February 21, 2016

By Matt Petras

Nintendo, the famous Japanese video game company responsible for brands like Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda as well as popular video game systems like the Wii and the Game Boy, had to answer to a great deal of criticism in 2014 for a game called Tomadachi Life for its popular Nintendo 3DS handheld system. Many were upset that the game, a life simulator similar to the popular PC series The Sims, allowed for marriage but not same-sex marriage.

Nintendo did eventually apologize for the exclusion of same-sex marriage.

“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,” an official statement from the company reads.

 

In 2015, some American players who got their hands on early Japanese copies of the new entry in the Fire Emblem series,Fire Emblem Fates, are again criticizing the company for poor portrayal of LGBTQ people, along with portrayal of consensual sexual activity. One scene in particular contained a character drugging a lesbian to make her instead attracted to men; Nintendo responded by removing this part of the story in Western releases.

“In the version of the game that ships in the U.S. and Europe, there is no expression which might be considered as gay conversion or drugging that occurs between characters,” an official statement from Nintendo to gaming-focused website Polygon reads.

The statement goes on to explain that same sex relationships are possible in the game. There are two versions of the game, one called Birthright, and the other called Conquest; the former is billed as the version for newcomers to the series and Conquest as the more challenging game for series veterans. The game intended for newcomers allows for a relationship between two women, and the game intended for veterans allows for a male same-sex relationship. Additionally, weeks later, a smaller, downloadable expansion called Revelations, which is meant to be played after finishing the original release, will include both options.

This offer from Nintendo to their consumers is problematic in a number of ways. I hope it is incidental, but the idea that males get the option to engage in virtual homosexual relationships in the more challenging version of the game seems to imply something sexist about the gaming skill of men vs. women. It’s also not a comforting fact that after already investing $40 in the base game by picking one of the two versions, players can get both options in a $20 expansion.

The biggest issue, however, is how limited the conversation becomes when just talking about potential same sex relationships the protagonist of the game can engage in. The fact is, the player is tasked with commanding well over 20 characters in addition to the main character of the game. Even if one can expect to steer their protagonist into a same-sex relationship, the fact remains that LGBTQ representation is still small in a game that puts a lot of emphasis on building relationships.

Fire Emblem is a strategic roleplaying game in which forming relationships between characters is not only a part of the narrative, but also a part of the strategy of playing the game. Units will do better in battle if they fight alongside their husband or wife. The fact that the game places so much of an emphasis on romantic relationships in a 2016 release demands ample representation of LGBTQ people, not just a single opportunity to represent a gay male or female depending on the version of the game one buys.

Nintendo is offering something for the LGBTQ community in Fire Emblem Fates that is better than nothing, but certainly not good enough.