Tomodachi Life

Tomodachi Life Features for 3DS

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Tomodachi Life screenshot
Tomodachi Life screenshot

Yesterday Nintendo of America issued a statement aiming to clarify a controversial issue at the heart of its game Tomodachi Life. The title, released in Japan last year and out in the EU and US next month, sees players take their Miis and place them on a virtual island, enabling them to, among other things, explore, shop, and become romantically involved with other Miis. Despite offering straight relationships in the game, gay relationships aren't an option. A campaign, dubbed #Miiquality, has been running to convince Nintendo to add the functionality.

"Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of 'Tomodachi Life'" read the statement that aimed to clarify matters, presumably written by a PR robot created and controlled via proprietary Nintendo Head-Burying Software. "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."

Inevitably, this did not go down very well, as indeed it shouldn't. This piece over at Polygon goes into great detail as to just why the whole incident has been so damaging, and is very much worth reading. Instead of covering all of it again, I'm going to talk about Nintendo as a corporate entity, and its role as a multi-billion dollar company that casts an important influence over the culture of not only its home country, but of many others around the world.

Simply put, Nintendo is so big that it can't NOT make a statement on big issues, even by means of omission. By issuing a statement that essentially says 'Hey, it's just a game, we're not providing social commentary' it IS providing social commentary. It's a title based on relationships, not between alien races or other fantastical characters, but literally between, as the advertising spiel puts it, "Your friends...Your life". To then not allow, for whatever reason, same-sex relationships is a statement on those relationships, no matter which way you slice it.

Tomodachi Life screenshot

There is, of course, discussion regarding the fact that the game is of Japanese origin, and that there are cultural differences between east and west. Well, the game has been localised, will be available in other territories, and as such should be up for scrutiny. Likewise, some have discussed the technical elements of making such an adjustment. While I'm not suggesting it's as easy as flipping a switch, other tweaks have been made to bring the game more in line with western audiences. Why not this one?

Of course many will argue, like Nintendo has done, that 'it's just a game'. And yet those same people will clamour for video games to be taken seriously, for them to 'grow up'. Well, a large part of growing up is accepting responsibility for your actions. By handwaving this away under the banner of "social commentary" (what does that even mean?) NoA has attempted to accept no responsibility, merely to blame other factors, for an issue it created. Obviously, this explanation, or lack of, is not good enough.

Nintendo can not afford to keep its head in the sand on this issue, nor can it on the many others which the company currently struggles with. For a good few years now Nintendo has been interpreted as a company doing things its way. In this instance, its way has turned out to be the wrong way, and just like the rest of its business, it needs to re-evaluate where it's going.

Nintendo is a company with a gigantic global reach, and it has commanded respect and admiration for so long it's been placed on a pedestal. But video games, and the culture that surrounds them, is ever-changing, and the firm cannot be allowed to stand still, in any way. Tomodachi Life as a game is interesting: as an example of localisation and PR handling, it has been a disaster. Hopefully Nintendo learns its lesson, as it must elsewhere.

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Lalaland's Avatar


@Trevitihick Tomodachi Life is the 'hypothetical' game you're describing, it just so happens to be now sold in the west where Nintendo of Japan's 'Gays are funny/social commentary' blind spot is blatantly obvious for the world to see.

As a counter point remember the 'Game of Life' by Milton Bradley where the only way to win was to form the perfect nuclear family? That game wasn't withdrawn because of the lack of gay characters but because it made the millions of kids whose families had broken up or had always been reared in single parent families feel like they had 'lost' in life. MB stopped selling that game because they recognised that there was no way to fix it, the fix for Tomodachi is really easy, just stop checking the gender bit for allowing marriage between two Miis.

As for the 'things are worse elsewhere' argument that's barely worth engaging with, of course they are, there is hardly an issue on this earth that isn't worse 'somewhere else' but I live 'here' and I want 'here' to be the best 'here' there is. Annoyed by the ruffians who yell uncouth abuse in your local park? Well in Rio there are gangs who storm down from the favelas to rob en masse on the beaches. Traffic bad in your area? Well in Mexico City it can take hours to drive a few dozen miles. Scared of the murders you see on tv? It's so bad in Venezuela there's a widespread cult devoted to Santa Meurte aka 'Saint of death'.

