Another E3 has come and gone. You unveiled a plethora of games that your fans, myself included, are eager to pick up and play. However, despite my excitement for what you have planned for the near and distant future, I still can’t help but feel disappointed in your continued stance on the subject of “politics” in video games. Remember what happened on June 15th? A brief interview surfaced involving Reggie Fils-Aimé, Nintendo of America’s president. He spoke to a reporter for the Canadian Broadcasting Company, and during the interview, Reggie had this to say:
“Making political statements are for other people to do. We want people to smile and have fun when they play our games.”
This statement continues your long history of claiming that video games are apolitical; that gamers from all walks of life can simply play your games and have fun, similar to the Walt Disney Company’s marketing strategy of a “family-friendly” experience. However, this claim is widely inaccurate, as all video games — no matter who developed them — are political in the same way that all forms of media are. While you’ve certainly developed a number of games that make players “smile and have fun,” this is not a phrase that many of your fans would agree with.
Queer gamers have faced the brunt of this, specifically during the Tomodachi Life controversy where you did not wish to include same-sex marriage because you “never intended to make any form of social commentary” in the game. However, by making this statement, it further showcases what many queer people, myself included, have already known: that merely by existing, our lives are seen as inherently political to you.
Displays of heterosexual love and affection — be it a chaste kiss on the cheek from Princess Peach in so many Super Mario games and subsequent spin-offs — are extremely common. Other examples include the numerous women who fell in love with Link in The Legend of Zelda franchise, which plays into a masculine power fantasy. Then there’s the ability for (straight) couples to flirt, marry, and eventually have children together in recent games like the Fire Emblem franchise. Heteronormative narratives are pervasive throughout all of your games. Meanwhile, queer gamers have been told time and again that our presence is undesirable.
You literally exclude us or portray us as villains, such as the queer-coded Ghirahim in The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, or the depraved and sadistic individuals in Fire Emblem: Fates who also happen to be the only two same-sex romanceable character options if the player wishes to pursue a queer relationship.
Adding to this are the experiences of trans and nonbinary gamers who still have to experience the humiliating and dehumanizing treatment of their gender identities, most notably the unpleasant and transphobic part of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild where Link sees a beard underneath a trans woman’s veil and reacts with shock.
Alongside the negative experiences of queer gamers, many other marginalized gamers have noted reoccurring trends in your games. You fall behind when it comes to representing women as well, relying on the continued damsel-in-distress trope in Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda games even though many gamers have expressed a wish to play as Princess Peach or Princess Zelda outside of spin-off games. Then there’s the lack of attention that Samus Aran received during her thirtieth anniversary despite being the protagonist of your only franchise led by a woman, the half-hearted and bizarre explanations as to why Link is always a man, the objectification of women in the upcoming Xenoblade Chronicles 2, and only showcasing a player character who is a man in the marketing and packaging of Ever Oasis. What gives?
Adding to this, gamers of color have also observed a fair amount of negative representation in your library, specifically in regards to how characters with black or brown skin are portrayed. The most noticeable example is Ganondorf, the reoccurring villain of The Legend of Zelda franchise, who is literally the only brown man in that universe. He’s also from a culture that is heavily coded to be Middle Eastern and always portrayed as the “ultimate evil” whenever he appears in-game. Not to mention the issue of portraying women of color as oversexualized, such as the emphasis on Twintelle’s rear in official images and the portrayals of Gerudo women in various Legend of Zelda titles.
Look, Nintendo. Your work is beloved and enjoyed by gamers from all walks of life. Whether we grew up playing or recently discovered your games in our adult years, the enjoyment and happiness you’ve provided us is still very much the same. This has inspired so many people to think, write, and draw their own what-if scenarios to include more diverse choices. What if we could play a game starring Princess Peach and Princess Daisy? What if Princess Zelda was the protagonist for once? What if Link was a woman? What if we could customize our pronouns in Pokémon games? What if we had positive portrayals of LGBTQIA+ characters and their relationships? What if black and brown characters were the heroes, and not always the villains or eye candy?
While I am enjoying my current adventures with you and look forward to several of your games on the horizon, I am still rather disappointed that you continue to claim an apolitical stance when you clearly have not done so. The games you make all have their own political messages whether you realize it or not, and these messages can have a profound impact — both positive and negative — on the gamers who play them. By refusing to make a “statement,” you actually made one: that you prefer to maintain the status quo rather than try to step outside of the box and appeal to the wide spectrum of gamers you have in your fanbase.
I sincerely hope that, in the future, you will attempt to do better by marginalized gamers who wish to see themselves in your video games. But judging by your long and ongoing history of half-hearted attempts and outright silence, I doubt this hope will be fulfilled any time soon.