_gam
es

And of course they would any good PC person/company would apologize to someone if they offended them. But Nintendo said they would add it in "if" they made another in the series for the USA market. I would wait till the cultural change is complete if I were them.

Amir Barak
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I'm not sure you've understood my point actually. If you made the Prince from Prince of Persia dark skinned the story doesn't change because he should have darker skin. Making him white with blue eyes and blonde hair is changing the story and for the worse because it's less believable. Same way with people believing Jesus (if he even existed) was white. Great pieces of art made by amazing artists throughout history, all of them are wrong. Doesn't change the art but diminishes the story because it's stupid.

"but if my target audience is predominately Caucasian, my marketing director might suggest a character that has more Caucasian characters."
Then your marketing director might be a good marketing director but he's a shitty writer. Also, are we so condescending as to believe a Caucasian market is so dumb that they'll only flock to a specific stereotype?

Anyway, gotta head off to write some code :P
If you do wanna drop a line my profile here has my email, I'm more than happy to talk and learn new things :D

Michael Williams
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I honestly think people are blow way out of proportion. Okay the way how I read nintendo side of this is we don't feel strongly for or aganist it we just don't want the headache this will most likely cause this felt like the easiest solution.

Joseph Cook
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Just guessing, are you a straight white male?

Michael Williams
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Sir I am black and straight so what. Nintendo doesn't want go to a or b and they don't step on anyones toes. I don't think they are saying gay marriage is wrong, I think they are saying gay marriage is topic why don't wanna be a part of right now. it is still a hot button issue I think they thought they would be stepping on people toes which as it seem they didn't want to do.

Brandon Van Every
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I think people who don't see the bigotry, are like executives in Mad Men who are having the concept of sexual harassment explained to them for the 1st time. Put the heat on companies like Nintendo or nothing will ever change.

Wendelin Reich
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I really like this comparison!

We cringe at the sexism in Mad Men because we understand that the series shows (in essence) how people actually talked and thought a few decades ago.

Scott Lavigne
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"Put the heat on companies like Nintendo or nothing will ever change."

You realize that you are part of one side of the argument, right? That there ARE two sides? I'm not going to try to argue against gay rights or anything (I'm completely in support of gay marriage), but Nintendo is a business, and there IS a significant part of the population that is against gay marriage, and those people are part of their consumer base.

Their intention (although I think everyone can agree they failed horribly) was to avoid making a statement either way. Their approach was to "default" to an old standard (no one really argues against heterosexual marriage), but the inclusion of marriage at all opens up the topic of the different forms marriage can take, so including marriage at all was their mistake.

You're asking them to take a hard political stance. I think that's completely absurd. They're a business. They are not a person. They likely consist of people who are both for and against gay marriage. They would alienate a portion of their consumer base no matter which stance they take, which, as a business, is not in their interest, so they wish (although they are failing) to remain neutral. The only time a company takes a political stance is when they either know that a large portion of their base has one view (and they want to solidify that demographic) or they see an opportunity to brand themselves for an undedicated demographic. If you honestly believe any major corporation would take a political stance outside of their own business interests, you're naive.

Kristian Roberts
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@Scott

"You realize that you are part of one side of the argument, right? That there ARE two sides?"

No, there really isn't. On one hand, you have people asking (in Christian's case quite politely) to be treated with the same sense of dignity and respect as folks that happen to the majority. On the other hand, you have some other people what don't want said group to be treated with that dignity or respect. It's not an argument; it's just injustice.

Granted the depiction of marriage in a niche handheld title might not have a profound impact on many people's actual lives, but it's just one more cut to endure among the thousands of reminders that folks that like people with the same fun-bits are some how abnormal.

Eric Harris
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I think homosexuals received plenty of representation in Mass Effect 1,2,3. A main stream game. Stop pretending that gamers are homophobs and let Nintendo slide on this one.

Francois Verret
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Right. They have BioWare; they don't need any other kind of recognition! How preposterous!

