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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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.