Editorial: Addressing The Tomodachi Life Same-Sex Marriage Issue
Posted by Thomas Whitehead
Including our policy moving forward
As many of you are likely aware, Nintendo recently released a statement responding to a "Miiquality" campaign seeking the inclusion of same-sex marriages in Tomodachi Life. You can read it in full in our article on the subject, in which Nintendo states that it will not be including the option. The purpose of this article is to address the issues raised and to explain, from an editorial perspective, our approach to topics such as these and the decision to close comments when appropriate.
We'll begin with an assessment of the topic at hand, in an attempt to balance the Miiquality campaign with the factors that have likely driven Nintendo's decision making. In terms of the Japanese version of the game not including gay marriage, it's important to acknowledge cultural differences and the fact that it's not a recognised institution in the eyes of the Japanese government. Tentative steps towards legislation appear to be in prospect, but as it stands same-sex marriage is not legal in Japan; Nintendo will have produced this aspect of the game, in all likelihood, with that social context in mind.
This is the first Tomodachi game to be released outside of Japan, and as a result we suspect Nintendo has been caught out by this controversy. Attitudes towards same-sex marriage or 'civil partnerships' — a legalese term for initial legislation in the UK — are at a different stage in many countries around the world. These marriages are legal now in multiple countries, including some states in the US. Part of what's driven this issue is the simple fact that, in multiple countries and currently grabbing headlines in the US, this is a live issue, with states in the US currently involved in legal battles over whether they'll allow same-sex marriages. There's a civil rights struggle taking place and it's high profile, and Nintendo has become involved as it's releasing a game that only allows heterosexual marriages.
That's some brief context, and from Nintendo's perspective the rational, fair approach is to accept that — whatever your political or moral stance — the company is in a particularly awkward situation. A game made very much in the sense of a Japanese market would need to be changed to accommodate the increasing moves towards legalised gay marriage in the West. Gay relationships have been optional and portrayed in a number of games, including the Mass Effect series and, more relevantly, The Sims, though Tomodachi Life does come in at a lower age rating than those games. This is also the first time that a Nintendo release has been confronted with the issue — its blend of fantastical whimsy in 99% of its games is anything but politicised, yet the world of Tomodachi Life touches upon this subject. Considering Nintendo's image and family focus, meanwhile, a comparison could be to imagine the potential uproar if Disney released an animated film with an openly gay couple. Films such as Frozen arguably allude to these relationships, with that recent release interpreted as supportive of gay rights in some corners. That's thematic interpretation, however, not overt referencing.
For Nintendo, if it amends the game it will face backlash from those against gay marriage, and it's not hard to envisage headlines of "Parent's Shock as Nintendo Game Promotes Homosexuality". What's happening now is the inevitable other side of the coin, in that gay gamers are protesting the decision to exclude the option for same-sex marriages and couples in the game. It's important to understand that, for Gaymers, a term often used, it can feel like an offensive exclusion for a game like this — no matter how light-hearted the apparent approach of the title — to not have an optional setting to support gay marriage.
Whatever Nintendo does, it will face a backlash. Whichever side of the argument you support, that's undeniable.
Now I'm going to break into first person a little, and explain our current stance and approach to this topic. It's been a particularly tough issue for us as a team, and the decision to publish this week's article without comments enabled was one that I found extremely difficult to make. We've had a number of messages and emails supporting the decision on the grounds that it avoids the ugly confrontations of previous threads on the topic, and a few that were disappointed. Ultimately, I'm happy that we, as an editorial team, got the decision and tone of the article right, but I wasn't content for that to be our last word on the matter. I wanted to outline some basic context and facts, as above, but then provide a more personal perspective and outline how we'll deal with topics like this in the future.
The issue of homosexuality in games is one of the rawest and most challenging we face, for the simple reason that it's a civil rights debate that is still raging. Games do suffer from examples of racism, and there are most definitely problems with sexism, yet the same-sex marriage issue is still an ongoing legal battle. While equality laws and general consensus in society identify racism and sexism as illegal or immoral, even if they do still occur, that legal unity is yet to happen for gay marriage. It's a politicised issue here in the UK, for example, but appears to be an even fiercer debate in the United States, as another example.
It's an emotive but, most importantly, personal topic. The problem we've faced is that the issue is so sensitive, and the nature of online debate so combustible, that debates quickly become personal and hurtful, and that is not something we want for anyone in the Nintendo Life community. The past comment threads on this topic fail, in our opinion, to provide a constructive discussion.
I will make one thing clear, and that is my support for all writers in our team; their sexual orientation is and remains irrelevant in their role with the site. I also want to emphasize that it can be easy for those uninvolved to dismiss the furore over Tomodachi Life as an exaggerated fuss, but that is not the reality — for the gamers affected by this, a Nintendo game that won't support same-sex marriages is a very real, difficult issue. When passionate about Nintendo and video games in general, to be excluded from relationships in a sim title can feel unacceptable, especially in light of progress made in other franchises. Likewise, I understand that it's equally important to acknowledge that there will be those on the other side of the debate, and it's a person's right to hold views against same-sex marriages in a game like Tomodachi Life if they're expressed fairly and without malice. For my part I've been relatively clear with my views on social networks, but respecting other's opinions is an important part of tolerance.
As for our editorial policy, we'll continue to cover developments — if there are any — around Tomodachi Life and similar topics of this kind. We will always shoot for an impartial tone, simply due to journalistic standards, but we also will not hide from highlighting these issues when they negatively affect Nintendo. It is my intention, however, that comments will continue to be disabled when I and the site Directors deem the topic beyond a rational, cool-headed debate.
I understand some, on both sides of this debate, may feel gagged and censored, and may not agree that comments should be locked down. It's actually our attempt to ensure positive, constructive discussions, because we ultimately determine what passes as acceptable communication here at Nintendo Life. I've noticed that comments sections on multiple sites regarding this issue are weighed down with negativity, with angry and bigoted views being shared across the board from multiple sides. In past examples here on Nintendo Life our moderators have struggled to maintain the debate — no matter what the intentions of the community, issues like this quickly lose rationality; the resulting arguments can be upsetting and discriminatory for all involved.
If you want to debate these issues in a running comments thread, the internet is there for you. What I think you'll find, however, is that there is a lot of inappropriate language used in these arguments — if legislative bodies and courts struggle to tackle this civil rights issue, there is little hope for coherent discussion online. There's too much scope for mis-interpretation and, yes, trolling, and the anonymity of the internet exaggerates these problems.
Our goal at Nintendo Life has always been, and will continue to be, to provide a friendly, welcoming environment for gamers and Nintendo fans. This matters a lot, and I think we have a wonderful community capable of spirited debate on topics such as Nintendo's game lineup, the future of its hardware, and just games in general. This is a gaming community that is fully inclusive and unites people through that common love for the same hobby; there's no room for ugliness here, and we want all to feel safe and secure when joining in conversations. To that end, and with topics deemed too difficult for debate on this platform, such as same-sex marriage in Tomodachi Life, we'll draw the line and close comments.
As stated above we will cover these issues, however; that will not change. Yet what will also not change is that Nintendo Life is for absolutely everyone. We're here because we love video games and Nintendo, and those are things we can all share.