It’s Hard Being Tomodachi With Corporations 12


Recently, an uproar tore out across the internets when Nintendo decided not to include same-sex relationships in their life-sim game Tomodachi Life; people were incensed, Nintendo issued a fairly standard apology, people were mildly more optimistic but also still kind of sore. In response, there have been questions, confusions and concerns from folk criticising the backlash against Nintendo, for various reasons.

Many have echoed Nintendo’s sentiment of “social commentary” by claiming that games are “just games”, they’re escapist fantasies, they’re entertainment, and as such, they shouldn’t serve any “political agenda”. But games are not just “escapism”, they’re not just frivolous forays into time-wasting in between reading “Ulysses” or “Animal Farm”, they’re not “just” anything – there’s an entire side to the games industry called serious games! Games, like any medium, like any artform, like any kind of entertainment – both reflect the culture that created it and influences that society’s perspective. As Anna at BorderHouseBlog notes, choosing to abstain from “social commentary” on an issue IS social commentary — any action in a politically-muddied situation is political action. Similarly, Nintendo’s initial decision not to include same-sex relationships – and their subsequent decision not to – did not happen in a vacuum. They happened in an industry already hesitant about, if not inimical to, LGBTQ representation, in a culture where LGBTQ people are already marginalised, poorly represented and discriminated against.


One of the concerns over the backlash is that the negative reaction charicaturises or makes a scapegoat of Nintendo, turning them into a strawman for problems that plague the games industry as a whole. But Nintendo is not a “moustache-twirling villain”  – and they don’t have to be in order for this incident to be rooted in homophobia. No-one was ever trying to claim that they were . No-one is trying to put forward the argument that Nintendo are the sole cause of homophobia in the games industry or society-at-large, nor is anyone claiming that Nintendo are even the biggest culprits, nor the worse offenders – because they’re not. There are other companies out there poorly portraying queer characters, or not portraying them at all, and there are companies whose labor malpractices go far above and beyond misrepresentation. But  what’s got so many people’s gall rising is that:

  • it’s the umpteenth time that same-sex relationships have been ignored or poorly represented, and it’s exhausting for people invested in this kind of representation
  • it’s come from a company who are usually on the more positive side of moderate, and it stings when a company you thought were decent decide you and others like you aren’t worth their budget, and
  • it was framed as though including same-sex relationships (in a game where analogues of real-life relationships are a large component) was “social commentary”, instead of a fact of many people’s real lives

The fact that “there are worse things happening elsewhere” is not and can not be an argument for not addressing a problem, because literally any problem – any problem at all – could easily be trumped by another, larger problem, which itself is outmatched by a problem of even greater magnitude, and so on ad infinitum, with nothing ever solved.


Some have pointed out East-West culture differences, that Japan does not pay the same dubious respect that Western countries do to same-sex relationships, and that it is unfair to expect a Japanese company to bow to pressure from Western countries to include representation of same-sex relationships – which utterly ignores the fact that, represented or not, there are already people in Japan who are LGBTQ+, who experience same-sex attraction, who are involved in same-sex relationships; same-sex relationships are not a Western invention.

Some have denied that this can be seen as homophobic, often citing examples such as “you’re basically saying that bars that don’t say ‘gay friendly’ are homophobic!” and asking, as many conservative pundits do, why LGBTQ people are always “looking to be offended”, and “where all this politically-correctness is going to end”.

Well, it’ll end when we have to go looking for it, because as it stands, heteronormativity is so ubiquitous, so commonplace, that the only relationships a major games company includes in a game where relationships are a key factor are male-female relationships. Heteronormativity permeates every level of society to the extent that there are even gay people commenting on this incident who believe there’s nothing homophobic about LGB people being willfully and purposely excluded from a mass-market game. Nobody is suggesting that literally everything ever has to have “a same-sex option” – which is why we don’t hear about, say, Tetris not being queer-friendly – but they are suggesting that, in games where relationships are a major component, it is wrong to assume that male-female options are the only ones anyone will be interested in and which should be supported.

