LOS ANGELES – Nintendo isn't allowing 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 Tuesday it wouldn't 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 modeled after real people.
"Nintendo never intended to make any form of social commentary with the launch of "Tomodachi Life,'" Nintendo of America Inc. said in a statement. "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 Osaka, Japan-based Nintendo Co. and its subsidiary Nintendo of America Inc. to add same-sex relationship options to English versions of the hand-held Nintendo 3DS.
The game was originally released in Japan last year and features a cast of Mii characters -- Nintendo's personalized 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.
"I want to be able to marry my real-life fiance's Mii, but I can't do that," Marini said in a video posted online that attracted the attention of gaming blogs and online forums this week. "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 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." However, 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.
"It's more of an issue for this game because the characters are supposed to be a representation of your real life," Marini said Tuesday in a telephone interview. "You import your personalized 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 "localized" for other regions, meaning characters' voices and likenesses are changed to suit different locales and customs.
"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," Nintendo noted in an emailed statement.
While many English-language games don't 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.
Marini isn't 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 installment.
"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 organization." We have been looking to broaden our approach to development whenever possible as we put all our energy into continuing to develop fun games that will surprise and delight players."