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.

The bloggers who make me think

In the spirit of Listmas, I’ve been thinking about all the blogs I follow and the ones that most often make me think or want to comment and share my opinions. If you don’t already follow these blogs, you should check them out.

A GREEN MUSHROOM

Void at A Green Mushroom has some eclectic game taste and shares first impressions of the games he’s playing. This can be quite handy for getting a quick look at games I haven’t played and deciding which should move up on my list of games to play. When he’s not reviewing games, Void asks interesting questions like Do you use the default character in games? or Is there a popular series that just doesn’t connect with you?

HERDING CATS

I think Liore‘s blog might be the one I comment on most. She doesn’t constrain her blog to games, and also talks a lot about movies and other pop culture. From thoughts on why she’s not watching your stream, to the occasional calling out of nonsense, to lists of the best horror movies, her posts are always interesting and welcoming of other people’s opinions. She also does TWO podcasts, which you can check out on her blog.

MURF VERSUS

And then there’s the progenitor of Listmas himself, Murf! Besides all he does to encourage blogging and participation in the blogosphere, Murf writes a lot of great posts and isn’t afraid of controversial opinions like MMOs are boring or DPS is dumb. He also makes a lot of cool little games and things like this MoviexGame mashup quiz and words gamers use.

IN AN AGE

Azuriel manages to get out solid blog posts multiple times per week. I wish I could do that. Recent posts on Gameplay and Pacing in recent big budget titles have particularly resonated with me, and I enjoy reading reviews of popular games that aren’t afraid to point out their (sometimes considerable) flaws.

STAR-FIRED BEEF

Dahakha‘s Steam challenge is a series of posts that particularly interests me, and occasionally gets me to post more about my own Steam backlog. Though I don’t always share his opinions on games, I like reading other thoughts on the games I’ve played like Mirror’s Edge or Superbrothers: Sword and Sworcery.

Gamer Confessions: Classic Games I’ve Never Played

This post was inspired by Syp over at BioBreak, who confessed to never playing some games that are considered classics. I thought this was a fantastic idea for a post. I’ve played hundreds of video games in my lifetime, but there are a lot that many people consider classics and “must-plays” that I just never got around to.

Metroid

Metroid_boxart

You’d think with the dearth of female game protagonists in the 8-bit era that Metroid would have gotten onto my radar at some point. Nope. I’ve never played any Metroid game. As a kid I don’t think I had heard of it, and as an adult… there are just so many other things to play. I also prefer my NES games to be linear – backtracking and the ability to get lost kind of turn me off this sort of game.

Pokemon

pokemon-07

I know what (who?) Pikachu is, because I don’t live under a rock but when someone mentions Squirtle, Eevee… it usually ends in me running to Google to figure out what they hell they’re talking about. I know the core concept of the Pokemon games, and I think it’s kind of like pet battles in WoW, but there’s so much I don’t know. Why is there a Pokemon Ruby and Emerald and Gold and Silver and Black? So many. Are they different games? I don’t know if it’s my age or lack of a Gameboy growing up, but I feel like I’ve missed the boat on this huge part of gaming culture. I doubt I’ll ever play a Pokemon game.

Half-Life 2

half life

Every few months it seems, the Internet freaks out about the possibility of Half-Life 3 being released. I always feel left out of this particular hype since I never played Half-Life 2. Portal is the only Orange Box game I’ve played.

Final Fantasy (pre-FF7)

FF6-Snes

My first Final Fantasy game was FF7 on PS1. The first ones were never really on my radar as a kid, and I didn’t have a SNES to play the next few. I’ve heard nothing but good things, but for some reason I’ve never picked up any of them. Again, I like my retro games short and linear.

Warcraft

Warcraft-2-Tides-Of-Darkness-Pc

Never playing Warcraft 1-3 is probably the reason I never cared one bit about story in World of Warcraft. I did often feel like I was missing out on something (like being excited about new expansions based entirely on old games). I would actually like to pick up whichever one is considered the best of the 3 games at some point because I do really like strategy games.

Metal Gear Solid

mgs

I have MGS 1-3 sitting on my shelf, waiting to be played. I loved Snatcher so much, so I want to see what else Kojima has made. One day I’ll get around to them.

Mega Man

Megaman

Alright, this is a bit of a lie. I have played one Mega Man game on NES (don’t ask which, I don’t remember) at a friend’s house as a kid. But that’s the extent of my experience with the little blue guy. I’ll probably have to schedule a review of one of the games in order to get me to finally play one.


 

Are there any classic games you’ve never played?