Some have brought up the fact that simulation games, by their very nature, cannot simulate everything, and there has to be decisions made about who or what to include, and who or what to leave out – but all too often, the people that are left out tend to be exactly those same people that are purposely excluded in real-life – disabled people, people of color, and, in this case, people for whom same-sex attraction is an integral part of their identity. As Samantha Allen notes over at Polygon,

“To claim only in the face of anti-homophobic outcry that Tomodachi Life is not intended to be “a real-life simulation” shows us Nintendo at its most cowardly, denying the very premise of the game in order to justify a regressive refusal to reflect both the realities and fantasies of queer existence.”

Others have suggested that there is an unreasonable amount of difficulty – not to mention increase in scope and budget – that would come from adding in same-sex relationships to Tomodachi Life so late in the development process; as a game designer, I’m almost certain this isn’t as arduous as people have been making it out to be, especially considering this was made possible with a bug in the game earlier that was then patched, despite the amount of support for the feature. However, there may well be interactions and systems that have, for whatever reason, been made gender-specific, which could have made it a difficult task to unpick all of these interactions and systems and make them more neutral.

But even if the game was constructed so that male-female relationships were integral to so many other classes and systems within the game, the problem then becomes: why did Nintendo choose to start from the heteronormative principle that male-female relationships should be the only ones possible? After all, it’s hard to believe that the design team would have neglected to look at That Other Quite Popular Life Sim, The Sims, and realised that same-sex relationships were not only allowed and supported by game mechanics, but were frequently used by players. The fact that the design team did not think this significant enough to include is, at best, a massive oversight, and, at worst, a purposeful act of homophobic exclusion.


Similarly, we have to ask why Nintendo aren’t willing to address the issue and change the game in the first place,; the most obvious answer, as mentioned above, is one of money and scope, being that it would likely be unprofitable to put in the resources to change something when it could be left in with no significant losses.

In terms of the technical feasibility of making additional changes post-release, and whether or not Nintendo would have access to their resources for Tomodachi Life, it’s highly likely that Nintendo have retained the game’s engine, architecture, and assets, or would be able to derive them from other software even if they hadn’t (since Tomodachi Life shares a lot in  common with other Nintendo software like the Mii Maker, Mii Plaza, and so on). It also seems deeply unlikely that a software giant like Nintendo wouldn’t use version control software to make sure their games’ assets and architecture could be modified, updated, rolled back or retrieved between different software iterations. So the idea that Nintendo physically would not be able to make changes to the game this late in development is a spurious one, based on a foggy idea of how game development actually takes place.

And there’s an unspoken, tacit assumption made when people claim that Nintendo were somehow unable to implement same-sex relationships– are folk really trying to say that Nintendo, of all companies, would be unable to design and implement same-sex relationships in a game? It’s hard to accept the argument that he games company that brought us Mario, Animal Crossing, Metroid, would be so inept at game development that they would be unable to take a game they’d already made, and make the change without causing the entire engine to break down, froths of homosexual conduct seeping and seething from within, and it seems unthinkable that no-one at the company ever thought of same-sex relationships while the game was being designed.

Even if it was the case that same-sex relationships was logistically difficult to implement – is this really such a good reason not to pursue it? Sometimes enacting change to correct inequality or disparity IS difficult; historically, LGBTQ people know this to be the case, and our liberation and pride movements have a long history of doing difficult things that are nonetheless vital.


All the reasoning and attempts at justification above, though, flit like flies around the real elephant in the room. If we accept that Nintendo couldn’t have changed this because of financial or budgetary/scope concerns, if we accept that we should forgive because they’re far from the worst offenders, if we accept that Nintendo are to be absolved of their decision because they’re “just a games company”, then we have to take this to its logical conclusion – that ultimately,  like any business, Nintendo’s decisions are based on financial profit. We want to believe Nintendo is the the warm, friendly games company of our youth, being populated by and run on the whim and whimsy of the pleasant, mannered businessmen with cheery grins  we see in Nintendo Direct, but behind the facade, Nintendo is still an electronics company, still plagued by the same problems endemic to business in capitalist societies – decisions motivated by profitability.

So what does this mean for us? It means that, while it’s important to ask for better, to critique those with influence, power and resources in whatever systems we examine (in our case, the games industry), we also have to come to expect as given – but never accept as justified – the fact that companies will not be at the forefront of inclusivity and diversity; it means that we cannot look to corporations as being intellectual or moral giants – regardless of how intellectual or moral some of the individuals who make them up might be; it means that we have to create and support systems that help those who are unjustifiably excluded, so that we can reach a point where companies actions are not excused simply because they have historically donated money to good causes, or haven’t behaved as badly as others might have.


