Friday, May 16, 2014

We're all part of the problem

inb4 rumors of Iwata and Shiggy getting married.

Misinformation is a funny thing. One mistranslation or slip of the tongue can cause a wave of backlash, destroy friendships, and make something done in the most seemingly civil way seem like a total declaration of war. What's the old saying, again? "The road to hell is paved with good intentions"? Well that seems to be the case with Tomodachi Life, the sequel to Nintendo's Japan based best selling simulation for 2DS/3DS. Nintendo has been doing damage control for the majority of the month, trying to bypass all the angry articles surrounding the lack of inclusion of Same-sex marriage, while getting information out about the simulation based game. Nintendo can be noted as being part of the problems that have arisen, but I'm going to have to point fingers at everyone else in the issue as well, because guess what? We are all part of this problem.

Your lack of information is the problem

What do we know about Tomodachi Life? If you watched the Nintendo Direct, you should know that it's a simulation based game where you can import your Miis, your relative's Miis and celebrity Miis to an island that you govern. There, they can go on adventures, fall in love and even get married.


Okay, so we know all of that, but what people don't know is that unlike games like The sims and Animal Crossing, they have little control over what happens in the game. Yes the game is designated as a "simulation" but in reality the simulation aspect is the idea that after you go through a series of menus to establish a basic personality type, and give the Miis a simulated voice, they're pretty much off doing things and creating results on their own. In order to further elaborate, here is some information on the game's basics from Christian Nutt's article "understanding Nintendo's Tomodachi Life problem"

"If you remember Tamagotchi, start there. But instead of a weird little alien chick, the virtual pets happen to take the form of whatever Miis you bring into the game. The player assigns them basic personalities (from templates) and, from there, they (including the Mii based on the player) act pretty much autonomously.

It's almost immediately apparent that the game was created not as a simulation of life or social interaction as much as it is meant to be a comedy sandbox: "She married him?" Marriage is an option not because the characters are meant to be living realistic simulated lives, but because it's another opening for a punchline. It's more banal but no more real than this "news story" from the Japanese version of the game which stuck my Mii's head on the body of a deer.

Everything is amped up in the manner of Japanese television. If you aren't familiar with Japanese TV, count yourself lucky. Japanese TV gave us America's Funniest Home Videos, which is all you really need to know for the purposes of this article.

Tomodachi Life is dumb but it's clearly supposed to be dumb, in other words: It's a lowest common denominator comedy generator as a game, not a serious simulation. It is a vague approximation -- a gesture toward a thing that isn't even really there. These aren't really your friends, and they aren't really living lives. It's not even really a game; it's a toy. It's a virtual anthill as Chuck Lorre might envision one, by way of Japan."
During the media blitz about the game, Information had been either mistranslated, or utterly misconstrued into statements that Nintendo had Patched the ability for two men to marry and have biological children in the original game, Tomodachi collection. In truth, there was an issue that had to be patched in the original game; A data leak that would inevitably cause the save file to be corrupted. Here's the quote from Bill Trinen, himself.

“There actually was a misconception over what the issue in December was,” product marketing manager Bill Trinen told IGN last April. “There were two things that were going on at the time that essentially were grouped together as one. The first, that there was a patch. And what the patch was fixing was actually a data leak.”

Trinen explained that a free tool on the 3DS eShop allowed players to transfer over Mii characters from the 2009, Japan-only DS version to the 3DS game caused a problem. When a player brought those characters into 3DS’s Tomodachi Collection, it caused a data transfer issue that corrupted the save data and prevented people from progressing.
In the Japan, some players were creating Male characters and switching their gender to female.

In the Japan, some players were creating male Mii characters and switching their gender.

“The other thing that was going on was that quite a few Japanese players were dressing up Mii characters,” Trinen explained. “Essentially they would create a male version of a Mii character and assign their gender as female, and that was how the two males were able to have a baby.”

The patch did not change the fact that players could do that.

It only addressed the data transfer issue according to Trinen. “Because we didn’t have the DS version [in the West], there is no data transfer issue for us,” Trinen said. “So it was actually two separate things that got lumped together into one piece of confusion that resulted in people not quite understanding what had gone on.

“From our perspective it’s kind of tough because as a game development company, our primary focus is always looking at creating entertainment and fun and entertaining products,” Trinen explained. “And there’s a lot of decisions that can go into that process. What we try not to do is… well, it would be very easy to look at Animal Crossing and say, ‘well, what wasn’t included in an Animal Crossing, so what’s Nintendo saying about that?’ We’re not really saying anything about anything; we’re just constantly trying to create fun and entertaining experiences.”

