Tomodachi Life has become one of the most popular games for the Nintendo 3DS in Japan. Through the game, you create a cast of mii characters that live and interact with one another on a small island, ranging from an avatar that resembles yourself to mimicking the likeness of any famous person you can imagine. Your friends, your drama, your life, is the unofficial slogan that appears on the game’s website. But recently there’s been an excess of drama for Nintendo precisely because some gamers are being denied the “your life” part of that dictum.
According to Tomodachi Life’s website and introductory video, the game allows you to control the life of your mii characters, making everyday scenarios of tedium “funny.” This includes playing with your cat, looking at yourself in the mirror, arguing over who has to clean up the living room, and even running across a beach at sunset to confess your love to another island dweller. That is, only if the other mii is of the opposite sex.
Although widely accepted by younger generations in Japan, being openly gay is still culturally taboo and same-sex marriage is restricted in the country, which may provide some explanation for why Nintendo did not program same-sex relationships into the game. This has upset international gamers and LGBTQ activists worldwide, with the game set to launch in America and Europe next month.
As Tomodachi Life allows you to personalize an avatar to mimic your real life self in appearance and import your personality, denying LGBTQ relationships is problematic because the game’s code will not allow for a fulfilling completion of many people’s virtual selves. Gay or lesbian romantic relationships simply can’t occur, which restricts users who want to express their real selves through the game from “exclusive content” only available through marriage. This is understandably upsetting because it parallels the social and legal obstacles that many LBGTQ people face in reality.
Many are saying that Nintendo “refuses” to allow same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life, but perhaps this is too strong a word. According to a spokesperson for the company, it’s too late to change the code for games set for release next month, but the company will take these complaints into consideration for the next edition. Nintendo apologized in addition to stating that “(we) never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of ‘Tomodachi Life,” which of course is exactly the opposite of what has happened.
Games that simulate reality, such as The Sims, Second Life and Tomodachi Life, are popular in part because they grant control over your avatar in a way that isn’t possible outside of the game. You can interact with celebrities, build your dream house, and eat an all sugar diet without consequence—so why shouldn’t people be allowed to express a range of sexual orientations as well? Hopefully Nintendo can understand the gravity of this oversight and allow customers access to one of the most important things people seek out of a game: inclusion.