More seriously, where in this article are gamers called homophobes? We are being slightly defensive, aren't we?

Eric Harris
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No not just ME 1,2,3 but also Enchanted Arms.(I'll give you one game at a time and see if you bite :)). No just some of the comments are making everyone who thinks Nintendo wasn't making social commentary a homophob.

Amir Barak
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I know this is nitpicking, but should the word "homosexuals" be capitalized?

"Stop pretending that gamers are homophobs"
Only when you stop pretending they aren't. :D

"and let Nintendo slide on this one"
You realize you just admitted that you agree Nintendo has done something wrong, right? But you want to ignore it...

Eric Starker
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More nitpicking. There is only a complete option to be gay in Mass Effect 2 and 3 - and in 2, only if you are a female Shepard. You can't play a gay character in Mass Effect 1.

Eric Harris
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Amir,
Thank you I fixed that "h". So are you calling people who make and play video games homophobs?

Yes I am admitting that Nintendo offended people. I am just saying it wasn't intentional. It's like when someone steps on your shoes in a crowded place. You know they did not intended, so you let it slide.

Kaitlyn Kaid
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no, I think he is calling people who play games and are homophobic homophobes.

As pointed out in the article, this storm was well forecast. Nintendo knew this was going to blow up and chose to do nothing, that makes it intentional. They requested code that restricted who could marry who, that's not an accident.

Vin St John
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You only let it slide because you have a reasonable degree of confidence that that person also knows it's wrong to step on someone else's shoes.

Very few people feel confident that Nintendo would aim to avoid this mistake in the future without sufficient vocal pressure to do so now.

Charles Forbin
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Skyrim allowed same sex marriage. But then I couldn't marry off my Khajiit to anyone. Bethesda is clearly anti-cat.

YongHee Kim
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Nintendo America probably asked Tomodachi develop studio to include gay marriage in Tomodachi Life. But because Tomodachi's whole game system is intertwined with gender type of player and marriage, that would've been impossible.
I had exact same experiences with online game I was working on. American branch asked for us to include gay marriage. So we included gay marriage. And soon we realized so many features we don’t even remember is intertwined with different sex marriage. Simple thing as couple indication UI made of ♂♀ symbol is now being reported as bugs. And other bugs were creeping out after applying gay marriage features to our client.
In short, Nintendo wouldn’t want to spend time and resources for including gay marriage in Tomodachi Life. (It's much bigger than you might imagine.)

Kaitlyn Kaid
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Nintendo Japan has a longer, better history of including LGBT characters than Nintendo America. There are dozens of examples of characters either being rewritten, censored or flat out removed by NinAm when localizing Japanese games.

Jef Honor
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Your blog was eloquent and well thought out. The points brought up are valid ones that should be addressed, as no one wants to feel excluded. (Turning a blind eye is sometimes as disrespectful as open disapproval.)

What I am about to write is not a disagreement with your views, but a continuation of a subject I am curious about.

My question is, "How far should this go?" Should artists, writers, and other creators be limited by the requirements to respect and appeal to all the divergent groups of humanity? Where should creativity balance with the need not to exclude anyone? (In the case of this particular game, the subject matter clearly is in error by focusing on relationships and excluding some of the different kinds.)

For example, I am autistic (which explains the wording of this post). It is who I am and how I see the world. There has never been a game where I could play a character I could fully relate to. I've always had to shake my head and allow myself to accept the fact that I am just an audience watching an actor (I happen to control) rather than becoming involved in the events I am participating in.

(A quick aside: Just because I am using my mental illness as an example here, that does not mean I consider homosexuality one. It is clearly not, no matter what any part of society would try to claim. My point is that I have a perspective and emotional needs that are not mainstream, I am also treated differently by my society, and oftentimes I have to do my best to hide who I really am to get a job among other day-to-day problems.)

Painters are not asked to make sure their works are attractive to colorblind people, writers are not asked to wrod thnigs fro dyslexic people, singers sing love songs about the loves they have experienced, and are rarely put to task because these songs focus on one gender attraction or another; artists make art for themselves and those they want to appeal to. This does not always include everyone.

The opposite should be said of government and community, though. While art is for the individuals, rules, laws, and what is considered acceptable should include every group, without exception.

I am so terrible at asking about things that I feel that I am sounding too contradictory. I do not intend such a thing. It is a curiosity.

I think that artists should be free to create freely; I also think that the actual problem is that many groups are too underrepresented in the creation of the mainstream art forms we all enjoy. There should be more homosexual, black, female, and so on creators on payrolls somewhere. If each artist is expected to say something in their own voice (as I believe) then the world could only benefit from having a more diverse pool of working creatives.

TL;DR version: Would it be better if artists were required to make sure their works included all audiences or would it be better if a wider variety of voices were given the chance to be heard? (Which would be very difficult in a homogenous society like Japan, but far easier here in the States.)

I believe the latter, as I believe the most honest works of art represent those that made it. (Even if sometimes they are exclusively for a target audience.)

In the case of Nintendo's Tomodachi Life, it is not just about the artists who made the game, but a global corporation that SHOULD take these things into consideration. They should have been aware of how people would be affected by their exclusion. Not necessarily to change what the creators intended, but to at least be far more respectful of those they are knowingly excluding.

Ian Richard
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"How far is to far?"

There is no too far when you are giving honest feedback to a company to help them understand you as a player so that they make a product that you can relate to.

Articles like this are a fantastic thing for our industry. It helps us understand a subset of players that feel left out and allows us to just consider their needs in the future. These allow us, as developers, to form a better product for all of our players.

This article doesn't only effect Nintendo but every one of us developers reading it. We all learn how certain choices can impact our player.

As long as people don't resort to name-calling and throwing around statements like "X is evil and there is no other explanations!" these type of articles are amazing for our industry.

Amir Barak
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Yes but Tomodachi Life is (from my understanding) somewhat of a life sim. Homosexuality is part of life, you can't argue with that, that's a fact. Not including the diversity of human society in a life sim is detrimental to the simulation. Are we arguing here that Nintendo hasn't simulated homosexual relationships because nobody in the dev team ever heard of such a concept? Does that sound likely?

If I'm making a life sim and you only have one type of body in it that's a statement and an indication of something. Also it's a shitty game. No one is asking Nintendo to put in a thorough tutorial on people's sexual habits (given the target audience of this game). But they have put in heterosexual relationships and marriage. Are we really saying that homosexual relationships are any different? relationships are relationships and marriage is marriage, whoever it's between, saying otherwise is, well let's call it naive at best. I dunno how many of you here have kids, my daughter is seven and from the moment she started playing social games with her toys she's had boys go with boys sometimes and girls with girls and boys with girls. And when she asked me if it's alright I said yes, the only thing you need to have in a marriage is love/understanding. She's not shown any signs of the crazy yet...

I'll end here with a quote from Louis CK. who said it best;

"It doesn't have any effect on your life. What do you care?! People try to talk about it like it's a social issue. Like when you see someone stand up on a talk show and say, "How am I supposed to explain to my children that two men are getting married?... I dunno. It's your shitty kid. You fuckin' tell 'em. Why is that anyone else's problem? Two guys are in LOVE and they can't get married because you don't want to talk to your ugly child for five fuckin' minutes?"

Ian Richard
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I think its more likely that japan made the game based on japanese laws where same sex isn't legal.

Not everything is a sinister conspiracy... sometimes its just learning experiences from our changing world.

Andreas Ahlborn
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Great article.

I don`t know the exact numbers but in the eyes of most societies the Nintendo DS and games like Tomodachi Life/Animal Crosing are probably considered Toys which have to simulate a "uncomplicated/uncontroversial world". I am working at a toy company so I know that the general rule of designing products follows the Maxime: "No press is good press" meaning: avoid anything that could cause an an image problem.

