The rise and aversion of a Nintendo PR distaster

Tomodachi Life

Poor Nintendo. After the runaway success of the DS and the Wii it was almost inevitable that the Wii U would be a bit of a disappointment, and verily it came to pass that profits fell, forecasts were missed and expectations lowered. Then came the clamouring for them to get out of the hardware business, focus on software and jump into the mobile market, because we know how well that worked for Sony.

All in all, they could really have done without the internet shitstorm they created when they announced no same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life.

Gamasutra has been providing excellent coverage of the saga as it unfolded, and I’m going to provide a bit of a round-up here, with some other source thrown in for good measure.

The Problem

Christian Nutt sums the whole thing up wonderfully:

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.


Same sex marriage is, however, still not possible in either the released Japanese or the forthcoming Western versions of the game.

Ah. At a very specific level this means that gay people won’t be able to engage with the game on the same level as straight people. On a broader level it can be read as a cultural and/or political statement by Nintendo as a whole – by taking this approach in the game they’ve put themselves firmly on the side of “no gay marriage”. Of course, it’s almost certainly not the case, and they were just going with the “easiest” approach to the game mechanics. More than that, adding in gay marriage from the get-go would have raised at least as much ire from other quarters. There’s literally no way to please everyone in a situation like this. So did they go with what they hoped was the path less controversial, or stand by their values? The former, I would both suspect and hope.

Nintendo’s First Response

We’re not trying to provide social commentary was their statement. more fully:

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.

Oh well that’s OK then. Or… not. As a giant corporation that influences people all over the world and especially the younger generations, everything you do and say will be reacted to, effect people and colour perceptions of yourself. Nothing you do happens in a vacuum and even if you don’t intend something as commentary or a statement of values, well tough. That’s how they’ll be taken and Nintendo have been in the business more than long enough to know that.

Making a Bad Thing Good

Before long Nintendo came out with another statement, one that they hope will serve to damp down the fires a little:

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.

In short, sorry, it’s too late to fix it but we’ve listened and learnt, and it won’t happen again. Realistically that’s about as much as could be hoped for. For all their faults Nintendo have earned an awful lot of good will over the decades and with this statement they’ve bought themselves a second chance. I doubt there’ll be a third chance. They have a real opportunity now. Some game studios like BioWare have been on-board with same-sex relationships for a while now but if Nintendo join the party then the other big names – Sony and Microsoft at the very least – would have to join in. Even if Nintendo don’t, their competitors might just to make themselves look better by comparison.

Is it too much to hope that we might even reach the next generation of consoles with something approaching maturity when it comes and sex, sexuality and relationships in games now that something the size of Nintendo has been so thoroughly and publicly slapped about over it.

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