Friends only, even in a virtual world

Yesterday's Tomodachi Life Nintendo Direct brought the rather wacky 3DS Mii life-sim to the attention of a lot more gamers, though it's not actually a new release. Tomodachi Collection: New Life was a Spring 2013 arrival in Japan, and proceeded to accrue some impressive sales and generate buzz in Nintendo's homeland.

Controversy did arise, however, when it emerged that it had become possible for same-sex marriages between male Mii characters, with chatter on Japanese forums suggesting it was even helping sales, though that wasn't definitively proven to be the case. It then emerged that a subsequent patch from Nintendo would not only fix a bug causing problems with saving progress, but also remove the 'glitch' allowing same-sex marriages in the game. It prompted spirited debate online due to the sensitive issues that it raised, and the fact that — glitch or not — same-sex marriage was coming out of the game in favour of heterosexual-only relationships.

Some have wondered whether the localised version will, likewise, be heterosexual marriages only. It looks to be so, while games writer Wesley Copeland has been provided the following statement by Nintendo UK regarding the background of those issues in the Japanese version last year.

Two developments occurred that led to some misunderstanding about this.

First, as a result of a mistake in comprehension of Japanese, some people misinterpreted Japanese reports and fan activity and thought same-sex relationships were possible.

This occurred because they saw Japanese fans posting game screenshots of male and female Mii characters, where female Mii characters were designed and clothed in such a way that they looked male. Since these explanations were made in Japanese by the Japanese fans who posted the images, the Japanese people do not have such a misunderstanding.

Second, a critical bug occurred in the original Japanese version of the game which made it impossible for the player to continue the game.

When Mii characters were imported from a Wii console, or the previous game in the Tomodachi Collection series on Nintendo DS (which was only released in Japan), into the Nintendo 3DS version, it could lead to scrambled Mii data within the Nintendo 3DS version.

This could result in different Miis being randomly assigned to existing in-game relationships, such as already married Mii, or as just one other example, giving the appearance of same-sex relations. Because this bug caused the inability for the player to save the game data and continue the game, we released a patch.

This statement clearly brings attention to the game-disrupting nature of the bug that allowed same-sex Mii characters to be married in-game, explaining the fix. While that makes the actions at the time a little more understandable, it doesn't change the fact that a game with a focus on relationships and marriage does not allow same-sex couples. In that respect, it's still looking like an exceptionally cautious, conservative approach from the development team and its management.

From a business and commercial perspective, purely in numbers and market logic, this may be the correct decision for Nintendo. In the far more important area of representing fully inclusive, modern attitudes, we'd suggest that this remains a disappointing aspect of the game. It's a political and rights issue that Nintendo is avoiding, which will be a decision for which it'll likely draw its share of criticism.