Nintendo sorry for exclusion of same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life

Japanese game giant says it disappointed fans yet cannot backpedal on design and development choices.

Nick Statt Former Staff Reporter / News
Nick Statt was a staff reporter for CNET News covering Microsoft, gaming, and technology you sometimes wear. He previously wrote for ReadWrite, was a news associate at the social-news app Flipboard, and his work has appeared in Popular Science and Newsweek. When not complaining about Bay Area bagel quality, he can be found spending a questionable amount of time contemplating his relationship with video games.
Nick Statt
4 min read


Nintendo publicly apologized Friday for failing to include a same-sex relationship option in its life simulator game, Tomodachi Life. But what many fans were asking for -- the inclusion of the option in an update to the 3DS handheld title -- is definitively off the table.

"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," the statement reads.

Nintendo originally said yesterday, in an interview with the Associated Press, that it would not cave in to pressure and alter Tomodachi Life. Instead, the Japanese gaming giant plans to be more mindful in future installments in Tomodachi series.

"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 statement, a terse five-sentence paragraph, concluded.

Tomodachi Life, which uses virtual representations of players call Mii avatars, was released in Japan in April of last year for the Nintendo 3DS system, where it has since sold 1.83 million copies. The game is expected to see a North America and Europe release -- the first ever release in the series to leave Japan -- on June 6. Tomodachi Life lets players personalize their avatar, shop, ride amusement park rides, and go on dates with and marry in-game characters as well as other real-life players' avatars, as long as that character is of the opposite sex.

The rare public admission of fault from Nintendo, which did not carry an author name and was titled simply "We are committed to fun and entertainment for everyone," comes after weeks of harsh criticism for Tomodachi Life's failure to represent the reality of Nintendo's customer base. After all, games series like The Sims, Elder Scrolls, Fable, and Mass Effect -- all popular life simulator or role-playing series -- allow same-sex relationships and even marriages in some cases.

LGBT advocacy group GLAAD called Nintendo's exclusion of same-sex relationships an outdated and harmful stance for a life simulator. More vocal, however, was a widespread social media campaign from Tye Marini, a gay 23-year-old resident of Mesa, Ariz., who -- instead of calling for a Tomodachi Life boycott -- asked that supporters tweet with the hashtag #Miiquality and ask Nintendo to update the title to be more inclusive to Western players.

"I want to be able to marry my real-life fiance's Mii, but I can't do that," Marini said in an online video posted to Vimeo. "My only options are to marry some female Mii, to change the gender of either my Mii or my fiance's Mii or to completely avoid marriage altogether and miss out on the exclusive content that comes with it."

Nintendo, in its interview with the AP, expressed that it was attempting not to replicate reality, but to create an alternate world that just so happened to draw heavily from realistic aspects of daily life, like engaging in heterosexual relationships. Notably, gay marriage is not legal in Japan.

"Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of Tomodachi Life," a Nintendo of America representative said. "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."

When asked by the AP about Marini's campaign, Nintendo gave a measured response. "We have heard and thoughtfully considered all the responses," the company said. "We will continue to listen and think about the feedback. We're using this as an opportunity to better understand our consumers and their expectations of us at all levels of the organization."

Though today's pledge to be more inclusive in future Tomodachi titles was one aspect of many in Marini's and others' demands, it represents a half-measure on Nintendo's part. The reticence with which the company shot down an update to Tomodachi Life may not only affect sales of the popular 3DS title in Western markets, but also prove to be a thorn in its side as the 3DS becomes a stronger part of its business.

Nintendo is increasingly placing its financial fortunes in the strength of handheld hardware and software sales -- the company announced its third annual loss of $457 million earlier this week mostly attributed to the Wii U console's poor sales. Series like Tomodachi Life and their promise of Nintendo's brand of quirky fun may stumble worldwide when subscribing to one set of beliefs.