What I’m Playing This Week

I’ve played a lot of games over the past week or so (surprise). There was a Steam sale on and though I should be saving for Christmas, I gave myself a small budget to knock a few things off my wishlist.

Here’s what I’ve been playing…

Fallout 4

It’s finally over. It started out well, but eventually turned into a real slog. That happens with all the open world games, really. I may write up a real review of this one soon.

Dead in Bermuda

I started playing this game on a Friday night and basically didn’t stop playing until Saturday night, aside from a few hours of sleep. This game has a “just one more turn” factor, like Civ.  You play as a group of 8 people who have crashed on a desert island. While doing the normal resource management stuff – finding food, crafting, gathering materials – you also explore the island and run into some mysterious beings who mention a prophecy that you can fulfill which will grant you the power to escape the island. The goal is to find out more and fulfill the prophecy before you all die from starvation, injury, sickness, or from throwing yourselves off a cliff. The encounters while you explore the island are quite amusing, and each day ends with a discussion among the characters which may have implications on their physical and mental state.

Dead in Bermuda

The game is really attractive with a nice, clean interface. It’s not overly complex once you get the hang of it, and it does save your progress each day do you don’t necessarily have to start over if everyone dies. A big part of the game is leveling up the characters. There are 16 different skills that all impact some element of the game in some way – people with high gathering skills find more materials, people with high constitution get less fatigued.

There’s not a ton of incentive for replay, as it seems very little of the game is randomized aside from exactly where things are located and a few character interactions. Hawever, I had a lot of fun with it. I recommend it to those of you who are looking for a good survival/resource management game that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Jade Empire

After all the Bioware talk last month, I felt the need to play the one game from them I’d never tried – Jade Empire. It’s from the same era at Knights of the Old Republic, and it feels very similar. Rather than a user of the Force, you play as a Spirit Monk. Your village gets attacked at the start of the game, your teacher (who seems to be more than he appeared) disappears and you have to go find him to find out the truth about who you are and why you have strange powers.

As expected, the story and interactions with companions are the highlight of the game and there are a lot of interesting sidequests. The combat in the game is quite different than any of Bioware’s other games though. It’s mainly melee combat and each fight is a balance of weak and strong attacks, blocking and dodging. There are multiple different fighting styles and you can switch between them freely. I’m really enjoying this and it’s making me want to replay KOTOR.

Morningstar: Descent to Deadrock

I’m a sucker for an adventure game (or any game) set in space, so picked this one up not too long ago. It’s an okay point and click adventure. Your aim in the game is to repair your ship which has crash landed on a mysterious planet. The story is decent, as are the controls. It does run into the adventure game problem of having a bit too much inventory to deal with – it seems like it could have been reduced for clarity (i.e. do we need both a steel pipe and a steel rod to solve problems?) This resulted in some mindless attempts at combining objects to get past certain puzzles. Also, the voice acting of the main character wasn’t great. Overall it wasn’t bad, but I don’t really recommend this one.

Banished

Banished is a city building strategy game. While I generally like strategy games, this one made me realize how little patience I have for learning complex new games. There are so many features and things to build, it was overwhelming. After spending 20 minutes doing one tutorial and realizing there were 4 or 5 more to go, I decided this probably wasn’t the game for me.

BRoken Sword: Shadow of the Templars

It doesn’t really feel like it, but this point and click adventure game is 20 years old. It follows George, an American lawyer, and Nico, a French journalist as they solve a mystery that involves intrigue, murder, and Templars. I surprised I hadn’t played any of the Broken Sword games earlier, as I love adventure games and I was playing a lot of them when this first game out.

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the TemplarsThe game has it’s good and bad points. The writing is clever and well done, though occasionally too verbose.The puzzles are hit and miss. I had actually started this earlier in the year but quit after the first series of puzzles, which were particularly bad. It started with a sliding block puzzle – not a bad puzzle, sliding blocks are just my personal kryptonite – followed by a ridiculous inventory puzzle that involved using a bullet casing for pretty much everything and a lot of back and forth in order to get into a secret room.

I’m glad I came back to it, as the rest has been pretty good and there have been different puzzle types, like ciphers, which I’m particularly fond of. I think I bought the whole series at one point, and I’ll likely continue on with them when I’ve finished this.

What have you been playing?

Gameplay, Class, and Story in Dragon Age

I’ve been thinking a lot about Bioware games lately, and the role of class and race in storytelling. It was just Bioware month after all – did you catch me on Justice Points? If not, check it out.