Trinen said that, unfortunately, Tomodachi Life isn’t designed to be a perfect simulation and, therefore, the line between entertainment and real-life becomes a challenge for Nintendo. “We’ve got to try to find what’s the best way to create this experience and really have a fun and entertaining experience. And for us it’s all about a whimsical world where you bring these people together and you see what happens as a result.”

We asked Trinen if Nintendo had made any prior effort to clear up this confusion. “I think, at the time, in Japan there actually wasn’t confusion,” Trinen said. “As it was reported in Japanese, they had an understanding of what the [data corruption] issue was. The other wasn’t an issue. It was just a unique way that people were playing the game.”

Trinen continued, “At the time, because the game wasn’t out here, we hadn’t really gotten into the detail on it. And that was primarily because we hadn’t announced that we were working on the game.”

Nintendo describes Tomodachi Life as a funny alternate reality to IGN. “It is a difficult thing to understand. Your first impression is really going to be to compare it to an Animal Crossing, or to look at it as a sort of simulation game. But we don’t really look at it so much as a simulation,” Trinen explained. “We look at it really as this sort of living breathing world, and it’s a bit of an alternate reality, where the Mii characters of people you know in everyday life come together to interact and mingle. And the results of it are incredibly funny, with unexpected moments that occur between all of these characters.”

Now that we know this information why didn't Nintendo just state this from the get-go instead of some generic PR statement they sleepily threw out? Answer: your guess is as good as mine.

Nintendo's PR is the problem

Let's start with the original statement in question. This is the first press release response to this media debacle. Wikipedia, you're up!

"Following the game's announcement for a Western release, controversy arose concerning how it is not possible to have same-sex relationships in-game. Nintendo stated, "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.” In the original Japanese version of Tomodachi Collection: New Life, a bug was discovered which allowed users to create male Miis and assign their gender as female, allowing them to have same-sex relationships, which has since been fixed by Nintendo. Following various campaigns from users, Nintendo stated that it would not be possible to add same-sex relationships to the game, as they "never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of" the game, and because it would require significant development alterations which would not be able to be released as a post-game patch. "

This Week, Nintendo posted a much more sincere statement.
"We apologize for disappointing many people by failing to include same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life. Unfortunately, it is not possible for us to change this game’s design, and such a significant development change can’t be accomplished with a post-ship patch. At Nintendo, dedication has always meant going beyond the games to promote a sense of community, and to share a spirit of fun and joy. We are committed to advancing our longtime company values of fun and entertainment for everyone. We pledge that if we create a next installment in the Tomodachi series, we will strive to design a game-play experience from the ground up that is more inclusive, and better represents all players. "
The second statement would of been better to have been said initially, even though this is just a reiterative statement with a bit more elaboration. Had this statement been thrown out, the vulturous media wouldn't of had a field day and tried to spin this statement into an anti-gay stance for the company, but boy did they. Which leads me into the third part of this problem.

The media is the problem...

What seems to irritate me most in this ordeal, has been the media's reaction to Nintendo's poor PR statement. In the research done for this article, I have read many headlines that range from "Nintendo resists #Miiquality campaign to let Tomodachi Life gamers play gay" to "Nintendo's rejection of gay relationships gives fans a lot to be angry about". But it seems that the lack of information on both the game premise, and the game's features seem to cause more vitriol for the company than anything.

Samanta Allen, a blogger who occasionally writes for "feminist gaming" site Border House, went on to write about Nintendo's botched PR statement. I'll post her views, here, along with a link to the article to give you an full idea of the statement in context.

"Nintendo has chosen to remain on the wrong side of history with today's statement announcing that it will not allow the inclusion of same-sex relationships in the U.S. release of the upcoming game Tomodachi Life.

"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," the statement read. "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."

I apply a simple principle to statements like these: The more words a company needs to use to justify its exclusionary choices, the more simple its motivations. Call it a queer version of Occam's razor. Behind all the corporate jargon and flowery public-relations language lies hatred, pure and simple.

The beating, bigoted heart of Nintendo's statement is this: Nintendo does not care about its lesbian, gay and bisexual audience. But Nintendo's LGBT audience certainly cares about Tomodachi Life. They went so far as to exploit the game's Japanese release in order to allow same-sex relationships.

A sentiment as simple as bigotry deserves a condemnation that is just as straightforward. And, indeed, Nintendo is being justly chastised for its exclusionary choice by the games press and social media at large.

Nintendo's staid commitment to cultural conservatism has always been frustratingly at odds with its creative innovation, and fans are no longer able to tolerate the dissonance between the two. Super Mario Galaxy filled me with an irrepressible sense of childlike wonder; today's statement fills me with bitterness and dread. The company that continues to change the way we play games can't seem to change the way it thinks about the people who play those games.

