Equal Rights in Video Games

June 16, 2014
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Japan is a funny country, which somehow manages to look forward to the future and design kick ass futuristic robots, and at the same time keep its feet firmly planted in the past’s old traditions and standards. It’s the present that Japan struggles with.

And the present right now in the States is the Equal Rights Bandwagon. Gay marriage bans are being knocked down state by state, #YesAllWomen is trending, and Laverne Cox is on the cover of TIME magazine. And Japan is not modern in this respect. Women are still largely expected to quit work when they marry (when they MARRY, people, not even when they have a baby, which is bad enough) and manage their husband’s house. It’s a country where lesbianism is an anime joke, not a reality, and where, when I asked university students what percentage of Japanese people they thought were gay, they answered “1% or less, and only in Tokyo” and “the rest of the world, maybe, but we don’t have gay people in Japan.”

It’s this clash of Western Rights and Japanese traditions that explains why the otherwise 3DS’s new Tomodachi Life is getting so much press – a virtual world where your characters can do anything they want (including some pretty wacky stuff), even get married… but it’s in the game’s programming that females can’t marry females, and males can’t marry males. John Oliver hilariously mocked Nintendo’s official response to the complaints from gay-mers as “virtual eventual equality – that’s the dream!”


Well, the latest little upset came from the very pretty, very cinematic-not-gameplay new trailer for Zelda for the Wii U. It sounds like they’re trying to make this game less of a linear progression and more of a choose-your-own adventure, go-to-whichever-temple-you-want-first approach, which to me sounds exciting, but the androgynous appearance of the new hero made many people think that maybe it wasn’t Link. “Maybe it’s finally Zelda, the princess all the games are named after, leaping into battle? It’s like all those Clockwork Empire pictures by Dresden Codak are coming true!”

And of course they were dead wrong. It’s a Legend of Zelda game. Of course it’s Link. “It’s” face is so similar to Link’s, too, it would be bizarre to make a heroine look so… Link-like. I approve of the excitement, but don’t think the theory was very realistic.

But for me, it’s the fact that the Zelda series producer, Eiji Aonuma, found the “it’s a girl” excitement funny, and teased the reviewers about it, that is the real problem. “Link represents the player in the game”, he said… which, given the circumstances of the statement, is another way of saying both “men can’t want to play as women” AND that “women can’t play games” in one fell swoop. Way to go Nintendo.

But at least Square Enix is getting with the times – same-sex marriage ceremonies will be possible in the upcoming Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. And I can’t help but hope that, with all the equal rights stuff happening in the world right now, the gaming world might finally start playing catch up and give us some more diverse heroes and heroines to play with. Virtual, eventual equality – that’s the dream!

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