Friday, February 5, 2016

5 talking points about Censorship and Localization

Censorship as defined by the American Civil Liberties Union is the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are "offensive".

Censorship happens whenever a group of people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others. Censorship can be carried out by the government, as well as private pressure groups, however Censorship by the government is unconstitutional. 

Video game localization, refers to the process of transforming video game software and hardware for preparation to be imported and sold in a new region, usually a different country. Although translating the text assets is a large part of localization, the process includes any changes made to a game, including altering art assets, creating new packaging and manuals, recording new audio, transforming hardware, and even cutting out whole portions of the game due to differing cultural sensitivities.

The two sound as if they are entirely different from one-another, however there are situations where the two terms tend to intersect.

North America has changed profoundly from what it was in the 1990s . The Internet has opened us up to differing cultures opinions and ideals and became a means for discussion on a larger scale. we have access to more information than ever, and are more open to discussion (when we're not stifling conversation with nonsense) on varying topics of interest . With all that being said it seems that while we're gaining more insight into other cultures and maturing as a global community, Our media seems to be taking huge steps backwards in terms of what Western audiences are capable of handling. The reasons for this seem to vary, but it always falls back to the argument of one group of people feigning outrage in order to get something removed for the supposed sake or safety of everyone else. Despite the fact that everyone may not share those same beliefs or take offense to the subject matter in question.

I want to present five things to consider in the ongoing discussion about censoring content in video games. Grab some popcorn, get settled and prepare to Open your mind, as we discuss this topic of video game censorship.

Number 5: framing the argument..

Fire Emblem Fates has been plagued with problems that seem to have little to do with bugs and more to do with lazy press, and other people using misinformation in order to drum up controversy. This controversy snowballs due to people worrying about the headlines more than actual fact checking, and of course the result is a company having to alter something to capitulate to the outrage generated from the misinformation presented.

This is why you hear things such as “Gay conversion therapy”, something that has roots in American Christianity but never existed Japanese culture, because that evokes an emotional response that would cause you on an individual level to become irritated and outraged about this particular instance and want the content removed. Thus furthering an agenda. Nevermind the fact that Japan actually has no discrimination laws against homosexuality, and Buddhism, much likeShintoism being more sex-positive and tolerant towards same sexrelationships as opposed to the West's Christian puritanical leanings. With that being said there is still a push for more mainstream acceptance of homosexuality in Japan but the country is actually more historically progressive than America in many aspects.
The end result of this misinformation storm is Nintendo altering support conversations for a character who's sexual preference has been dictated by people who have absolutely no hand in the character's creation. How's that for objectification?

Currently, the same offended parties are congratulating themselves over the removal of the “skinship” mini game, a game where you invite members of your party to your room and basically proceed in massaging their heads and faces to gain affinity and statistical bonuses for use in the main campaign. The procedure sounds odd out of context, doesn't it? Well on paper, I'm sure the following games, which used the same concept did as well.

In each situation you're using a sense of touch as a means of communicating complex emotions to another person, or animal. In the meat-space, we would use touch to not only communicate, but to strengthen relationships and familial bonds. In fact tactile signals are used as an aspect of nonverbal communicationsince birth. The problem is, however that touching is more acceptable in some cultures than others. .
So now we have a completely altered support conversation using a gender bending plot device that has been part of Japanese culture for literal decades. And a mini game that featured events that usually mimic what I can only liken it to foreplay for blind people being axed for literally no reason at all. The sad thing is, this is that these wouldn't have been problems if it weren't for a few bloviating moral busybodies trying to drum up controversy to save their failing scandal rags.

Xenoblade Chronicles localization resulted in removing a cosmetic slider that increased bust size because I'm sure having large breasts seems “unrealistic” by north American standards, eh? 

I'm sure those are as realistic as she is...
. Just as unrealistic as girls wearing bikinis in-game, despite the game allowing your characters to wear armor that would conceal any offending body parts. But let's not talk about teenagers wearing bikinis or Maid outfits for that matter, because then we would talk about Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water and why it was so important to remove those maid and swimsuit outfits which are purely optional to wear.

It's quite easy to place the blame on Nintendo of America. The company has a vast history of censoring the content of games to the point of absurdity. To be fair, NoA has also taken out content that that may be culturally insensitive like Bowser's win taunt where he flips the camera the bird in Super Mario RPG, but then again you also have the bizarre case of Mortal Kombat being neutered in 1992. A move which ultimately saved their bacon during the 1993 senate hearings, but was a total commercial failure for the company, and pushed a number of teenage and adult gamers into Sega's camp. While it's easy to make the case that this is merely history repeating, I'm going to leave that for you to decide on your own. (I also have included a link to an interview with A former Lucas Arts employee who worked with NoA on localizing the NES game Maniac Mansion.)
We could also blame the ESRB as the reason for the changes, however, according to Op Rainfall's interview with Xseed Vice President Ken Berry, It seems like that might not be the case at all.. 

With games like Oneechanbara and Senran Kagura there seem to be this issue where companies like Atlus and NISA are forced to censor their video games for Western audiences. XSEED doesn’t seem to ever be included in this conversation, but was it ever in the discussion that you might have to censor a title due to cultural differences?