In the typical Western fantasy RPG that lets you create your own character, there are two big choices to make at the start – the class you want to play and the race you want to be (and your hairstyle, obviously). Your class – warrior, rogue, mage are the big three though some games offer many more specific classes like druids, priests or rangers – dictates the types of abilities you can use. Your race – Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, etc. – can impact what classes you can choose and may give you certain traits or attributes.

What class you play in RPGs generally has the most impact on mechanics and how you solve problems as opposed to the narrative. Where a warrior may break down a locked door, a rogue may pick the lock or pickpocket the key, and a mage might use a Knock spell. Some games offer quests or things like guilds that can only be accessed by players of a certain class, but these generally don’t have a huge impact on the story. Combat is a big problem to be solved in most games, and class has a huge impact on that. The combat experience of a sword & board warrior is quite different from that of a spirit mage and most players have a preference when it comes to combat style.

Many RPGs can boast that your decisions and character background shape your game experience in some way, but the Dragon Age series in particular takes things a bit further. As evidenced by the name, the first Dragon Age game puts a lot of emphasis on the origin of your character. You can choose to play one of 6 different origin stories – You can be a Daelish elf or a city elf, a Dwarf Noble or commoner, or a Human Noble. Or you can be a Mage. Each of these 6 character types has it’s own unique origin story that acts as the prologue of the game, but the difference in experience doesn’t stop there. If you’re a dwarf from the Noble caste, you’ll have a different experience and understanding of what happens in Orzammar than you would if you were a human. If you’re a city elf you’ll have different conversations when you revisit the alienage in Denerim. If you’re anything but a human noble Alistair will stomp all over your heart after you make him King. Yes, this is a lingering trauma. These little differences based on your origin, along with the changes caused by your choices make the game worth replaying. That’s not where the differences end though, as the Mage class throws you a curveball. While being a warrior or a rogue makes no difference to the game’s narrative and doesn’t impact your origin story, being a Mage changes everything. When you’re a Mage you get a whole different origin story and whether you’re a human or an elf (dwarves can’t practice magic) doesn’t matter. Being a Mage trumps everything else.


Dragon Age Origins mage spells

From a narrative standpoint, this is thematically appropriate and is a great bit of world building. The tensions between the Circle of Mages and the Chantry is one of the defining parts of Thedas. When it’s discovered that someone can use magic they’re shipped off to the Circle where they live under constant surveillance, it doesn’t matter where they came from or what race they are. It makes total sense that being a Mage is going to have a great impact on your experiences in the world as opposed to being a rogue or warrior which really has no impact on story.

Choosing the Mage class in Dragon Age 2 also has a significant impact on how you experience the game. As you make your way to Kirkwall with your family, one of your siblings is killed and who it is is based on your class. If you’re a warrior or a rogue, you go through the rest of the game with your sister, Bethany, a Mage. If you’re a Mage yourself, it’s Carver, the warrior who survives and may become a Templar later on.

Bethany Dragon Age 2

Again, this makes sense from a narrative standpoint. The troubles between the Circle of Mages and the Chantry and Templars is even more at the forefront of this game, eventually reaching a boiling point. Much more tension is created by putting your sibling on the opposite side of the issue from you. Also, it aids in the ability to create a balanced party at the start of the game.

However, as much as it makes sense in the scope of the game world, having your class impact your experience of the story so much causes some issues for me. I like being a mage, I find their abilities more interesting than the other classes and I find them more fun to play. The spells have real synergy and you can change your combat strategy quite considerably based on which skill trees you invest in. There are area of effect spells, direct single target spells, spells that hit in a cone, plus buffs and heals for your party. Warriors are really dull to play. Rogues are a bit more interesting, but still rather button mashy. From a pure mechanics standpoint, I always want to play a mage. That means I’ll probably never get to see things as a Daelish elf in DA:O. In Dragon Age 2 I always have to make a choice – play the class I prefer and never get to experience Bethany’s story or choose a class I’ll have less fun with so I can see this other side of the game. It’s a long game and playing as a class I don’t like will definitely impact my enjoyment.

I can’t think of any other games where the class you choose so greatly impacts the events of the game. It makes sense, in the world of Thedas, that being a mage limits your options. But in the real world, where I want to have fun while playing games, it’s disappointing that fun combat mechanics and differing narrative experiences can be at odds with one another.

Looking for Q & A Questions

This past week I hit 1000 subscribers on YouTube. I’m super excited and thankful to anyone who watches my videos. I’m going to be recording a Q&A video next weekend, if you have any questions you’d like me to answer you can leave them as a comment either here or on the video below.

Thanks!

Rise of the Tomb Raider review

I’ve apparently forgotten how to write. So, here’s a video review of Rise of the Tomb Raider!