Given their communicative and interactive nature, real life simulation games provide a critical platform for LGBT gamers to negotiate identity and to connect with their community. Thus, it came as a shock for LGBT gamers that Nintendo’s newest game Tomodachi Life, set for release in North America in early June, would not allow characters to enter same-sex relationships. Playing Tomadachi Life, users can create and personalize their avatars. While these avatars can enter relationships and marriages, they are not able to do so with avatars of the same gender. The controversy came to light after a bug in the Japanese version of the videogame allowed avatars to enter same-sex relationships. After the bug was fixed and things went back to “normal,” users demanded from Nintendo to allow the representation of gay characters. One of the LGBT gamers calling for virtual equality was Tye Marini from Arizona who started the social media campaign Miiquality. Our Executive Director, Christopher Wood weighed in on Tomadachi Life on BBC World Service stating “Nintendo has been in this area, in this space selling games all over the world for a long time and quite frankly, Nintendo is making a very strong social and political statement with it’s refusal to be inclusive. Its almost like their saying, we don’t’ support the right of gay and lesbian people to form relationships as they choose and quite frankly it doesn’t get much more political than that.” The controversy also prompted criticism by the LGBT community, with media watchdog group GLAAD expressing concern that Nintendo “is not only sending a hurtful message to many of its fans and consumers by excluding them, but also setting itself way behind the times.” After releasing a first statement that the company did not intend to make a statement with the game, Nintendo released another statement apologizing to LGBT gamers.
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.
In the statement, Nintendo also assured that future versions of the videogame would be more inclusive. The representation of LGBT individuals in videogames is central for several reasons. Videogames are an increasingly important tool for identity negotiation and community building. Especially for LGBT gamers in less accepting regions and nations, these games may be one of only few safe platforms allowing them to connect with other LGBT individuals. Further, the representation of LGBT individuals in videogames and other pop culture channels is critical in shaping the larger societal understanding of the community. After decades of LGBT invisibility in popular culture, the 21st Century has been a significant one, with LGBT individuals encountering increased depictions in television shows and movies. On popular TV shows like the ABC sitcom Modern Family, gay characters are shown in their daily family lives. While some have criticized Jared Leto’s portrayal of a transgender woman in Dallas Buyers Club, the movie gives hope that Hollywood is becoming more sensitive to the diversity of the LGBT community. First released over a decade ago, the real life simulation game The Sims allowed same-sex relationships right from the beginning and has sold about 150 million copies worldwide. It is about time for Nintendo and other game developers to do the same and become more reflective of marginalized communities. Calling for virtual equality, we also need to bear in mind that diversity goes beyond the inclusion of gay and lesbian characters. Game developers also need to become more aware that gender identity is more complex than the binary of male and female. Developing avatars that represent diversity both in respect to sexual orientation and gender identity, we may come a step closer to virtual equality and provide LGBT gamers with critical platforms for identity negotiation and community building.