Censorship in Video Games

There’s currently a movement going on in games (no, not that one) called 1 Million Gamers Strong for Japanese Gaming. It’s a petition to a number of Japanese developers to a) release their games in the West and b) not modify their game’s content for release in the West. On the surface I don’t see anything wrong with this. Other than the name, because based on the petition it should be called something more along the lines of 7 Thousand Gamers Strong for Japanese Gaming. But otherwise, it’s cool. I personally won’t sign because I don’t care that much about any of the games that aren’t being released or think any changes are altering the fundamental nature of the games, but to each their own. Some of the changes being rallied against are: lack of release of Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 in North America, removal of skimpy optional costumes for a 13 year old character in Xenoblade Chronicles X, and removal of a close-up butt slap of R Mika in Street Fighter V. For more examples and a look at censorship vs. localization check out this investigative article.

R Mika Street Fighter

What I do have a problem with is who is being blamed for Japanese games being modified and how easily the word censorship is thrown around. Big surprise, the supporters of this campaign (who seem to have some overlap with that other gaming movement) are blaming the evil games media and those darn SJWs for any changes to games that come out of Japan. Will some people criticize a game for over-sexualizing female characters? Sure. Do developers have to listen to those critics? Nope. So, while I think petitioning a Japanese developer to not change things is all well and good, assigning blame to people who have no control over the games is not.

ESRB

Let’s talk a little bit about the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, which can influence games to modify their content. Its rating system encompasses guidance about age-appropriateness, content, and interactive elements in Canada and the US. It was created in 1994, as a response to concerns about violence in video games. Though it has no legal authority to enforce retailers sales policies, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony all refuse to allow games rated Adults Only (AO) to be published on their platforms and most retailers won’t stock these games either. AO ratings are given to games that are found to contain high amounts of content that is violent, profane, sexual or pornographic. Because many game companies and retailers won’t publish or sell AO games, it’s in the best commercial interest for games to not be rated AO. So, sometimes the most extreme content gets removed. Examples of this include Indigo Prophecy removing full frontal female nudity to obtain an M rating in 2005, and Manhunt 2 removing some of the more graphic violence to obtain an M rating on consoles in 2007. Few games have been given an AO rating, though funnily enough there’s one that I did QA for and captured footage to submit to the ESRB on the list.

Game companies can get in trouble for misrepresenting the content of their game to get a lower rating, and in Canada the law prohibits the sale of M or AO-rated games to people under a certain age. But there’s no law that says Microsoft can’t publish or sell an AO rated game. If there was, that would be actual censorship. But as it stands, these actions are voluntary. If people have problems with these kinds of changes, that’s fine, but blame is often miscast. When the ESRB was started in 1994 no one had heard of Anita Sarkeesian and the phrase “gamers are over” had yet to embed itself in the minds of scared gaming fans everywhere.

Slippery Slope

One of the arguments that gets brought up often is that game modifications (not calling it censorship, because it’s not) are a slippery slope. If a developer feels pressured to take out a gratuitous ass close-up today (though since developers stay mostly silent on this issue we can’t even be sure that they are feeling pressured), what changes will they have to make tomorrow? Here’s the thing… games have been modified to take cultural differences into account since the beginning. Sexual content has been removed from games that come from Japan to North America. Violence has been removed from games that go from America to Japan. Drug references have been removed from games sold in Australia. Some games made in Japan just don’t get released here – Mother, Policenauts. It wasn’t due to delicate Western sensibilities, it just didn’t work out that way.

xenoblade chronicles x lynlee

Nintendo specifically has a long history of modifying games to bring onto their consoles. Deja Vu, a game which initially came out for Mac in 1985 had visual references to alcohol, drugs and blood removed from the game. Maniac Mansion, first released for DOS in 1987, removed all sexual innuendo (and as a result was a lot less funny) on the NES. Super Castlevania IV (1991) removed crucifixes and clothed a naked statue for the North American release of the game (compared to the Japanese version). Reign of Fire (2002) was cut in order to obtain a Teen ESRB rating for the Gamecube, while it was left alone and rated Mature on other consoles. Nintendo has historically been a company that sells itself as family-friendly and makes changes to games to make them both culturally and age appropriate. Small changes like removing an optional skimpy costume or changing a character’s age seems exactly like something Nintendo of America would do and consistent with their history – no SJW boogeyman necessary.

It’s not just Nintendo. Let’s take one of my favourite games – Snatcher, developed by Konami. Between its release in Japan in 1988 and its release in North America in 1994 a ton of changes were made. A female character (who you see almost naked in the Japanese version) has her age changed from 14 to 18 and appears less naked in the NA version. The naked breast of another female character was covered up. Also, a controversial in-game meal of whale meat was changed to buffalo meat. Why? Because Japan and North America are culturally different and find different things weird. There were also a ton of changes made for copyright reasons so Konami didn’t get sued.

So, we’ve got a character’s age changed and a naked breast removed in Snatcher in 1994. And now a character’s age has been changed in Bravely Default in 2014 and some bare asscheeks shifted out of frame in Street Fighter V in 2015. Hmm… 21 years, exact same types of changes to games coming from Japan to North America. This slippery slope doesn’t appear to be all that slippery. In fact, it seems more like a plain.

So…

If people want to petition Japanese game companies to not modify their content when bringing it to North America, that’s A-okay with me. I have no problem with it (though to be honest, if you’re really that upset about not being able to put a 13 year old video game character in a bikini I may question your life choices). However, target your energy at the companies actually making the changes, don’t scapegoat the “hostile” media and the mean feminists who may be critical of the games. People will criticize games – whether it’s about sexualized characters, bad writing, or shitty game mechanics – and that’s a good thing. If we want video games to be accepted as an art form, protected from censorship, we need to accept that criticism is an important part of art. Criticism is what pushes a medium forward and asks it to be better. It’s what relates video games to the rest of the world. If gaming companies change their content or don’t want to release their games here because they can’t handle criticism or want to avoid it altogether, that’s on them.

