Nintendo this week became another member of the growing list of companies that have given in to outrage mobs on the internet after it decided to remove references to a 30-year old game in upcoming Super Smash Bros. Ultimate on Nintendo Switch.
Except unlike the typical Twitter storm, this time around the “outrage mob” was akin to an angry middle aged woman at a supermarket, screaming about the fact that her grapes had gone sour after. For it wasn’t an army of angry, offended victims that made Nintendo bow to the pressure but a single post on a closed, walled off section of the internet.
A forum post on ResetEra pointed out that the character Mr. Game & Watch has an attack that mimics the art style of its origins: a handheld game with the computational powers of an inexpensive LCD watch released around 1980. The game was called Fire Attack and featured a character in a cowboy hat defending a wooden fort as enemy characters attempted to set fire to the structure with a match. Players had to block the matches to earn points.
All characters in the game were simply designed as black silhouette, stick-figure characters. The enemies were distinguished only by their head wear: a single feather stuck to the back of their head. The background artwork of the handheld system (which was incapable of changing) appeared to have a “Wild West” inspired backdrop with cacti.
In Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the Mr. Game & Watch character can be seen in some second-long clips shown only to Japanese audiences to use an attack that references the enemies in Fire Attack;. His standard, “plain” design changes briefly to a design where he is wearing the feather. Users on the forum were quick to point out this inclusion was “racist”. Outrage ensued.
The outrage movement gained slight attention outside the walled garden of ResetEra when blog site <a href=”https://www.sankakucomplex.com/2018/11/04/smash-bros-native-american-attack-deemed-racist/” target=”_blank”>Sankaku Complex</a> picked up the story. Eventually, larger sites reached out to Nintendo who issued this statement:
“Nintendo has been planning to distribute an update for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate that removes the feather from the silhouette of Mr. Game & Watch. The original game on which this depiction of the character is based was released more than three decades ago and does not represent our company values today. We sincerely apologise that this change was not noticed in our marketing material and are continuing our work to make ‘Super Smash Bros. Ultimate’ an experience that is both welcoming and fun for everyone.”
According to the Oxford Dictionary, “racist” is defined as “showing or feeling discrimination or prejudice against people of other races, or believing that a particular race is superior to another.” If the character can indeed be interpreted as a Native American — and none of the marketing materials suggest that was the intent, going all the way back to the 1980’s — then I submit it’s more racist to remove the reference than it would’ve been to leave it in.
Nintendo doesn’t have a huge amount of representation when it comes to Native Americans in its video games. Even Nintendo’s “Wild West” style series, Dillon’s Rolling Western, makes no reference to the People despite the games being heavily influenced by the era of arguably most contention between Westerners and indigenous Americans.
Other characters from different games have seemed to avoid controversy despite being more fleshed out, more stereotypical, more objectified and having strikingly similar designs. Take for instance the characters Michelle and Julia Chang from Namco’s <em>Tekken</em> series. Both are represented with the same headband worn by Mr. Game & Watch, feather included. Media described those characters, though, as “Best Looking Sideline Chicks in Games” and celebrated the “diversity” those characters brought to the games.
According to non-profit organisation Native Languages of the Americas (excellent) website, the style of headbands worn by these characters did not have any special sybolic meaning and were worn for their beauty.
Of course, no actual Native American group took any offence to any of these characters. There was no discrimination, the character doesn’t become inferior once it becomes Native American. Usually the “fire attack” is actually a comparatively strong one, such as it was in Super Smash Bros. Melee.
Since Nintendo’s statement was sent to media outlets, no group has come forward slamming or shaming the publisher for creating the character design. The only people who were calling for the change was the folks over on ResetEra forum which requires manual administrator approval for new accounts.
By deleting this harmless reference to Native American (if it could be successfully argued that was indeed the reference) removes one of the few references the video game world has to the people in playable form. Banging down the doors of Nintendo and other game publishers that have these references in their games forces those publishers to “white wash” these characters in a bid to pacify the people who aren’t even in the proper position to be offended in the first place.
Of course, no one has yet decided take offence to the fact that the entire game’s premise is to beat the living crap out of characters, including children, female characters and animals. You’d think it would be an easy target.
And in an age where these same outrage mobs are calling for more inclusion, more “realistic” character design, more diversity, what the hell is wrong with having a Native American character in one of the biggest video game franchises on the planet?