Nintendo brought Tomodachi Life to a modern western society that has decriminalised homosexuality, is generally intolerant of exclusion and is increasingly allowing gay marriage. If they wanted their 'life simulator' to not court controversy they should have had it simulate 'life' as we know it here. EA does so they included homosexuality in the Sims a long way back and have taken the hits for their stance by being rated AO in some countries (hi Russia!) and effectively banned in others. Of course EA is probably thinking to themselves that those places that ban them aren't going to cost many $$$ as most are impoverished, underdeveloped or havens for piracy. Seriously though you know you've failed if 'EA does it better' comes up about any aspect of your product.

I don't believe Nintendo should withdraw Tomodachi and my ire has been at least partly drawn by the far more reasonable apology offered in NoAs second statement. The next Tomodachi though had better be actually localised for the west to a greater degree than just swapping relevant pop culture references though.
Posted 14:25 on 12 May 2014



" So the Victorian belief that the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon over the 'savage' of deepest Africa could be proven through cranial measurements is racist, but essentially harmless in comparison with the slave trade."

Do you not see that it is the belief of superiority that made the slave trade possible. The belief that races enslaved were inferior and not real people was central to the acceptance and proliferation of slavery.

We live in a world of cause and effect and to try and alter the effect while discounted the cause won't get you anywhere.

Not allowing gay players the same freedom in a game is a small issue on the world scale of human rights abuses but it is by challenging and winning the small points that momentum is created to win the big ones.

You could argue that black people having to sit at the back of the bus was a small issue and nowhere near as important as other human rights violations at the time. But it is these small inequalities that build up to make people believe that a group isn't equal and therefore doesn't deserve equal treatment and respect.
Posted 09:33 on 12 May 2014
Trevithick's Avatar

Trevithick@ Nawe

Fair enough. We've reached a bit of an impasse on some details, I understand your position but respectfully disagree on a couple points. This has been both interesting and enlightening, but I have however had enough, partly because I don't have much more to say on the subject and partly because as of 30 or so minutes ago it is in fact my birthday.

I sincerely wish you luck in your future endeavours.
Posted 00:35 on 11 May 2014
Nawe's Avatar


You're right, it would be prejudice, or at least discrimination. A little social context, however, and it's still not quite the same thing. There is a difference between creating a space for an oppressed minority and creating a "space" for the majority (because 90% of human society is that "space"). I can't envision anyone making a game like Tomodachi Life where you can only be gay, though, because "heterophobes" are few and far between.

Your cousin is in the minority, then. As a gay man, with gay friends, experience in the community as well as activism, I'd say the vast majority of gay people support any and all steps foward. Purely focusing on the most visible, "serious" end of homophobia is both impractical, and impossible. Because it's all interconnected. Lots of people roll their eyes and say it's "not a big deal" whenever anyone challenges the use of "gay" as an insult. It's a minor thing, but it's small things like that which perpetuates anti-gay bullying, and the perception that homosexuality is synonymous with "*****ty".

The fact is, I don't live in Uganda, or China, or Iran. I'm grateful for that. I do my part in terms of activism, and I support overseas change as best I can. That doesn't mean I should simply ignore anything else that's going on because it's "minor" in comparison. The whole thing is deeply offensive to anyone who suffers discrimination or oppression, because what you are saying basically amounts to "oh shut up, it could be worse". You are advocating complacency under the guise of concern.

Finally, people are entitled to be as bigoted, racist, and homophobic as they like. That doesn't mean they are immune from criticism or consequences. Nintendo did a questionable thing, followed by an abhorrent statement. They don't get a free pass just because they're not murdering people. And hey, not giving them a free pass worked. Our voices were heard, and a major, influential corporation apologized and promised change. The Miiquality campaign did more for gay acceptance in a few days than most "serious" causes do in the same timespan.

PS: Havel: Firstly, homosexuality is not equivalent to incest. Incest is frowned upon for actual reasons beyond "I don't like it!!". It is generally a harmful, abusive act - and one with severe psychological and biological (in the event of pregnancy) consequences.

And secondly - as far as I'm aware - the game doesn't restrict incest. I'm guessing you can marry your mum's Mii if you so desire.
Posted 22:12 on 10 May 2014
Havel's Avatar

Havel@ Herbis

Why not include incest in your family friendly game as well? You should not be able to impose your cultural beliefs on any game, but each to their own and all that. Until there is solid science it's a pointless argument.
Posted 20:33 on 10 May 2014
Trevithick's Avatar

Trevithick@ Nawe

If the reverse situation would not be prejudice, then it logically follows that the original situation cannot be regarded as prejudice. What is equality about if not ensuring no one is treated more or less favourably than anyone else?

