A scene from the (very realistic, clearly) Tomodachi Life. Image: Nintendo
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Nintendo ignores upset gamers and decides against in-game same-sex marriages

Nintendo's "life simulator" game Tomodachi Life allows players to recreate their lives digitally - unless they want to marry their same-sex partner.

One of the most popular games of all-time is The Sims, which has a simple, intuitive premise: it's life. You have a house, you get a job, you meet someone, fall in love, start a family together, drown in the swimming pool after the stairs disappear, etc.

Nintendo's Tomodachi Life is similar, but takes a more whimsical approach to "life". Each character (called a "Mii", pronounced "me") lives as part of a community on an island, and as the name suggests - "tomodachi" means "friends" in Japanese - it's all about building friendships, with wacky mini-games like karaoke or sumo wrestling, as well as things like hanging out and having a chat. It's sold just shy of two million copies, making it one of the 3DS handheld's most popular games.

As also happens in life, and The Sims, Miis can get close enough to fall in love, and get married. Unlike The Sims, though, Tomodachi Life doesn't allow for same-sex marriages. It's a design decision that's dismayed many of the game's players, and in particular Tye Marini, a gay man from Arizona who wanted to be able to marry his real-life fiance's Mii.

Here's the video he made, laying out his case:

Pretty reasonable, right? As he makes clear, not only is it unfair from the perspective of forcing him to adjust the sex of his or his fiance's Mii in order to get around the issue, it also blocks them both from accessing all of the game content that they paid for:

There are specific features and content that you can't access without getting married, such as moving into a bigger house of your own, having a child and sending them off to other islands via StreetPass, and so on.

In this regard, Tomodachi Life does manage to adhere to physical reality with admirable verisimilitude: same-sex couples, living in countries or regions where same-sex marriage is not recognised or legally permitted, also miss out on some of the "bonus features" of life, like, say, legal recognition of the right to visit a spouse in hospital, or being offered better rates of insurance, or being able to procure a residency visa. Y'know, the small things in life - but, not Tomodachi Life.

That's why the #Miiquality campaign took off last month, after Marini's video, aiming not to boycott the game, but to raise awareness of the issue so that Nintendo might change the game's code to allow same-sex marriages. Nintendo has now issued a response, and it's rubbish:

Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of Tomodachi Life. The relationship options in the game represent a playful alternate world rather than a real-life simulation. 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."

The thing about "not trying to provide a social commentary" is that Nintendo already has, by not putting same-sex marriage in the game. Like most issues of social justice, it's not correct to say that not making a decision is the equivalent of not picking a side - in this case, choosing not to include same-sex marriage is just as good as explicitly choosing to block it.

Furthermore, Nintendo justifies its decision as a practical one of coding: "The ability for same-sex relationships to occur in the game was not part of the original game that launched in Japan, and that game is made up of the same code that was used to localize it for other regions outside of Japan." It's worth noting that Marini is playing the Japanese version of the game, but only because the North American and European versions aren't out until June, so it may very well be that the localisation of the game isn't over yet. It also doesn't preclude the release of a patch to include a fix if it's too late to do so now.

This is a needlessly self-inflicted wound on Nintendo's part. For years, games like The Sims would be modded by their users to include same-sex relationships and marriages when developers ignored requests for them to be included, and it's thanks to that kind of pressure that it's become a more frequent gameplay feature. Skyrim even manages to have gay characters marrying each other, and that's got dragons in it. Shouldn't be too much of a stretch from "whimsy" to "real-world relationships".

Ian Steadman is a staff science and technology writer at the New Statesman. He is on Twitter as @iansteadman.

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