Tomodachi Life: Your Friends, Your Drama, Your Heteronormative Life.

Since its release in 2013, Tomodachi Life has sold over 1.83 million copies in Japan alone. Now this spectacular Nintendo 3DS game has been announced for both Europe and the US. So when can we get our hungry little hands on this bizarre life simulator? June 6th.
I’ve been excited for its release since I first watched the Nintendo Direct video in April, but since that time a few things regarding the game have surfaced, impeding on my excitement for the game. Primarily Nintendo’s correction of the glitch that allowed same-sex couples to get married.

Now, I know this has become a heated topic of discussion as of late, but having seen so much negative commentary regarding the call to action that the LGBTQ community has been receiving I felt I had to pitch in my two cents.

Truthfully, I’m a bit disheartened by the negative reactions that things like Miiquality has been getting on the internet. I’m even a bit disheartened by Nintendo’s regard for the initial glitch as a “bug”. After all, the words we use when talking about something or someone often say a lot about how we feel about the particular subject – and Nintendo has made their feelings pretty clear, having originally referred to the error as “strange relationships” when they sought out to correct their mistake.

While they received a lot of backlash for their clumsy phrasing, it’s important to remember that it’s a different culture. In Japan, same-sex marriage is still illegal, which explains why the exclusion of same-sex couples is understandable. But that’s not to say that Japanese citizens are against homosexuality. In fact, a recent study has shown that 54% of Japanese citizens agree that homosexuality should be accepted in society. So why is Nintendo so set on keeping marriage as an opposite-sex act?

Well, like I said, it’s still illegal. But if we’re going on technicalities (which, as a stickler, I’m all for), then why is it that they’re not making the change for regions that do accept homosexuality? Some Nintendo fans have insisted that to implement this feature would be a tedious task for something as small as regional compliance. But looking at the data, I don’t think that’s the issue.

Tomodachi_life_Sumo_WrestlingAmong the many intriguing components offered by Tomodachi Life are the culturally-specific features, like mini-games. Nintendo has spent countless hours altering little details to better fit Tomodachi for Europe and the US. These things include insignificant elements, such as foods or drinks, so that as foreigners we wouldn’t be confused by the unfamiliar products. They even changed a sumo-wrestling mini-game to Football for the American version, and plan to offer Europe something else to comply with their localized interests.

Though I personally would have preferred that they keep all of the original features (especially sumo-wrestling) I understand the importance of changing the game to please their overseas consumers. But if they’re going so far as to make cultural alterations for various locations, then why can’t they make this one minor adjustment? I just can’t see it being harder to code than an entire mini-game, given that it was already accidentally included before their team noticed the mistake.

Now, I know it could get tricky considering only certain states have accepted gay marriage in the US, and this may sound strange to some, but I’m okay if Nintendo decides to not offer a new patch to allow same-sex marriage in the US version because of this issue (though truthfully, it is offensive, but that’s less a problem with Nintendo, and more an issue with our state politicians). However, what about for places like Canada or the UK, where gay marriage is legal for the whole country?
For a gaming company that’s making serious alterations to comply with each locale’s cultural differences, it seems really strange that they would neglect the rights of these countries.

A lot of buzz has been going around about how the game is nothing more than a strange life simulator, gathering comparisons to other titles like The Sims, or Animal Crossing. Yet Tomodachi Life’s slogan is, “Your friends. Your drama. Your life,” and their character customizations harp on each individual’s unique traits, so much so that the initiation of your first character includes a joke, made by your Mii, regarding the similarities between the player and the character.

Tomodachi_Life_character_sliders

As the gamer, you’re able to customize several aspects of the characters that you create. The game is incredibly detailed, including options to vary the pitch, speed, quality, tone, accent, and even intonation for the voice of your individual character. All this, just for my Mii? Impressive! Height, skin color, and even a chosen personality, the customization options to recreate yourself are uncanny. Yours friends. Your Drama. Your Life. Right?

But how can it be my life if my character is lacking an essential part of my identity? It’s the equivalent to changing my gender. While these things seem arbitrary (and would be in an ideal society), they’re factors in my life that have impacted me as a person, and as a result have helped me become who I am today. They are part of me.

Personally, I could care less who my Mii marries. I understand that it’s a silly simulation game, and while I’m gay, I wouldn’t be offended if my Mii decided to be herself and marry a male character. Heck, I wouldn’t be offended if my Mii decided to marry a dinosaur (Iwata?). If anything, that’d be hilarious. But like I said earlier, it’s the words that are significant with issues like these.