In our mult-facetted world that is becoming a less and less viable strategy: if you exclude guns from your toys and make a police force that has none, your product is unrealistic, if you include them it is advertising gun violence. If you exclude ethnic minorities, you are racist, if you include them but sending the "wrong" message" you are racist. If you have a product that has to do with marriage, you are practically doomed to tred on someones toes.

My problem with discourses like the one above is basically that we think the games (and entertainment) industry has to have a higher moral standard than any other, while a business` has mostly to look at cost-benefit numbers and do the math if at the end results a profit.

I´m glad this discussion stays reasonable and doesn`t start a flamewar or petition to demand Nintendo to patch in same-sex marriage into Tomodachi.

Amir Barak
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"patch in same-sex marriage into Tomodachi."
I wonder how hard that could be. In the end the code has a specific if statement which can just be removed.


bool CheckCanMarry(object current, object other)
{
    ... // other checks
    if (current.Sex == other.Sex)
        return false;

    return true;
}

Hakim Boukellif
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@Amir
Christian points this out in this very blog post and I've also commented about it at another article on this topic:
http://gamasutra.com/view/news/217228/Nintendo_Were_not_trying_to
_provide_social_commentary_with_Tomodachi_Life.php#comment239438
But it's not actually that simple.

Mark Velthuis
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And then theres all the dialog options, regionalizing, extra test cases.
Done ?
Now ship to a country where same sex marriage or any form of homosexual expression is punishable by law.

I've read some of your blog posts Amir, I know you're a coder, and by the looks of it not a bad one either. You should know that something like this Isn't as easy as removing a simple if-statement. :p

Amir Barak
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Heh, code is never quite as easily changed as that, I know. But I wonder, how many extra assets would we need? Why extra dialog options and test cases? I'm genuinely interested in this problem now, I wish I could see the code :D

"Now ship to a country where same sex marriage or any form of homosexual expression is punishable by law."
Eh yeah, I don't really have an answer to this one besides "f*** 'em" they have bigger problems than buying video games.

Jim Burns
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I really feel like things are overblown and really out of hand now with the reaction on the internet.

Marc Blanchard
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Great blog post Christian. Really helps put what happened in context for someone who hasn't really been paying attention to the initial dispute.

Personally, I can fully understand that Nintendo may have honestly overlooked the market's desire for a gay marriage option. They treat homosexuality in general and marriage in specific differently in Japan, so I can see where the difference in priorities lies.

Having said that, I hope the developers decide to include gay marriage, at least as a toggle option, in any sequels they produce.

Lukasz Zawada
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Christian, great blog post. As a person who plays games regularly, I understand your sentiment. However, I disagree on whether or not Nintendo is in the wrong. Here are my points of view on the subject (Nintendo's situation) and I'm not trying to personal points of view on the subject of homosexuals (and other minorities) into this. Note I have not played the game, nor know too much about it, so take some things with a grain of salt.

1) Nintendo's dev team wanted to make a quirky game. This included certain mechanics based loosely on life. It is not a life simulator. As such, it seems that from design point of view, they took major events of an average life and built a game around those events. Same as how shooters take into account life, guns, and ammo - there is rarely any realism in terms of getting shot, how bullets are affected by gravity etc.

2) Nintendo is not trying to make a political/social statement with this game. Here, think about modern TV shows, books, and so on; how many have a "token" minority for the sake of having the minority? Nintendo's exclusion of this is probably because they didn't feel the need to make sure to represent every type of player. While I understand, a large segment of their player base is not straight and many feel "they should have seen this ahead of time." The problem with that feeling is that I'm almost positive that Nintendo didn't see the omission as a statement. That part is in your eyes. 300 has about 7 female characters - I am sure it was not because Frank Miller hates women and believe they had no place to be in Sparta. It's a work of fiction as he perceived it to be represented in an entertaining form. He was not trying to make a political/social statement about women's rights in ancient Greece.

