Last Level Press

Tomodachi, Nintendo, and Representation

By: Olen Bjorgo

Hey there folks! I know it’s been a while, but trust me when I say I’m working on quite a few articles at the moment. However, I would like to throw in my two cents on this whole Tomodachi Life debacle, about Nintendo as a whole, and representation in games. Our own Mr. Black has, of course, made his views known and, perhaps not shockingly, I agree.

For those of you in the dark, I’ll give the abridged version: Tomodachi Life is a quirky life-simulation game that came out in Japan in 2013 and has been slated for release in North America and Europe for June 6, 2014. The controversy of there not being an option for gay marriage and Nintendo’s initial response didn’t sit well with many people. Nintendo has released another statement, this time being a bit more sensitive, stating that coding this into a game that is already a year old wouldn’t be possible for a patch. Cynics could see this as a cop-out on Nintendo’s part, but I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. Nintendo has also stated that they would strive to make a more inclusive game in the Tomodachi series if such a sequel happens. And game sequels typically occur when the product is popular enough to merit one… a fact that seems almost moot, because there are people willing to not buy the game because of the lack of same-sex relationships. So the possible lack of support for this game will probably result in those who are complaining to not get what it is they want, which is both ironic and disappointing.

“You’ll cover the check, right?”

Let me just say right now that I still love Nintendo.  I love their games, I love the characters that have become as enduring as any other beloved character in our cultural mindset, and the 3DS is without a doubt my most played console these days and the one whose games I have a vested interest in. In light of this, I’m not so blind as to deny that they’re behind the times in business practices, but also culturally. This is not simply limited to Nintendo, but to Japan as a whole. In a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected in ways that weren’t even fathomable twenty to thirty years ago, Nintendo and Japan have a very insular view of the world. That is to say their focus is more on things relating only to Japan, and anything beyond them is not worth knowing unless it directly affects them. From a historical point of view, this isn’t too shocking, since they have tried to keep people out of their islands and protecting themselves from outsiders before Europeans ever came to the Americas. Unfortunately for this mindset, that needs to end if they want to continue to be major world players as they have been since the 1980s. Even if Nintendo did have negative views of homosexuality, and I genuinely don’t think it’s a matter of hate but simply a matter of ignorance on the issue, they’ll have to understand that things are changing elsewhere, and they’ll need to listen to their offices in the U.S. and Europe to get a better understanding of what it is we like and what we want more of.

The matter of representation in games, and popular media in general, is something that will need to be faced as well; this is a matter not simply aimed at Nintendo, but all companies that produce popular media. While I might not be gay myself, I do understand the importance of wider representation. The one reaction I expect is, “It’s just a game, so what’s the big deal?” While I would agree that games shouldn’t be taken seriously to an extreme, I would also use this argument more for “video game logic” rather than as a get out of jail card for there being no characters of different sexualities. The fact of the matter is that the only sorts of characters that are portrayed as a particular sexuality other than heterosexual have typically been more in the realm of stereotypes than actual characters. There are exceptions to this of course, and that list is growing as the years go by, but the number of recognizable characters in that list pales in comparison to characters that, while never being explicitly stated as straight, are simply accepted to be. The same can be said for different sexes, different genders, or different ethnicities. If there are people who want video games to be seen in the same light as books or movies, artistic mediums that are studied, critiqued, and even held as great cultural masterpieces that inspire others to create for future generations, then there needs to be a greater diversity in the coming decades. And while I don’t really imagine Nintendo needs to worry too much in garnering appeal for a wider audience, they do need to understand that the world is changing, times are changing, and adapting is the surest means of surviving another century of existence.

Last Level Press © Copyright Cliff Davenport  Est. 2013.   | Legal Notices

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