But there might be value in thinking like Nintendo, if only to unpack the normative assumptions behind their decision to exclude same-sex relationships from Tomodachi Life. In particular, I want to home in on three phrases used by Nintendo in today's statement: "social commentary," "playful alternate world" and "real-life simulation." "

This is why I tend to not favor the knee-jerk reaction. Once information comes out that disproves the author's theory, it makes them seem like they are lazy for not doing the research. I also believe that any time you skim headlines and resort to name-calling, and then go on to formulate your views without digging deep to find the heart of the matter, you're doing your audience a terrible disservice.
Chuck Jordan actually goes on to further discuss Samantha's "hatred" commentary, while shedding light on the PR issue.

"On Polygon, Samantha Allen writes that Nintendo’s statement was rooted in hatred and bigotry, pure and simple. The rest of her piece is fine, because it talks about the heteronormative concepts that lead to a statement like “Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary:” it assumes that straight people falling in love and getting married is perfectly natural and normal, but gay people doing the same thing is a statement. But I do take issue with the claim that it’s rooted in hatred and bigotry; frankly, I think calling it “hatred” is lazy.

Hatred is easier to deal with. If someone proves himself to be a hateful, unrepentant homophobe, you can just say “sheesh, what an asshole” and write him off. Same with an arrogant bigot who’s convinced that he’s calmly and rationally proven that your concerns don’t matter as much as his own. But Nintendo’s initial statement comes from a place of more subtle and systematic prejudice. It’s like the aunt who insists on calling your boyfriend your “friend,” and who keeps trying to set you up with a nice girl. (Note: purely a hypothetical in my case).

That’s not to say that it’s benign or that it should be given a pass, but just that it comes from a different place. And you have to handle it differently. Otherwise, you just make it seem like the full-on, recalcitrant bigots have all the numbers on their side.

Of course, it’s also not to say that the reaction is overblown or the issue shouldn’t be a big deal. That seems to be the most common reaction on message boards: why do LGBT types/liberals/liberal LGBT types/”social justice warriors” have to turn every little thing into some big issue? One of the comment threads was from a guy who made that exact point and qualified it by pointing out that he’s bisexual; apparently he’s the Lorax, and he speaks for the LGBTs. But instead of reinforcing his point, his mention of his own sexuality just underscored why one aspect of a deliberately silly game could blow up into such a big deal in the first place: it comes from the assumption that what’s important to one person is important to everyone else, and that one person’s experiences are a good indicator of everyone else’s experiences. (Besides, any gay man can tell you that bisexuals don’t actually exist).

Christian’s take on the game and Nintendo’s response describes how the struggle for LGBT rights has turned personal relationships into political issues: “…living, for us, is an inherently political act.” That’s true, but I think a lot of people miss the fact that the political aspect is a side effect, not a goal. When someone suggests that gay rights activists put forward their most “straight-friendly” relationships in a bit of political theater, it exposes their own biases and prejudices: theater has to have an audience, and the gays must be trying to sell an idea to the normals. That takes an already marginalized group and marginalizes them even further; anything you want is defined in terms of how it affects me. So you look at a lesbian couple in their 80s and consider how their marriage would impact the civil rights struggle and its longer-term effects on fundamental societal institutions. You don’t consider the simple fact that a couple who’d been together for decades would want to get married, and what a travesty it is that they couldn’t.

That’s why Nintendo’s first response was spectacularly tone-deaf, as opposed to outright “hateful.” Hate says that anything outside of my experience is wrong; cluelessness and callousness say that anything outside of my experience is weird. It assumes one version of “normal” as the default, and then assumes that anything that falls outside of that is an aberration. So a guy chasing after a girl on a beach is just how romance works. A guy chasing after another guy would be making social commentary."
Christian Nutt, whom to me has a clearer vision of the problem, sums this up a different way.
"The problem is that this option does not exist. As Patrick Klepek put it, "I hope Nintendo knows that excluding gay relationships is, in fact, a form of social commentary. It's inherently political."

Why does Nintendo's statement rankle? It speaks to a basic truth of gay life: Straight people don't understand our lives -- that living, for us, is an inherently political act. If you think this is an exaggeration, you've never had to push down a quaver to clearly and calmly say, in an obviously male voice, "my husband" to a customer service phone rep at an insurance company, or had a government official ask which one of the couple is "the bride" when he's filling out a form, only for him to abruptly realize the absurdity of the question when he notices your expression.

Worth considering also is the idea that regardless of whatever the Japanese version supported or did not support, the Western edition of the game should incorporate same sex marriage in the name of cultural adaptability and fairness. I am not unsympathetic to this perspective, of course.