Iwata_By_SoniraThe problem with this recent controversy isn’t so much that my character can’t marry who I want, it’s the lack of inclusion for an entire set of people. It’s the eradication of a group that many societies still deem as imperfections at best. What’s really so wrong about a situation like this? It’s that Tomodachi Life has hurt peoples feelings, and rather than apologize earnestly Nintendo said that they never intended to make any form of social commentary with it. Good. I would hope not. I would hope that Nintendo’s intentions wouldn’t be to make an overt political act against the LGBTQ community. I know what they’re saying, I understand what they meant to say, but more important than that is the statement they’re really making. And that’s that Nintendo refuses to stand up for the rights of individuals, regardless if they’ve fought hard to earn it within their own nation. Regardless if all they’re asking for is to love as they know how.

Before going further, I’d like to interject a little brief about myself. I’m not usually one to go out to gay events. I personally hate that stuff. I understand their purpose, and I think that it’s a great way to express our rights while being placed under limitation. It’s a fantastic way to raise self-awareness, but it’s just not for me. Between the choices of visiting a gay bar and visiting a “regular” bar, I just opt to go home and play video games, even on an important pride night. This is why I probably don’t make a great gay-rights activist. Admittedly, I should work harder for gay rights (considering I don’t do anything, this article perhaps being the peak of my historical activism). But while it’s entirely against my nature, I have to make an exception as the Nintendo editor of GamersSphere. Why? Because Nintendo has in fact hurt people’s feelings, and that’s absolutely wrong.

I know, I know. It seems like gay people are always complaining about this kind of stuff, right? But if I may, just for a moment, talk on behalf of others to explain why this might be. As a lesbian, I’ve walked around my whole life getting disapproving looks from strangers. Mind you, I don’t even dress any differently than the average girl. Perhaps more reserved, at best. But I just wear form fitting shirts and jeans. Pink tie-dye V-necks, little ugg wanna-be boots, and from time to time, a cute little purse to keep all of my belongings. Truthfully, I couldn’t do more to try and fit in with the norms placed on girls by society. And yet, I still get awful looks from people in the street.

Tomodachi_Life_Cross_DressingJust yesterday while I was driving I got a look from a man that showed his complete and utter disgust in me. Why? Because I can’t be helped. I look gay, it’s evident. I wasn’t doing anything, just driving on by. But it’s in my genes, and no amount of girly accessories will ever change that. I’m sure you’ve seen others like this. Guys that look so feminine, just in their face alone, that you just know. It’s not his fault. He didn’t ask to be denied the privilege of loving openly. No one does. And I can’t imagine how much more it must hurt to be a girl that feels as herself with boy-styled hair and cargo shorts. I say more power to them, because it’s sad enough to go grocery shopping with gender appropriate clothes.

So when Nintendo said that they weren’t trying to make a social commentary and neglected to speak further, they were making their commentary. They were making their commentary when they made the patch to remove same-sex marriage in the game, and they were making their commentary when they said they didn’t intend to make a social commentary, simply because watching injustice is the same as being part of it, especially when you started it.

When you don’t try to stop something, you’re an accomplice, because by not doing anything you’re condoning others to do the same. Each and every one of us are leaders, whether we choose to be or not. We are unintentional role models to strangers, so when we stand by and watch someone get beat, we’re telling others that it’s okay to do the same – and those are great indicators to the antagonizer, letting them know that what they’re doing is at the very least acceptable. As we’ve seen, it just takes one voice to say that they disapprove; one brave kid to speak his mind, in order for others to say, “You know what? Yeah, that made me uncomfortable too.”

Animal_Crossing_Green_VillagerBut this time it was Nintendo, my company of choice, that did the kicking, whether they choose to admit it or not. Whether it was intentional or not.

Should I be surprised? No, not really. While other companies have included homosexuality in their own games, like Grand Theft Auto IV or The Sims, Nintendo has still, to this day, neglected to make an Animal Crossing that allows for some other variation of skin color for their ever-popular life simulating game. This issue was especially prevalent with Animal Crossing: City Folk, for the Wii. Nintendo’s reaction was to allow characters with non-white Mii-faces to alter the color of the hands within the game, but this forced the character to have an odd shaped Mii face. Not such a big deal, right? After all, they fixed it. I guess. But when it came to New Leaf, nothing had changed.

Again, cultural differences, I get it. How many dark-skinned individuals reside in Japan? I understand, but then why is it that they’re so willing to change every holiday to abide by the different regions? I mean, that’s a lot of different regions, and a lot of different holidays with their own norms and special events. All in all, it’s an astounding amount of work. But they won’t let you be something other than white?