After all Nintendo may have done some cool things in the past, like “letting male characters wear dresses in that one game,” but that is a tremendously low bar to set for diversity, and we shouldn’t applaud them – or any other games companies – for managing to clumsily step over it. (once).

(Writer) Mitch Alexander is a game designer and critic from Scotland, and the creator of a gay orc dating sim, so it might be best to take anything he says with a pinch of salt.

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12 thoughts on “It’s Hard Being Tomodachi With Corporations

  • avatar

    Nintendo promised to include gay relationships in the next game. It was a fast port (a year or less) considering all of the work that had to go into the game- IE. making vocaloids for multiple languages and regions, and vast amounts of localization work. Im not defending Nintendo’s lack of inclusion- but it’s noteworthy that they have promised to be more inclusive in the future.

    When’s the last time that any of the big three have even talked about the queer community at all. Microsoft and Sony, directly, at least not to my knowledge- have ever mentioned marriage equality. I think it is a great step forward that Nintendo has addressed it, and in our favor no less.

  • avatar

    As much as I love Nintendo, I have to call bullshit on the “Can’t change it now” line. They took out the workaround that allowed same sex marriage, in an update. Yes it would be more complex but I think it could be done. (No I’m not a programmer or anything, just a layman’s opinion.)

  • avatar
    Aaron T

    I believe the technology issue is not so much the inclusion of same-sex relationships, which is probably a fairly easy toggle (see patched “bug”). I believe it is more likely that the massive technology changes needed would be those that would prevent homophobic straight people and/or their children from ever accidentally having a same-sex romantic interaction “forced” on their Mii. It’s easy to allow for the interactions to be genderless, it’s much harder to segment out and prevent the interactions from ever happening to those who don’t want to see them.

    Let’s face it, as Mitch mentions, this is about money. The straight community is much larger than us, this game is targeted outside the US and also to families, and including “gay” content is anathema to raking in money from these audiences.

    I am not a fan of Nintendo’s non-apology. Basically, they are sorry that we are mad and want us to stop making a stink. Unfortunately, too many advocates of equality accepted the apology and backed down – mission accomplished.

    I would have respected Nintendo much more if they had acknowledged that they never intended to include same-gendered relationships due to financial and social pressures. They could have then begun a dialogue with our community about how hard it is to achieve the required E for Everyone rating when you even have same-sex couples hold hands or hug, let alone marry. As the world’s largest producer of E-rated games, they could create a platform to discuss why the ESRB will rate a game higher for “gay” content than they will for fantasy violence.

    That is what a company who was truly sorry for their lack of inclusion would have done. That is what a company who truly cared about including us in the future would have suggested.

  • avatar
    Aaron T

    Thanks for taking the time to comment to “us folks”. There are always more important problems. In fact, I’ll quote right from this article, which I’m guessing you didn’t actually read:

    “The fact that “there are worse things happening elsewhere” is not and can not be an argument for not addressing a problem, because literally any problem – any problem at all – could easily be trumped by another, larger problem, which itself is outmatched by a problem of even greater magnitude, and so on ad infinitum, with nothing ever solved.”

    If you don’t actually have something to contribute to the conversation, please leave “us folks” alone – you’ve got real problems to focus on, right?

    • avatar

      How about setting a good example than? You don’t contribute anything to my point after all.

      For the record: I did read the article and I still don’t understand the issue with Tomodachi, or Fire Emblem. Know why? Because the homophobia is made up from my POV. There never was homophobia from nintendo to start with. That’s made up, because not including the option for two fictional charakters getting pregnant (and I can say that again and again: it sure is weird, because it just doesnt work like that) is homophobic right away, yes?

      If “you folks” (touchy are we?) would put that much effort into the real homophobic issues, some thing could be different… But it is used in rather strange internet-propaganda at (at least most of the time) the smallest, selfmade issues. I don’t see the same “drama” (and I guess you can call it that at some point) from sick and disabled people. NO I am not saying gay-people are sick or disabled, but – for example – where is the option to put your mii into a wheelchair? Or in my case: Why can’t I make a disabled mii with all the health-problems I have in real life? My mii is super fit, like everyone else… Where is the “resistance movement” for that?