And if I'm making a Uganda argument my conclusions are different from those you attribute to me. I would encourage people to stand up to injustice wherever it rears its head and where it is pragmatic to do so. But that doesn't mean there isn't value in maintaining perspective when directing one's ire. And now we find ourselves playing out a debate present within the LGBT community about what is important. My own cousin, an active campaigner on LGBT issues, has never supported the push for gay marriage as he is adamant that there are far more important issues facing their community. And there are plenty of others who share that view.

Furthermore I think it is legitimate to raise the topic, much like a news article on China's latest human rights infringement might mention more serious violations. It isn't to validate or invalidate any grievances, just a point on the relative scale of the issues, and in some small could raise awareness. Of course I'm not suggesting specialist media should go beyond its remit, that's absurd.

And it is always worth making a distinction between racist thought and racist action. Someone can think or say whatever they like about me, and I can ignore them. It becomes a problem when they try to do something that threatens the wellbeing of me or mine. Like the Donald Sterling saga, a known racist was tolerated for years because despite his dislike of black people, he still had a team filled with black guys who he paid millions of dollars, so it would seem he did not act on his prejudice, and therefore was not a problem.
Posted 19:56 on 10 May 2014
Nawe's Avatar


If it were the other way around, it wouldn't be considered heterophobic because common sense and a basic sense of awareness should be enough to realise that it's a rare enough concept to discount as a likely driving force behind such a decision.

And the tired old, insulting, "what about Uganda?" Argument.... Yay. By that logic, no one should campaign, or criticise, or complain about anything, because, hey, there's something worse out there somewhere. It was mostly picked up by the gaming press. Because it's a gaming story. IGN aren't going to give us an undercover report on the corrective rape of lesbians in Nigeria, because that's not their purpose. I disapprove of the widespread homophobia and violence in Uganda and Russia. Do I really need to qualify everything else I say by stating that first? Are people really dumb enough to think all those criticising Nintendo aren't capable of holding opinions about more than one issue at a time, of varying levels of seriousness? Are people dumb enough to think that the Miiquality campaign is diverting resources and support from more urgent causes?

Finally, the African slave trade was able to exist because people genuinely believed black people were an inferior species. Bigotry is harmful and should be confronted however "serious" you deem it, because it all adds up and feeds on itself.
Posted 18:05 on 10 May 2014
Trevithick's Avatar

Trevithick@ Nawe

I can respect that, and largely agree that a person certainly can unwittingly be bigoted. But where there doesn't seem to be malicious intent I'm in favour of looking at context. Some acts of ignorance are more forgiveable than others, and in lesser cases, tolerable. So the Victorian belief that the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon over the 'savage' of deepest Africa could be proven through cranial measurements is racist, but essentially harmless in comparison with the slave trade.

Of course holding such beliefs is not a good thing, but time and experience have led me to be less black and white about things and to generally see them more as acceptable and unacceptable shades of grey. So in this instance I still characterise the (continued) absence of varied romance options as being tolerable, and don't believe it amounts to hatred as the polygon article suggests. Though this position is based on acknowledgement that any given game is unlikely to include every social group, and my perception that the game truly isn't trying to be any kind of life-simulator other than in the loosest sense of potentially including real people and establishing interpersonal relationships, and my presumption that to programme same-sex romantic relationships would more or less have to be built from scratch. If it were the sims, a satirical but essentially complete depiction of modern, commercial, life in he west, I would have a problem with the absence of alternative relationships. Plus I optimistically continue to hopefully believe that the Big N's initial statement was meant to be interpreted as I have done so, rather being clumsy, indirect homophobia. Either way I'm sure everyone agrees it was poorly worded. If they'd been clever, they would have come out and said they were pleased to see the market was there, but alas, they were not.

The other thing is if the situation were inverted, and a game exactly like this came out of a major publisher that only included homosexual relationships, I would not in any way regard that as heterophobic. The final part of all this that bothers me is how this has blown up, and been widely discussed on social media, when there are still situations like Uganda or Russia. Tye Marini's initial Miiquality campaign was enough to catch Nintendo's attention, but what it became in the media was crazy, and from the perspective of a gay person in Russia or Uganda I'm sure it would almost be laughable if it weren't so depressing.
Posted 15:48 on 10 May 2014
Nawe's Avatar


There's a big difference between a game not having any characters from X group (like FIFA not having mongolian players), and a game which excludes X group from an otherwise open, player-created character/experience. And I'd also counter the idea that they would have to put extra effort into accomodating gay marriage. If anything, the opposite is true. They would have had to write extra code to ensure the mechanic was restricted to opposite genders. This isn't Mass Effect, where they have to rewrite and voice all these different situations.

