National / Social Issues

Nintendo's virtual warriors secure same-sex marriage victory

by Tomoko Otake

Staff Writer

In a sign of the growing embrace of diversity in virtual reality, Nintendo Co. said Thursday its Fire Emblem fantasy role-playing game series now allows characters to have same-sex relationships.

The “Fire Emblem if” video game, which is played on the Nintendo 3DS console and hit stores nationwide on Thursday, “includes the possibility for a same-sex marriage to take place between the main character created by the gamer and another character in the game,” Nintendo said in a statement.

“We believe that our gameplay experiences should reflect the diversity of the communities in which we operate.”

The new edition of the popular game, developed by Intelligent Systems, comes in two versions. In one, which is known as Byakuya Okoku in Japan but will be called Birthright when it’s released in the U.S. and Europe next year, a main female character can marry another female character after interacting in battle.

Likewise in the Anya Okoku version, which will be called Conquest in the U.S. and Europe, there is a male character that the game’s players can have their main character marry after a similar interaction, the firm said.

The game will be called “Fire Emblem Fates” in the West.

The Kyoto-based game-maker came under fire in North America last year when it released life-simulation game “Tomodachi Life,” known in Japan as “Tomodachi Collection: New Life,” which did not allow same-sex characters to have romantic relationships. At that time, Nintendo America released a statement, promising to be “more inclusive” in future releases of the series.

“We apologize for disappointing many people by failing to include same-sex relationships in Tomodachi Life,” Nintendo America said in May 2014. “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.”

Video game analyst Hisakazu Hirabayashi said that Nintendo’s move reflects the reality that Japan accounts for only 10 percent of the global market for software for game consoles, which means that domestic game-makers have no choice but to be culturally inclusive.

Also, the more absorbed the users become in the game, the more important it is for them to have characters with more options in romantic relationships, he said.

Meanwhile, Shuji Ishimoto, editor in chief of video game news website Automaton, said that in light of the past controversy, Nintendo’s move is a clear gesture toward the LGBT community.

On the other hand, Japan has many nongay otaku (obsessive) people who enjoy games featuring same-sex love, he said, noting that such gamers have also welcomed Nintendo’s inclusion of gay couples this time.

“If Nintendo’s inclusion of same-sex marriage in its epic title Fire Emblem is widely accepted by society, I think we will probably see more role-playing game developers in Japan depict gay relationships in their works — regardless of whether they are intended to cater to otaku or show support for the LGBT people.”

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