11 responses to “Censorship in Video Games

  1. These days a lot of the ratings shenanigans should not be such a factor for game companies, as we move more toward digital access. A large part of the business decisions behind cutting content to mollify ratings boards was to ensure retail access, but if retail is becoming obsolete, we should see more games embrace their R or AO ratings.

    As that happens, we will probably see more direct impacts of critical reviews and petitions on content, including cut versions. THEN, those unnamed movements will have more solid ground when blaming the darn SJWs for making it less easy to access the disturbing content they demand. Even then, however, it would still be a business decision that the company is solely responsible for. Some, like Rockstar, are absolutely fine with having the disturbing content front and centre in their games. They have not suffered one bit. But many other companies will be susceptible to public opinion, and will want to court a wider market. If that means making changes that a minority are upset by, so be it – but you are right, it is ultimately the company’s decision. Any blame should be cast there.
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    • Even going more digital, I don’t see solid ground for blaming anyone who’s not actually part of the decision-making process for any game content cut or edited. As you say, Rockstar doesn’t give a fuck about all the criticism that GTA has received over its violence and sexism, and other developers really don’t have to either. People just like to be mad at others on the Internet.

  2. Just a quick heads-up: You can still microwave the hamster in the microwave in the NES version of Maniac Mansion. I guess they, uh, missed that…

    • Hmm, I’m sure they took it out in some version. Was it the European one?

      I’m realizing now when I played it on NES I didn’t use the right character to microwave it.

  3. C.S.Strowbridge

    “…though to be honest, if you’re really that upset about not being able to put a 13 year old video game character in a bikini I may question your life choices.”

    This needs to be said more often. If you are complaining that video games imported to North America no longer sexualize underage characters, keep that to yourself. If you go looking for a job and your potential employer checks you online history and finds you complaining about that, you will remain unemployed for a long time.

    • That’s the thing. Some people just have no shame. If you want to argue for the larger issue of games not getting editing for release here, fine, but how can people specifically pick out and argue that they want half-naked adolescents in their games? Ick.

    • ” If you go looking for a job and your potential employer checks you online history and finds you complaining about that, you will remain unemployed for a long time.”

      You say like it’s something normal. Spying on people like that… What you say in internet is your personal life unless you are public person already; Even then, you should have separately your “official” thing like your LinkedIn/Facebook/Twitter page which and your personal stuff like all those forums you are registered as gamer in fan communities etc.

      Some other things, now. Are you 100% sure it’s only adults who are playing Xenoblade X or any other game? It’s 12+ in Eu, 15+ in Japan etc.

      And, of course, about bikini thing. Why exactly it’s considered a sexualization? Don’t teens visit aquaparks and beaches? Neither a game forces you to put these clothes for the whole time of playing.

  4. Personally I think all censorship is horrible. Especially in gaming. Games are our times greatest work of art. There is no other medium that better captures our times best music, artwork, storytelling etc. and simply put you in the middle of it all. To censor this is as horrible as if one would paint over a painting because it was consider to violent, or to sexy or whatever. And really, Xenoblade Chronicles X is especially bad as that game from my point of view is the best game ever created and truly is breathtaking in every way.

    Not a single censorship in that game even makes any sense (you’ll understand if you played the game).

    Still great game worth to pick up on but it’s just sad that it would be censored in the aspects:

    * Lin was censored because she introduces her self as 13 years old if you ask for her age (*Spoiler* she might be alot older). In other words if you find a bathing suits and equip her whit it it’s less revealing. Besides, laws should be for humans that need the protection and not for fictional characters.

    * Breast sliders was removed, woman can in other words not create an avatar that looks like themself in this aspect. This is a little sad as one of the fun aspect of the game is to create an avatar that looks like yourself and thereby putting yourself in the game as one of the last survivors of mankind.

    This is also pretty stupid as even kids game like the sims have this now addays. It’s like a standard feature and just on of like 30 other things you can customize about you’re character.

    * The creator is the mastermind behind final fantasy 4 – 8, Chrono trigger, Secret of mana, Xenogears. Some references to Xenogears was removed for some reason witch from my point of view would have been cool as it’s the same person that created them (not same company).

    In other cases the censorshop actually managed to even change the story (Xenogears, Final fantasy 6, project Zero 5 for example).

    That we do this is as stup as the times trough history when we decided to burn every book of something for whatever the reason or executed great cientists just because we didn’t agree whit them.

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  6. In most cases, drug references are removed from games in Australia because they have been refused classification by our ratings board, which legally bans them from being sold in this country until the publisher/developer submits a version that has the offending material cut from it. The board has a very strict stance on drug use in games, especially when there is incentive or reward for doing so. Just a few days ago some game called Paranautical Activity was refused classification because Adderall was an item available in the game which gave the player a speed increase.

    Great article otherwise, just wanted to point this out as I feel it damages the credibility of the argument being made to claim that the removal of drug use is simply a localization choice when more often than not it is the result of actual censorship.

  7. I just handed a research paper about this exact topic =_=’ . That’s an annoying one, just saying. Anyway, I don’t like censorship. Parents should take care of their kids and get them what suits them. Also, the age verification systems for online stores should be improved. Otherwise, it’s just useless. Everyone can get their hands on games of all types and that’s the problem. Censoring is not needed, what’s needed is supervision. Older gamers can decide for themselves if to buy a game for themselves or not and censoring it will only annoy a large percentage of them, me included.
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