3) The last part I want to touch is the most controversial in my eyes. That is holding Nintendo accountable to fix this "problem." Representation is very important to people. Even myself. I was very glad that Poland got added to Civilization V after so many iterations, expansions, DLCs and unofficial mods adding it. However, I never saw Firaxis as Poland-hating developer. Ignorant is probably the best word to use for it. There were many posts about it on all their forums. There were unofficial mods of many sorts. Yet, Firaxis took their sweet time to add Poland. Fans shouldn't feel angry when being excluded. In fact, they should be proactive. As a game developer (and friends with other devs), I know the people reading the forums are rarely the ones making shots, and have just as much sway when talking about new features. So holding Nintendo accountable for not listening to the audience who does not confront them directly is not going to do much good. I'm not trying to say it doesn't help - but there are better things one could be doing. Emailing NOA, trying to get someone who knows Japanese to email Nintendo Japan. Being proactive towards who can change things does more to the cause than posting about it in loosely related medium (a blog here may never reach Nintendo for example.)

Again, Christian, I want to stress that I understand what you are saying, but at the same time, I feel like it is directed towards the wrong audience if you wish something to be done about this. However, I am all with you when it comes to the change - as it is a positive one, but I don't feel Nintendo has wronged anyone in particular on purpose.

Eric Harris
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Thank you Lukasz. Point number three sounds like a really good way to handle things. Developers have a whole host of issues that make them seem careless, but constructive communication has always proven to help matters.

Nicholas Romeo
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Really great write up. Well articulated, thoughtful, personal, and as objective as you could be in this situation. I can understand Nintendo's desire to avoid conflict, but they did fumble their response to questions about the design and patch.

It just strikes me as funny how people phrase this conflict, talking about "adding" gay marriage. I know they're referring to adding it to the current build in which it's not allowed, but instead I imagine some fundamentalist computer somewhere rejecting gay marriage from the start of development and requiring additional code to allow it, rather than the reality of all the code Nintendo must have written during development to prevent same sex marriages in the first place.

Eric Harris
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Japanese fundamentalist? No you aren't imagining, you are delusional. Nintendo is from Japan the game was localized for Japan, they don't have a social issue of what Christian describes.

Nicholas Romeo
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You seem to have misunderstood me, I've made no statement regarding "Japanese fundamentalists" as you say.

When I say "I imagine" I mean just that--I'm picturing a humorous hypothetical world in which a computer (not the programmer) somehow requires additional programming to accept gay marriage. In contrast to the real world, where marriage is typically programmed by creating exclusions, because why would a computer care which characters could get married?

Rizu Ba
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I'm a little bit confused. Someone please correct me if I'm wrong, but from what I've seen of the Japanese version of this game, you have the option to tell a Mii "no" if they want to ask someone out, and I believe if they want to propose to someone, as well. How was your Mii forced into marrying someone? Have they taken that option out of the Western version? If so, that's a pretty strange option to remove, in my opinion.

Victor Wintons
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I will preface this by stating that I am a heterosexual white male raised in a low income household by a single mother.

If you don't like the fact that there is no LGBT content in the game, then don't buy it. Vote with your dollars. The content of a specific video game developed in a foreign country, a country with a very different culture than your culture, shouldn't be taken as a political statement. Its certainly not an attack on anyone's rights or freedoms. Its a video game. Entertainment. Nothing more.

If Nintendo created a game with nothing but LGBT characters, I wouldn't take it personally or feel the need to get all political about it. I simply would not purchase the game because I would have trouble understanding and relating to the characters. Why make such a big deal about nothing?

I hate to say it, but this kind of unjustified outrage is bordering on crazy, like the PETA kind of crazy.

Michael Thornberg
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Edit: Personally I don't care, I am not at all interested in what people do in their bedrooms. None of my business.


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