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 & Style blogs
How Stephen Hawking is still alive, defying ALS and the worst expectations
The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
Mother's Day 2015: When is it – and how did it first come about?
Children warned to not listen to music for more than one hour a day
New theory could prove how life began and disprove God
Half of Ukip voters say they are prejudiced against people of other races
This is what it's like to be dead, according to a guy who died for a bit
'Cash for access' scandal: Sir Malcolm Rifkind says 'unrealistic' for MPs to live on £67,000 salary
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Aqsa Mahmood branded a 'disgrace' by her parents after claims she recruited three UK girls flying to Middle East
- 1 Forget 'The Dress': Here are five of the biggest news stories you might have missed
- 2 The black and blue dress: Makers considering a white and gold version
- 3 PornHub turns masturbation into energy in bid to save the planet
- 4 The remarkable archaeological underwater discovery that could open up a new chapter in the study of European and British prehistory
- 5 MH370: 'Putin ordered plane to be flown to Kazakhstan space port,' conspiracy theory claims
iJobs Gadgets & Tech
£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Creative Front-End Developer - Claph...
£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: QA Tester - London - £30,000 QA Tes...
£45000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Linux Systems Administrator ...
£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: SQL Server Reporting Analyst (Busine...