That said, I'm not arguing that Nintendo should put it back in. "It's too late now, but we take the criticism on board", is a 100% perfectly fine thing to say. It should have been their initial response in the first place, and could have avoided a lot of drama.

As for the whole malice=bigotry thing, see my previous post - as I think that is where we fundamentally disagree.
Posted 06:25 on 10 May 2014
Trevithick's Avatar

Trevithick@ Nawe

I did not, see my other post for clarification.

Now, as for your question, of course were a real world state to make interracial marriage illegal it would be heinous, as would any ban on homosexuality. But there is a relevant practical, rather than moral, distinction between real life and videogames here.

In the real world law takes away, on a fundamental level a person is capable of anything and the introduction of laws over them takes away things they can do. In the building of a game the opposite happens, the creator starts with nothing and anything that can happen has to be actively put in place. And this is where the distinction between not including, and actively excluding becomes important. If a football team said they would not allow Mongolian players to play for them, that is exclusion, that is racist, that is wrong. But in FIFA the inability to sign a Mongolian player for the same team is not exclusion and not because of racism, it's simply because there are no Mongolian players in FIFA (apologies if that's incorrect, I have a very good friend who is both Mongolian and a FIFA fan and he assures me there are no Mongolians in the game).

When you're talking about a situation where it requires work to include something, it becomes not right, but perhaps understandable to not include it when taking into account extraneous factors such as time, budget, expected consumer demographic and so on.

On that point, it is my understanding (heard on the CVG podcast I believe) that in Japan players tried to get around the absence of actual gay relationships by somehow designating a male character female and yet giving her a beard and male paraphernalia etc. but that this caused bugs and glitches and so was patched out and then left at that. Given that, and with my very rudimentary understanding of coding, I would suggest that introducing gay relationships to Tomodachi would not be as simple as one might have thought, and it may not be possible to just extrapolate from the preexisting code. For example there might be romance scenes where the M character is designated to stand at point x and the F character is to stand at point y, and just trying to run with two M characters causes a logical conflict.

Now again, for absolute clarity, I'm not saying Nintendo are in the right, just expressing my opinion in a hopefully somewhat reasoned manner that they aren't necessarily in the wrong. That there exists the possibility that this does not stem from malice or bigotry.
Posted 06:06 on 10 May 2014
Nawe's Avatar

Nawe@ Trevithick

I think where we differ is that I don't think bigotry needs malicious forethought. It's something that can manifest itself as a learned reflex, whether it's unthinkingly using "gay" as an insult, simply because it's drilled into our vocabulary from school-age, or, programming a gender restriction into your game's simple marriage mechanic by default. It's equally harmful, if not more so (due to how normalising and easily spread it is), than more explicit, thought-through stuff. If you add malice as a criterea to bigotry, you rule out swathes of religious people preaching homophobia, because it's out of "love" and a sincere belief that they're going good. Or people who sincerely believe homosexuals are paedophiles, or out to spread aids, or out to recruit children.

There's a huge overlap between malice and stupidity, and today, homophobia mostly occurs out of worry 'for the children', or something equally asinine, rather than an actual desire to harm gay people. The end result is the same. Similarly, racism was, classically, born out of an actual belief that black people (for example), were inherently unintelligent and violent. They were seen as animals/giant children, and it was logical and beneficial for society, and black people themselves, for them to be treated as such. Still racist. In the 19th/early 20th centuries, many men opposed female suffrage out of a genuine worry that women so stupid/hysterical/emotional that it would destroy the nation. Still sexist.

I'm with you in that I don't think anyone at Nintendo sat down and thought "jeez, I really hate gays, how can we piss them off today?". Everyone says or does bigoted things now and then. What really matters is how you react to being confronted about it. If you apologize and move on, I don't think anyone out there will really hold a grudge. If you simply go on the defensive and deny it, I don't think anyone can take the "not bigoted!" claim as sincere or seriously. If you think the embarassment of having to backtrack/apologize makes you more oppressed than whatever minority you discriminated against - that's not mere innocent mistake.

I didn't take much issue with the game itself. As you said, it was probably just an oversight. I took great issue with their initial response, which was both naive (in thinking they were being "neutral"), and insidious (the implication that gay people were contrary to making a game "fun", "whimsical" and child friendly). I give them props for their apology, however. It was concise and mature. Actions will speak louder than words, but for now I'll take it.
Posted 05:44 on 10 May 2014
Trevithick's Avatar

Trevithick@ yellowsapphire

You're missing the point. I'm not defending Nintendo, and I do think gay relationships should be in the game. However, I believe it is a stretch too far to claim that not including gay relationships in this instance amounts to an act of bigotry, or prejudice. Certainly not without evidence of some malicious intent, or without knowledge of context. For example, if the team making the game happened to be very small and none of the persons on the team were gay or had much exposure to life outside of the heterosexual norm, and amidst the coding of ninjas and dinosaur costumes it simply didn't occur to them to add gay relationships to their game -I would say that cannot be characterised as homophobia. Ignorance yes, a foolish oversight yes, but nothing that would amount to hatred.

And whilst I completely sympathise with people who have taken offence from Nintendo's statement on the matter, I am inclined to give the person who wrote it the benefit of the doubt and hope the meaning has been misinterpreted. When I first read that they did not intend their game to be a social commentary, I interpreted it to mean that it was not their intent to appear to be proposing or advocating a world without homosexuality. And such an interpretation is in stark contrast to the perception by others that it meant they [Nintendo] were taking the stance that the inclusion of equality would amount to actively making a social commentary. Now if that were or is in fact the case, then yes that statement would imply homophobia, and what I would consider an outdated position.

Now, I am also under the impression that you took my hypothetical situation to be rhetoric, and an attempt by myself to sway someone's point of view. I assure you this is not the case. I am a law student, I have studied human rights and I have studied philosophy, and my intent was soley and entirely to engage in dialogue. The hypothetical situation I proposed was to ascertain in what instances Lalaland would regard the absence of inclusion as evidence of prejudice. Where and when should the line be drawn beyond which we say at this point this amounts to hatred? I certainly was not in any way implying that racial discrimination or discrimination based on sexuality were comparable to the stigma associated with unemployment as an affront to society. Indeed the point of choosing these examples was to highlight issues with significantly differing levels of social persecution.

I place no value in winning arguments, only on being right. If there are any flaws in my position, point them out, if I am wrong, please enlighten me.
Posted 05:09 on 10 May 2014
Nawe's Avatar


Trevithick: Did you seriously just equate homosexuality with unemployment?

Here is another hypothetical game. Nintendo makes Tomodachi Life 2. It has the same marriage mechanic, but this time you can only marry the same skintone, because, you know, they "didn't want to make a political statement" about interracial marriage. Would it not be reasonable to call out that decision as racist or exclusionary? Would you say they were being neutral on the issue?
Posted 04:01 on 10 May 2014

yellowsapphire@ Trevithick

I'm not going to answer for Lalaland, but it's this kind of argument that really gets me.

Hypotheticals don't matter. This isn't a hypothetical situation, this is reality and this is really happening. No amount of fluffy "but what if..." attempts to trivialise the situation can change that.

This game isn't a Japanese only release, this is a worldwide release. This isn't a game that stops people from experiencing unemployment, this is a game that's stopping people of the same sex marrying each other. The unemployed aren't stigmatised in quite the same way as LGBT folk are, and generally (and subject to lots of other variables), being unemployed is something that can be changed, given the right (!) circumstances. Being of a particular sexual orientation cannot. I also don't see the unemployed being sentenced for death and systematically oppressed in various places around the world because of who they are either. Your attempted comparison is not only completely ridiculous, but also rather insulting.

Please don't speak bolloc*s. It's generally insulting to everyone's intelligence and stifles what could be a very worthwhile discussion.
Posted 01:40 on 10 May 2014
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Trevithick@ Lalaland

Ok, hypothetically if this game was a Japan only release, and the developers came out and said we have made a surrealist, alternate reality, social game, based on the largest social group in Japan: employed, heterosexual, Japanese people. In the absence of any knowledge of time constraints, available reasources or the size of the development team, would you consider this hypothetical game to be homophobic, racist and offensive to the unemployed?
Posted 01:04 on 10 May 2014

Game Stats

Release Date: 06/06/2014
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Sim Clone
Rating: PEGI 3+
Site Rank: 2,011 344
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