Not super, Mario: Nintendo’s refusal to allow gay characters sparks upset

Gaming has traditionally promoted tolerance

Imagine if Nintendo had been selling life-simulation video games in the US in the late 1950s and early 60s, or in apartheid-era South Africa. It would almost certainly have banned mixed-race relationships. This can be reasonably inferred by its current refusal to allow gamers to enjoy same-sex link-ups in the forthcoming English-language version of its Tomodachi Life game.

In Tomodachi Life (tomodachi means “friend” in Japanese), participants’ avatars, or “Mii” characters, live on a virtual island with lots of allegedly fun stuff to do: “They rap, rock, eat doughnuts and fall in love”, a trailer promises. But only with the opposite sex.

Tye Marini, a 23-year-old gay gamer from Arizona, has launched a campaign to drag the company into the 21st century, saying, “I want to be able to marry my real-life fiance’s Mii, but I can’t do that. My only options are to marry some female Mii, to change the gender of either my Mii or my fiance’s Mii or to completely avoid marriage altogether and miss out on the exclusive content that comes with it.” Or not play at all, and read a book instead. Books have lots of exclusive content. But I digress.

The straights at Nintendo are unrepentant. “The relationship options in the game represent a playful alternate world rather than a real-life simulation,” they responded. “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.” But as Marini points out, excluding same-sex relationships from your virtual world, when the real world is becoming increasingly relaxed about them, is about as direct a piece of social commentary as it’s possible to imagine.

Gay marriage isn’t legal in Japan, but it is across much of the area that the English-language version will serve. Computer games are often tweaked to take regional differences into account, but not Tomodachi Life. Several other role-playing games, such as The Sims, allow avatars to get off with those of the same gender. Even Grand Theft Auto IV, for goodness’ sake, features gay, lesbian and bisexual characters.

So why not Tomodachi Life (which has sold nearly two million units in Japan)? Is Nintendo worries worried that children from more extreme religious households will be banned by their parents from playing? Is it a purely commercial decision? Does it fear The Sun headline “Ninbendo!”?

Its stance is even more puzzling when you consider that as long ago as 1988 Birdo, one of the characters in Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros 2 game, was described in the manual as a boy who believes he’s a girl and would rather be called Birdetta. And in more recent years there’s been Vivian, a boy who looks like a girl, in Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, and Leucos, a cross-dressing lesbian, in Glory of Heracles. Is it because Tomodachi Life, being designed for the Nintendo 3DS, will be played by children?

It might be said that in a world where you can still be executed for being gay – step forward Brunei, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somaliland, Sudan and Yemen – rapping Nintendo across the knuckles for redneck prejudice is tilting at windmills. But cultural artefacts such as games are exactly the kind of medium in which progressive messages can help society progress. As much as films and television programmes, they create the prevailing culture.

Mr Marini isn’t calling for a boycott of  Nintendo products – but I am. A company founded in 1889 seems to be cleaving still to the same benighted opinions that prevailed then. Until it can demonstrate that it can feel at home in a world where tolerance and compassion are to be valued, we should steer clear.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Support and Development Engineer

    £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The leading provider of Employee Managem...

    Recruitment Genius: Creative Designer

    £15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Kent based design consulta...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Gazetteer Consultant

    £25000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you looking to work for an ...

    Recruitment Genius: Regional Support Manager

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This role's responsibility also include operat...

    Day In a Page

    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
    Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

    Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
    John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

    Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

    'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
    Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

    Forget little green men

    Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
    Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

    Dying dream of Doctor Death

    Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy