Tag Archives: censorship

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.


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.


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.

Violence Against Video Game Characters

With the news that GTA V has been pulled from Target and Walmart in Australia because of how violence against female sex workers is portrayed, I’ve been hearing a very familiar cry on Twitter and in comment sections. “What about men?!” “Why is it okay to kill hundreds of men but as soon as you add a woman it’s a problem?”

First of all, people have complained about violence in video games in general. Many, many, many, times. Protests have been launched, petitions have been written. While Canada doesn’t tend to ban games, a number of games have been banned or refused classification in Australia because of violence. The majority of those were banned for general graphic violence, not specifically violence against women (50 Cent Bulletproof, Dark Sector, The Getaway, Manhunt, Postal 1/2, Reservoir Dogs, Soldier of Fortune). Australia has also banned games due to sexual content or depictions of drug use.

But let’s ignore the above and pretend that only games with violence against women are subject to criticism and bans. Why would this be?

In the latest Call of Duty, you’re at war and you mow down hundreds of enemy forces. It’s hard to tell for sure with full body armor on, but they’re most likely all men.

Tomb Raider - Lara killing a man who is on fire

In the reboot of the Tomb Raider series, Lara goes around an island killing hundreds of men. Only men. There are no women. If you paid attention to the game you’d know that there are no women on the island because they’ve all already been killed (by the men). But again, ignore that, not relevant to how terribly video games treat dudes.

In Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (excuse the somewhat dated reference, but it’s the only GTA I’ve played all the way through), Tommy murders hundreds, maybe thousands of people, mostly men, in his quest to become the crime boss of the city. Running over pedestrians (of either sex) and beating up hookers (always female) is not a requirement to taking over the city, but sometimes he enjoys doing it in his free time.

These poor men have it tough in video games. They’re always getting tortured, shot, run over, killed. Why is this okay, but as soon as you murder a woman in a video game, people start crying foul?

Take your average military shooter. You’re likely playing as a male, and you’re most likely shooting other men. If you’re not also shooting women, it’s because there aren’t any in the game. This makes me question why there aren’t any women. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’d have no problem with seeing women on the battlefield (maybe I could even play as one in the campaign sometimes?) and having to mow them down along with the men. Equal opportunity senseless killing, that’s all I ask.

In Tomb Raider, the reason Lara kills hundreds of men is because they’re trying to kill her. They’ve kidnapped her friends and if Lara doesn’t kill them, her and her friends will all die. This is how action games work – the player kills aggressors who are trying to kill them.

In GTA and other open world games, you can generally kill anyone you want. However the aggressors in the game, the ones you have to kill, do tend to be males. Would people be upset if the aggressors were females instead? I certainly wouldn’t. I was pleasantly surprised when I played Saint’s Row: The Third and found that the members of my rival gangs were made of both men and women. Women can be bad guys too. It’s okay. Even better, female antagonists can be created that are actual characters with motivations beyond ‘shoot the player’. Rival gang leaders, mercenaries, corrupt law enforcement officers – put a female in one of these roles and I have no problem with having to kill them to progress in the game. The joy I get from having women in these games outside of strip clubs and street corners greatly outweighs any other issues I’d have.

GTA V - sex workers on the corner

The problem with the portrayal of violence against women, and sex workers in particular, in video games is that these characters, scratch that they aren’t characters and that’s part of the problem. These women are not your enemy. They don’t stand in your way to progress, they are no threat to you. They exist, wear skimpy clothing, and flirt to stimulate the player. That’s their purpose. They don’t impact the story. The player has the option to use them and then kill them. They aren’t necessarily rewarded for this behavior, but they probably aren’t punished either. If in Tomb Raider Lara stumbled upon a man on the beach who was offering pony rides and shot him in the face then I’d have a problem. I’d question why the developers put this scenario in the game. Likewise, I’d have an issue if the next GTA portrayed male sex workers who were completely unrelated to the story that a player could use and then kill.

I’m not a proponent of censorship. While Australia banning video games constitutes actual censorship, retail chains in Australia choosing to pull GTAV off their shelves is not. They can choose to sell or not sell whatever they like. What I am an advocate of is developers and consumers being critical of the media they produce and consume. When female sex workers are added to a game to be ogled, groped, or fucked then thrown away, what is it adding to the game? Is it taking away more than it adds? Is it more trouble than it’s worth just to make your game seem gritty?

Many video games are violent, and that’s not ever going to change. While the gender of the people you shoot or fight in games shouldn’t be an issue, it is because males tend to be the aggressors where it’s a matter of kill or be killed, while females are generally not a threat to the player. They get killed to move the story or a quest forward, give a male character a reason to seek revenge, or just because the player feels like killing them. While a couple of the examples aren’t perfect, if you haven’t watched them yet I’d recommend Anita Sarkeesian’s videos on Women as Background directions (part 1, part 2), as they really show how prevalent this issue is in games, especially in AAA titles.