On the other hand, you must also consider the much larger political problem the company would have on its hands if the same sex marriage switch was simply flipped. In considering this, the anarchic, sandbox nature of the game must be considered, too: As the player, you can't really make anybody do anything.

A simple problem becomes instantly complicated. Should Nintendo make an option so that players can set their Mii as bi, gay, or straight? Should it enable gay marriage by percentages that reflect real-world homosexuality rates? Should marriages only happen if the player okays them? Or should players be offered a bunch of options? Must Nintendo put all of these options behind an age-check barrier so as not to alienate the parents of its younger customers, given the political climate?

Of course, you have to struggle not to cynically assume that a deliberate decision was made to throw a minority under the bus -- to avoid a big headache by creating a small one.

When Animal Crossing: New Leaf came out, there was a much smaller outcry around the fact that the game doesn't support a variety of skin tones in its character creation: All you can make are characters that appear to be caucasian. (Well, to Westerners, anyway -- they appear to be cartoony Japanese to the Japanese, judging from the fact that both territories use the same box art.)

I was extremely sympathetic to this criticism of the game, despite my well documented love for it. There's no good reason that this choice shouldn't be implemented and every reason it ought to be, especially given its technical triviality. It's easily explained as cultural shortsightedness on the part of the original Japanese development team, which is racially homogenous."
I favor the phrase "a simple problem becomes instantly complicated". Anyone who has worked in the creation of anything knows that it is extremely difficult to please everyone. There will always be a person or persons who think you could of done more to cater to X or Y, and as it appears Even having a "neutral" stance in a situation seem to be tantamount to being accused of being anti-whatever despite using rationality to look at the additional problems such a choice makes.

Yes, the Sims and Dragon Age both feature the option for same-sex romance, but both of those games have ESRB ratings ranging from Teen to Mature for the nature of these encounters. Both offerings feature characters making out as well as engaging in sexual encounters, and that's obviously a bit much for a company who at their most daring, used a vibrator as proof that a transgendered Birdo is a woman in the Captain Rainbow game for Wii.

Another problem is how the ESRB as well as the rest of America would handle the situation. I know most people would say "So the game gets a T rating, so what?" Well the T rating wouldn't hurt the adults purchasing the game, per say, but that is excluding out another segment of the demographic (The Kids whom make up a large part of the E in E for everyone) just to please another demographic. That's one possibility. Also factor in the Religious groups and conservatives who are going to immediately cry foul due to their issues with the new status quo of the game. North America is pretty rife with people being offended for the sake of being offended, and I don't really see this going very well. It's likely that Nintendo looked at it the same way and that's the reason for their original PR faux pas. If Nintendo botching a PR statement can be perceived as Bigoted, I hate to see what people would think of when some preacher channeling the late Fred Phelps weighs in on this issue.

Before I go. I have one more thing to tell you, dear reader. Miiquality, the twitter based activist movement that got the ball rolling on getting Nintendo to respond, despite the protesting and rallying is still in support of the game. The stance (according to leader, Tyeforce) was to only raising awareness of fans wanting the option of same-sex marriage.

while they expressed elation of their victory, people in the twitterverse still think that Nintendo should postpone release of the game and go as far as boycotting the game in question until they get a "patch" in order to write in the sexual preferences of the Miis, or just wait for the sequel which has the option built in this time. Meanwhile, people are continuing to state that it's "easy" to do so, Which is easy for the social network to say. The game is already in the finished phase, and Nintendo doesn't normally do patches (Especially if it means going back into the source code  and reprinting a whole new slew of shipping orders), so it's safe to say those gamers are likely to take the latter option.  From the perspective of the consumer all the problems of the world can be fixed by flipping a switch and making a single change (which might be possible as a digital release, but much harder on physical copies which have more money invested in them.). I'm here to tell you that it's clearly  not that easy. The big picture is; using mob mentality to solve all our problems can be beneficial in one aspect, and yet can poison the well very quickly.

To sum this up, I'll leave you with an excerpt from's article
"And more than anything else, I’m frustrated that this will keep people from playing Tomodachi Life. I desperately want to see this title succeed. If Tomodachi Life sells, we’ll see more wonderfully weird games get released in the west. If it doesn’t, Nintendo will be more reluctant than ever to give niche games a chance.

I don’t blame anyone for boycotting Tomodachi Life. Nintendo’s actions are pretty inexcusable, and I get why the absence of this feature makes the game less appealing. People shouldn’t support something they’re uncomfortable with just to help niche games succeed.

Still, I can’t help but wish things were different. I want everyone to be able to enjoy Tomodachi Life, and I wish Nintendo would let them."

Game On.

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