Monday, 12 May 2014

Playing Wedding with my Toys

I like romantic story lines.  I'd be embarrassed to give a full account of the TV shows that I otherwise find almost intolerable I've watched out of interest in a romantic plot line.

Romantic story lines in videogames are even better.  You often get to make choices that guide the characters through the badly written love-drama.  If you make the right choices then they'll be in love!

Of course, if you are gay, you might not have that option.  That's not an entirely fair assessment, I can enjoy a gay romance and I'm sure that gay people can enjoy a heterosexual one - the stereotype of gay men loving musicals may be a ridiculous generalization, but there really are gay men who love musicals.  Still, it makes sense for homosexual people to want to see relationships that reflect themselves, especially in video games where they are controlling the development of the relationship.

So when Nintendo defended not including option of gay marriage in Tomodachi Life it understandably rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.  In that game you play as your Mii, a thing intended to be a virtual avatar of yourself.  The idea that your Mii has to have a different sexual orientation than you seems odd.  In their own defence, Nintendo said they hadn't intended the game to be political commentary.  It turns out that's not much of a defence.

In Skyrim you there are a large number of marriable characters.  You can ask anyone to marry you regardless of their sex and yours.  Let's think about how that came about.  They had to flag characters as marriable.  They had to write dialogue for them for marriage options, they had to record that dialogue with voice actors and put in a wedding scene that the protagonist and any NPC could be plopped into.  They even give you a special buff for sleeping at home when you are married that is slightly better than the regular sleeping buff.

Note what they didn't do: They didn't flag anyone as homosexual or heterosexual.  They didn't even write code to check what sexes the two people getting married were.  Allowing homosexual marriage in Skyrim required no more work than allowing heterosexual marriage.

But somewhere in Tomodachi Life, there is code that says something like this:

if (mii1.sex == mii2.sex) {stopTheWedding()}

Somebody had to type that in.  And that somebody had to decide to do that.  They were thinking something, and whatever that something was, for our purposes it boiled down to "Gay people shouldn't be able to get married in this game."  And other people checked their code and knew what that line meant.  And the whole thing got approved at several levels by people who knew what it meant.  People who aren't looking to make political statements can generally do so by simply not doing anything.  When you start having to code the non-political non-statement in, it starts looking like a statement, and one that seems pretty political to me.

When gay marriage is a contentious political issue, it's actually very hard to not make a political statement about it when you include choice about marriage in your video game.

I think Skyrim is much less political than Tomodachi Life.  Someone can say, "Hey, I don't even want to have the option of marrying another man in the game," but that's not so much politics as it is flat-out moronic.

In order to facilitate same-sex marriage in a videogame you merely have to not put in a check to prevent it, just like in real life.  And just like in real life, the justifications for putting that check in don't really fly.

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