      If there was a list for things to include, THIS should be way over adding another sexual orientation to life-sims, because it can hit EVEYRONE – even gay people. But fighting for gay-righs seems more “in” these days.

      And why just Nintendo and Tomodachi (or Fire Emblem) over and over again? Bad Nintendo… But how about SONY, MS and some others? The whole issue around Nintendo is way over its MDD from my point of view.

      SO yeah. If I was about to put that much power and time into fighting for equality, than I’d do it somewhere where it does help the people, not digital versions of ‘ em or fictional charakters. And if I am against things in a game (a GAME!) I just don’t buy it. Because “Hey, you get my money if you include *insert something here*” seems like the totally wrong way for me either.

      • avatar

        Oh sorry… I mean of course “it is weird if for charakters from the SAME SEX to get pregnant”

        And to be fair: adoptions as well as surrogate motherhood are options for same sex couples, but it’s a whole other system for a game and even in real life a bit different that just two people “getting close”.

      • avatar
        Mitch Alexander Post author

        1) The idea that “if you put as much energy into as this one, we’d get a lot more done” is a false equivalency, because many of the people who are discussing this also do activist work alongside this, and the work that is expended in writing criticism on this issue dos not detract or remove work done in other activism – activism is not a zero-sum game. Further, as I mentioned in the article, you could do this with ANY issue and – for example, if you put half as much energy into anti-bigotry activism as you do writing comments, we’d get a lot more done.

        2) YES, THERE SHOULD BE MORE AWARENESS, REPRESENTATION AND DISCUSSION ABOUT DISABILITY AND ACCESSIBILITY IN GAMES. The fact that you can’t have a wheelchair for your character is bullshit! The fact that we have to claw for examples of characters with physical and mental health issues is bullshit! The reason why articles are not being written about this are manifold; disabled writers can be prevented from gaining platforms to discuss disability in general, let alone disability in games; disability and accessibility isn’t reported on nearly as much as LGBTQ+ issues; the public don’t have as much of an awareness of disability and accessibility and different models of disability as they do of LGBTQ+ issues (or, more technically, LGB issues, since many are still behind on the T); these are problems, and these should be rectified! The fact that there isn’t a well-supported, prominent disability-in-games movement with a broad platform is a problem! But it’s not a problem that originated with people talking about LGBTQ+ issues in games, and it won’t be solved by simply asking queer people to shut up about homophobia. Again, activism isn’t a zero-sum game.

        3) Nintendo, because Nintendo have recently released a life sim featuring relationships as a prominent game mechanic without same-sex relationship options. Not Sony, because Sony have not recently released a life sim featuring relationships as a prominent game mechanic without same-sex relationship options. Not Microsoft, because Sony have not recently released a life sim featuring relationships as a prominent game mechanic without same-sex relationship options. The article makes this clear, that Nintendo are not being targeted because they have a bad track record, but because a) gamers interested in same-sex relationships are tired of this, b) Nintendo are well-known and well-liked and as such the campaign can address them without falling into obscurity, forcing them to stop business (as it would if folk unilaterally targeted EVERY game developer), and c) it’s homophobic to suggest there are no such thing as gay people (and if there are, then they shouldn’t play this game if they want representation – or, in fact, any game, apparently!)

        4) “It’s just a game!” is a ridiculous argument to make considering a) games are a new artistic medium and, like all artistic media, rely on critique and criticism to grow, b) the games industry is so large that in a years time, it will be worth approximately $83bn, and it would be a ridiculous idea to believe that figure means nothing, and c) denying that games have any impact on the world whatsoever is nonsensical.

        5) “If you don’t like it, don’t buy it!” is a good idea! But not buying it, and providing critique as to for what reason and why those reasons are relevant and valid is better, as it allows everyone – players, developers, publishers, critics and so on – to gain a better understanding of how and why games succeed or fail; “don’t like it, don’t buy it” only provides scant information, and only to one group of people (publishers), which isn’t nearly as effective.

