Nintendo shamelessly commodifies Chinese New Year

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2012 is the Year of the Dragon, which means it’s the perfect time to buy dragon-themed games on the Nintendo 3DS eShop! At least, that’s how the company seems to be pitching Chinese New Year.

I’m not sure how I missed this last week, but currently buried in Nintendo’s online store for their latest portable console, is a link simply titled “Year of the Dragon.” It's accompanied by a 3D picture of the creature. The company apparently did not deem it necessary to include any other information…like, say, how in Chinese culture, every year in a cycle of twelve corresponds to a different animal. Or that this holiday can be kind of a big deal for about 1/5th of the world’s population. I’m not sure if they left those parts out as some form of ironic tact or just laziness. Clicking on the link just brings up a list of games for sale that have the word “dragon” in them.

That’s pretty damn lame, and I find it a bit disrespectful. Never mind the countless number cheaply made, Chinese-themed trinkets that the owners of those small shops in Chinatown sell to tourists. I expect more from Nintendo, and I’m taken aback by this shameless marketing gimmick.


Perhaps last week Nintendo had more information on Chinese New Year in the eShop, when the holiday was a little more relevant, and now that it’s old news, they just left the link up. But why would they take out that important context? What about folks who live in remote areas who rarely come into contact with Asian people and know little to nothing about Chinese culture outside of what they see in movies, TV, and games? Maybe Nintendo is just taking a “who cares whether or not those consumers learn something” approach. All they’re doing is promoting titles like Double Dragon and Dragon’s Lair, right?

And that’s the stupid part. Why go through the trouble of superficially acknowledging a very significant holiday in another culture when all they want to do is highlight and sell more games? When Ramadan comes along, will Nintendo group together games that have crescent moons and stars in them? Even if the company featured more information on Chinese New Year last week, what we have now is an ambiguous yet crass promotion that commodifies the holiday and diminishes its cultural relevance.

I recognize that showing off different titles is important to drive sales, especially for content made by independent developers who lack marketing resources, but next time, Nintendo, try to do it with a little more class. That is, if we ever see a next time. 2013 is the Year of the Snake, and I can’t seem to find any relevantly named games for them to show off.

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