On Miiquality

Nintendo has stirred up some controversy with its Sims-like game Tomodachi. From Ars Technica,

One of the game’s central motifs, making your Mii characters fall in love and marry, has been restricted to heterosexual couplings in the series’ two Japanese releases thus far. According to a statement from Nintendo of America, that in-game restriction will persist for the North American release, in spite of online campaigns like “Miiquality” that have urged Nintendo to update the game’s relationship system in recent weeks.

I have been reading through the comments there and on other sites like The Verge1 and need to point out a lot of people there are missing the real issue at hand. A common refrain I’ve seen is,

Invented inequality annoys me. Why should any company pander to any particular group? I’m against discrimination, and this isn’t what discrimination is. I highly doubt Nintendo is pushing an anti-gay agenda by not including homosexual relationships in their “whimsical simulation” game.

Discrimination is not the issue. I don’t think that is what is happening here and I genuinely believe Nintendo was really not intending to make any social commentary.2 But there are two problems, one for the gamers, and one for Nintendo.

Imagine for a moment you are gay, closeted kid who picks up this game. The implicit message is, “You don’t belong here”. Those of you reading this probably have difficulty wrapping your head around this unless you yourself are gay. We all like to think we can understand how people different from us feel, but usually we can’t, at least not in any realistic way. Even with the remarkable social progress we have made in the last decade, the world is still a heterosexual paradise. You don’t notice the immense privilege you get because you have no reason to. Try for one day to notice every single straight thing you see during the day, no matter how small. You may be surprised. For younger gay kids and teens, this is magnified 10,000 times, even more so if they don’t live in particularly gay friendly areas.

As an adult, I can look past this much more easily, and even understand how well intentioned people could have come to this decision. But kids take things much more personally than adults do. A game like this will hurt, and Nintendo will be responsible for inflicting this hurt, even if it was completely unintentional.

The second issue is one for Nintendo itself. Can they really afford to be angering anyone right now? Their sales are tanking and the Wii U is a complete failure. It has been well established in survey after survey that younger people are not only more pro-gay than older age groups, but that they also view the issue as a key decision maker when it comes to who and what they support. These kind of controversies may well turn off a large portion of the younger generation a company that is built upon catering to that same demographic.

Nintendo being careful with these kind of decisions in the future would not be pandering or political correctness, it would be socially responsible and smart for business.

  1. I know, why do I do this to myself? It reminds me that not allowing comments here is absolutely the right call. 
  2. They obviously failed though. They ended up making a statement through silence. 
On Miiquality was last updated May 8th, 2014 by Michael Truskowski