Nintendo says no to gay characters
Nintendo will not allow gamers to play as gay in an upcoming life simulator game.
The publisher of such gaming franchises as The Legend of Zelda and Mario Bros said it would not bow to pressure to allow players to engage in romantic activities with characters of the same sex in English editions of Tomodachi Life.
This follows a social media campaign launched by fans last month seeking virtual equality for the game's characters, which are modelled after real people.
Nintendo of America said in a statement: "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."
Tye Marini, a gay 23-year-old Nintendo fan from Mesa, Arizona, launched the campaign last month, urging Kyoto, Japan-based Nintendo and its US subsidiary Nintendo of America to add same-sex relationship options to English versions of the hand-held Nintendo 3DS game.
The game was originally released in Japan last year and features a cast of Mii characters - Nintendo's personalised avatars of real players - living on a virtual island. Gamers can do things like shop, visit an amusement park, play games, go on dates and encounter celebrities like Christina Aguilera and Shaquille O'Neal.
Mr Marini said in a video posted online: "I want to be able to marry my real-life fiance's Mii, but I can't do that.
"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."
Tomodachi Life has been a hit in a Japan, where Nintendo said last December it had sold 1.83 million copies of the game.
The English-language packaging for Tomodachi Life - "tomodachi" means friend in Japanese - proclaims: "Your friends. Your drama. Your life." A trailer for the game boasts that players can "give Mii characters items, voices and personalities, then watch as they rap, rock, eat doughnuts and fall in love".
But only characters of the opposite sex are actually able to flirt, date and marry in the game, which is set for release June 6 in North America and Europe.
Mr Marini said: "It's more of an issue for this game because the characters are supposed to be a representation of your real life. You import your personalised characters into the game. You name them. You give them a personality. You give them a voice. They just can't fall in love if they're gay."
The issue marks not only a cultural divide between Japan, where gay marriage is not legal, and North America and Europe, where gay marriage has become legal in some places, but also in the interactive world, where games are often painstakingly "localised" for other regions, meaning characters' voices and likenesses are changed to suit different locales and customs.
Nintendo said: "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 localise it for other regions outside of Japan."
While many English-language games do not feature gay characters, several role-playing series produced by English-speaking developers, such as The Sims, Fable and The Elder Scrolls, have allowed players to create characters that can woo characters of the same sex, as well as marry and have children.
Other more narrative-driven games, like Grand Theft Auto IV, The Last of Us and Gone Home, have included specific gay, lesbian and bisexual characters.
"We have heard and thoughtfully considered all the responses," Nintendo said of the #Miiquality campaign. "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 organisation."
Mr Marini is not calling for a boycott of Tomodachi Life but instead wants supporters to post on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #Miiquality, as well as write to Nintendo and ask the company to include same-sex relationships in an update to Tomodachi Life or in a future instalment.
He said in response to Nintendo's statement that excluding same-sex relationships in the game is a form of "social commentary".
"I would hope that they recognise the issue with the exclusion of same-sex relationships in the game and make an effort to resolve it," Mr Marini said. "Until then, Miiquality will continue to raise awareness of the issue."