        6) “You get my money if you include options I like” is literally how buying a game works. If you see something you like about a game, you buy it.

        7) If you believe that developers at Nintendo are so bad at their jobs that they can’t create clear, concise and family-friendly game mechanics and systems that could be incorporated with minimal fuss into the game and would allow for same-sex characters to marry or have children without people throwing down their controllers in frustration as their heads erupting desperately trying to reconcile TWO LADY MAKE BABBY??? HOW IS BABBY FORMED, I don’t understand why it would be important for you to defend their integrity as game developers.

        • avatar

          I love the internet too.

          1 & 2) Sorry, the real bullshit is people acting like they are the biggest supporters ever… but only on the Internet. Just looking at most of the comments at nintendo fb or twotter is a pain regarding this Topic.

          Oh and another bullshit is this: WHY the hell do we have to accept only two extremes all the time when it comes to gaming. It is all about “hell yes” or “hell no”. There is just no place for a simple “yes, but…”. Why do I have to go all out for a life sim – a absolutely NOT SERIOUS one at that. The only thing I see is just for the “because”. If I may say so: YOU were the one talking about “there are serious games”. So how serious is Tomodachi for example?

          3) Why does it have to be homophobic? Who said that? Is uncharted homophobic, because there was no gay-content? Sorry, but not including gay-Content makes something homophobic seems off to me. It seems to me a lot of gay-People just like to call everything homophobic these days and that sure is a pain. And I say this one again: You were the one talking about “there are serious games”. It is a serious issue, so why should it be in a quirky, silly agme as Tomodachi? Oh… because it is such a serious life sim, right?

          6) Not that much. True, if you see something you like you buy a game. But saying “I will buy it, if you include equality as long as it concerns my personal liking” (cause that’s the issue here) you open doors for almost everything. You just can’t make a product – in this case a game – that’s fit for everyone. Say your reasons why you don’t like it and maybe your voice will be heared, but as I can see here, it’s almost forcing to include the stuff you would like to see and that’s not working. That’s not how buying someting “literally” works.

          7) I said that too: I like the Internet as well.

    • avatar

      As a side note (the last one): You are the one saying ” a company who truly cared about including US” or “The straight community is much larger than US”.

      So what’s the issue about “you folks”?

      Thanks for asking, I am a gay gamer too, but don’t include me in this “tomodachi-nintendo-gate”. I am so no part of the “US” in (this) “fuss”, as are others. You just cannot act as if the whole community is like “Booooo – Nintendo – booooo”.

  • avatar
    Aaron T

    Mitch, I appreciated your reply to Ann. I have only two things that I would add from my own perspective.

    1) I find it sad that someone who identifies as a “gay gamer” would not recognize the importance of gaming in fostering inclusive attitudes. I wonder if you’d argue that the representation of gays in movies and television is also unimportant because those are “just entertainment”. When games have multi-million dollar budgets and celebrity voice actors, when games like GTAV sell 10 million copies in ONE DAY, they stop being “just games” and they start being part of the cultural conversation.

    2) Comparing LGBT issues with disability issues is an extremely faulty metaphor, and one designed to offend people on both sides and pit one group against another. Many LGBT individuals ARE disabled, and representing disability is not just sticking an avatar in a wheelchair. Personally, I’m offended that you think putting a character in a wheelchair equates to inclusion of disabled individuals (note: It doesn’t!).

    If you are not interested in this issue, then don’t participate in it. You already spent more time posting and responding and then responding to your own responses than anyone who truly “doesn’t care” about an issue would.

    Don’t disparage others who have a different passion than you, especially when that passion might bring about change that would BENEFIT you (if you really are a gay gamer). You can advocate for disability rights instead if you choose (although please take some time to learn about disability issues first).

    • avatar

      “Don’t disparage others who have a different passion than you”

      I said that again: Set a good example… at least if you point your finger at others. You are the one who doesn’t see to accept a gay gamer doesn’t see a point in this – if I may say so – shitstorm about a rather silly game. If it was a serious one I’d understand it up to some Point but in this case it’s just a bit… as nintendo would say … “weird”.

      Maybe you should learn about gay issues first. Tomodachi sure isn’t one. And if it is one, it’s “just” a “first world gay issue”.