An Open Letter to Nintendo From a Lifelong Fan

Dear Nintendo,

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.

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Who Gets to Be a Hero? A Case Against the Default Protagonist

The phrase “default protagonist” has been used quite commonly in recent years in order to examine and critique issues concerning representation in media. This “default” is affected by the cultural context that any given piece of media is produced within, as well as the long-standing canon that has shaped popular cultural and academic perspectives.

Regardless of the medium, you have probably observed what the most common trends are: the protagonist is usually a man or a boy, he is white (or has a noticeably lighter skin tone), and he is heterosexual, cisgender, able-bodied, and neurotypical. Many a marketer in the world of multimedia has claimed that this character is most “relatable” or “identifiable,” but viewers who do not fit one (or all) of these categories will probably tell you differently. Seeing this same protagonist, day in and day out, is boring at best and self-esteem impacting at worst.

Video games provide an interesting take on the discussion of default protagonist. Many video games — especially ones that focus on a specific narrative such as Night in the Woods or the Ace Attorney franchise — follow the story of specific player character(s) through the typical three-act structure. However, not all video games follow this narrative design. Instead, some games provide a story type that no other medium can: one that focuses on the player as the main character.  

Thus, the protagonist of the game is no longer a character with a pre-determined appearance, personality, sexuality, and skills, but rather, they are a character based on the player’s actual or idealized self. Granted, several of these games have their own pre-determined plots for the player to undertake, but the fact that the player is able to play as themselves provides a very different connection to both the story and the game world. This feature is especially prevalent in role-playing video games, which makes a great deal of sense as you are essentially viewing fantastical worlds from the perspective you want to pursue as opposed to a specific linear progression that is associate with other game genres.

With this ability to create one’s player character becoming more widespread, one might assume that developers would continue to expand upon those available customization options. Unfortunately, the video game industry still lags behind in terms of providing gamers with a diverse range of options. This can be seen most recently in the lack of romance options for gay or bisexual men in Mass Effect: Andromeda, the Pokémon franchise’s continued reliance on the gender binary for their player character, and the lack of options available to black gamers who want to create an accurate representation of their hair and/or skin tone when creating a character.

Continue reading “Who Gets to Be a Hero? A Case Against the Default Protagonist”

Autism & Empowerment: What Gaming Means to Me

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The word “empowerment” is thrown around quite frequently in discussions surrounding identity and representation in media. Seeing or reading a positive and respectful depiction of one’s identity can have a tremendously beneficial impact on an individual, especially if said individual is from a marginalized community.

That being said, what defines empowerment can mean different things to different people — especially within the medium of video games. This can include the ability to choose or, ideally, to customize the pronouns one is able to use when playing a game; the chance to accurately represent your skin tone and natural hair in a game’s character customization; or the option to romance characters who are the same gender as the player. All of these features can be deemed empowering, which results in an extremely satisfying gaming experience.

With this in mind, I cannot help but wonder, as an autistic woman, what images of empowerment come to mind when autistic people reflect on their favorite video games. For those of us on the autism spectrum, video games can be a tool to relax and break away from the stresses and anxieties that everyday life presents — be it sensory overload or the exhaustion associated with social interactions. I, myself, recognize the importance that video games have had in helping me cope during trying times, alongside enjoying them for their distinctive methods of storytelling and engrossing gameplay.  

Despite this reality, allistic (non-autistic) writers and developers fail to recognize that their works can be perceived as empowering to an autistic audience. While I cannot state exactly why this is, I believe a combination of ignorance and misinformation is why allistic writers are still far behind in providing positive experiences for their autistic fans. They showcase ignorance through their failure to realize that autistic audiences exist, and probably already enjoy their work, and they are misinformed by only being able to comprehend autistic identities from a stereotypical or ableist point of view.

I have decided to relate on what aspects of video games have been empowering to me as an autistic woman gamer.  I cannot guarantee that my experiences of empowerment will be exactly the same as all autistic gamers — especially since both the autistic spectrum and the category of “gamer” are extremely diverse even without the overlap between the two — but I can say that these experiences are important to me because I am autistic.

Continue reading “Autism & Empowerment: What Gaming Means to Me”

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