Let’s face it. It’s not an issue of localization. It’s an internal issue that Nintendo has with the unconventional. They’re not against minorities, it’s just that it’s not that serious. I mean, is racism even real? To accidentally not include someone doesn’t mean that you hate them, it just means that you don’t care about them. A pseudo amendment, like Shampoodle’s “makeover” option for black gamers, just shows their lack of interest in addressing the problem as a real issue. And you know what? That is social commentary.

So yeah, it hurts. I understand when gay people say that it hurts that they can’t be themselves. I understand when a friend of mine says that it bothers them that they’re forced into being white for Animal Crossing. I can’t imagine how the few black/Hispanic/other people in Japan must feel knowing that, of the games that allow for personal customization, they still can’t join in on the fun of recreating themselves.

Tomodachi_Life_Iwata_Cold_Blooded

Worse yet, when it comes to Tomodachi Life, the marriage feature is a huge part of this simulation game. Without it, players are unable to take part in several aspects of the game, including  the option to send your child to other islands using Streetpass. It’s sad enough to be discriminated against for big life events, like prom, but does Tomodachi have to do it too?

Tomodachi_Life_Cutest_Couple

I get why the gay community is upset. Just to include a gay character, they’d have to resort to treachery. Let’s face it, at best we can falsify the gender of a character so that it appears as gay. But if that’s the case, anyone in the Mii community is bound to accidentally become gay by dating this Mii – and I don’t want my best friend’s Mii to suddenly become gay. That’s such a misrepresentation of her character that it’d be an insult equal to the initial issue. Gender is different from orientation, after all.

Tomodachi_Life_Old_Couple_Baby Tomodachi_Life_Crying_Baby

For those of you backing Nintendo on this, Nintendo made it just a little bit easier for you with their latest announcement on the issue:

“We apologize for disappointing many people by failing to include same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life. Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to change this game’s design, and such a significant development change can’t be accomplished with a post-ship patch. At Nintendo, dedication has always meant going beyond the games to promote a sense of community, and to share a spirit of fun and joy. We are committed to advancing our longtime company values of fun and entertainment for everyone. We pledge that if we create a next installment in the Tomodachi series, we will strive to design a game-play experience from the ground up that is more inclusive, and better represents all players.”

When I first heard that they apologized, I was ecstatic. That is, until I read the apology.
If there’s anything you should keep to heart, it’s that you shouldn’t take anything anyone says at face value. Through Nintendo’s actions, they’ve shown in the past that they’re not interested in catering to minorities. Why? Because, let’s face it, they’re a company. A money-driven company, like any other. And like our politicians, they’d rather focus on the majority for their profits. Wouldn’t you?

Of course they can make a patch. If Nintendo can make updates to create new holidays for games like Animal Crossing: New Leaf, or patches to remove gay-marriage, then what makes it impossible to reverse the act?
And while it sounds nice that they plan to make a more open Tomodachi Life in the future, I have to call this out as crap. Realistically, why would there be a Tomodachi II? This isn’t a story-based game where a thickening plot will lead to follow-up twists. It’s an updateable game.

Tomodachi_Life_Cover_Baby_CoupleNintendo says that it’ll continue to listen to its audience, so I think it’s especially important to make your statement now. As much as I want to join in on the fun, I won’t be purchasing Tomodachi Life this coming June. I’m making my statement.

I’ve heard others say that boycotting the game will do more harm than good, but that’s not the case. Nintendo is already going through a financial downfall, yet they’re neglecting entire groups because they think it won’t impact them too much. We’ve seen that Nintendo hasn’t been the best as predicting their audience ever since Satoru Iwata made it to power, and when the LGBTQ community and their friends reacted, Nintendo took two days before deciding that an apology was in order to avoid any further issues. I’m not advocating a boycott, because I advocate for personal rights more than anything. That’s why I’m waiting on Nintendo this time around. I hope that you’ll do something too, to let Nintendo know that these excuses are unacceptable. And I really hope it gets fixed, because I can’t think of a game I’ve been more excited for than this one (except, admittedly, Animal Crossing).

If you’d like to help stand up for gay communities too, make a #Hashtag post using the phrase #Miiquality through your facebook, twitter, or tumblr. As you may have heard, this is just one of the many friendly ways you can let Nintendo know how you feel about it. Truthfully, anything will do. A video, a blog post (or re-post) - even a polite conversation. The more awareness that’s brought to the issue, the better. Not just for Tomodachi, but to let gay members know that others in the community do care, and to further social consciousness and understanding for all individuals.

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Kristel Leon

Nintendo Editor at GamersSphere

Hi there! My name’s Kristel and I’m a rather shy member of the team. I prefer posting more informative articles, but you’ll see me write opinion pieces from time to time as well. My taste in games is a bit all over the place. I have a love for suspense and thriller games (who doesn’t love the adrenaline?), though nothing can really outdo my passion for Animal Crossing

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