Yes, all the time. The good and bad thing is our localization team is made up of many vocal audiences online against censorship. Tom Lipschultz is the most vocal of them, he's often says publicly that, “Nothing should ever be censored”. Knowing that . We do always try to keep the original creators vision in mind when we localize stuff as long as it can be excepted in the US. The ESRB is probably more lenient then what people think because they’ve been clear to us that it isn’t their job to censor anything it’s their job to just rate the content. So most of the time we present the content as is and they come back with an M rating, which we understand, but if they come back with an AO than we have to have some discussions about what to censor in order to get that to an M rating. Otherwise, none of the platform holders allow an AO product on their platform.

So if XSEED was faced with the decision to censor a game would you continue to localize it or would it change your mind about the whole thing?
That would place us in a very very difficult position because censoring it would alienate the very audience that we are trying to bring the game for while not really appeasing any of the critics that had no purchase intent in the first place. So we’d be doing a lot of extra work and going through a lot of extra trouble and pleasing nobody. So hopefully we’re never in that position.

Did you catch that, dear reader? Berry states that it's the ESRB's job is to rate content not censor it, and they are more lenient than people believe. If both are the case, then the question that begs to be answered is are these things really being removed for the sake of a proper rating, or are we just cowering at any sign of controversy, and letting the loudest voices have their way?

Number 4: “One man's obscenity...”

According to this person, the Fire Emblem Amie game is deemed too “Creepy?” ( The question mark makes me wonder if this person is trying to get validation for their personal opinions or are trying to borrow a feeling. I can't quite figure it out )

But ultimately that seems to be how it always plays out. The person on the outside with no interest in said subject, makes an observation based on their own personal biases and proceeds to attack said thing because of those biases. Of course, this behavior is not new.
The ACLU website states that Sex in art and entertainment is the most frequent target of censorship crusades. Which is no surprise considering there are people out there that share the bizarre belief that

everything is sexist everything is racist and everything is homophobic and we have to point that all out

With that being said, one must understand that when having debates like these about questionable content being removed, the first thing you often see is people virtue signaling and throwing out their puritanical sentiments in order to shame others into submission.

These are tactics being used when discussing DOA Extreme 3 being left in Japan and the censorship of Street Fighter V . In the latter, R. Mika's buttslap taunt and Some frames of Cammy were altered in their ultras combo animations. The excuse as to why was explained as “making the game accessible to newcomers” to “notwanting to make people feel uncomfortable”. That would have been fine and good until they revealed the DLC costumes...
Maybe they're more boob people than butt people?

The most common argument when discussing this usually is ..

“ You just want to see tits and ass! Then go look at porn!”

Yeah, so what if I do?

If I drop money into something that I intend to spend countless amounts of hours enjoying, I deserve all the rights and privileges that come with it. simple as that. In fact, That's my right as a consumer and as an adult. I pay my rent and my bills, I cook my own meals. I deserve to be entertained however I damn well please.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with admiring the human body. As an artist, I've taken figure drawing classes and have seen the human figure to the point of where these things are a non issue to me, I'm sure there are others out there that feel the same. Why then is there such a huge push for to censor this kind of material?

The ACLU website has some insight on this.

American law is, on the whole, the most speech-protective in the world -- but sexual expression is treated as a second-class citizen. No causal link between exposure to sexually explicit material and anti-social or violent behavior has ever been scientifically established, in spite of many efforts to do so. Rather, the Supreme Court has allowed censorship of sexual speech on moral grounds -- a remnant of our nation's Puritan heritage.

This does not mean that all sexual expression can be censored, however. Only a narrow range of "obscene" material can be suppressed; a term like "pornography" has no legal meaning . Nevertheless, even the relatively narrow obscenity exception serves as a vehicle for abuse by government authorities as well as pressure groups who want to impose their personal moral views on other people.

Did you catch that last statement? I'll elaborate..

PORNOGRAPHY is not a legal term at all. Its dictionary definition is "writing or pictures intended to arouse sexual desire." Pornography comes in as many varieties as the human sexual impulse and is protected by the First Amendment unless it meets the definition for illegal obscenity.

Obscenity's definition is the state or quality of being obscene; obscene behavior, language, or images. So even with that information the term is just as subjective as what qualifies as pornography. Granted the ESRB states that M and AO rated games are determined by strong language extreme violent content gore and strong sexual themes, T rated games can get away with quite a bit just by using animated violence suggestive themes double-ententes and a really good sense of placement.
Only 90's kids will get this?

Ask yourself these questions; Of both Street Fighter V and DOA Extreme 3, was there any content in either that can be considered objectively obscene? Or is it a matter of subjectively viewing the content as such from those same moral busybodies trying to push their ideals onto everyone else? And if it truly is the case that none of the content is objectively obscene why are we still under some strange notion that we should remove this content in order to improve a game?

Number 3 - “The the law of equivalent exchange”

Going back to Fire Emblem Fates, so you decided to remove content from your game, because a group of people who most likely won't even considering playing the game felt offended by it. Instead of insulting you for not having the courage to stand up for the integrity your intellectual property, I want to pose this question;

Will this removal of content be worth shortening the playtime of your game?

Oh of course , this won't effect the overall playtime of the campaign mind you, but think about all the extra hours and time that people put into Pokemon X and Y's Pokemon amie mini game, as well as the Super training mini games. To the layman those games may have seemed to be quite useless when it comes to finishing the main campaign of the game, however they provided countless hours of stat building and bonding , both ensuring that your pokemon would be stronger faster and willing to cooperate with you in your fight against other trainers. This was very useful in the metagame aspect of the series, and is part of what helped the game to sell 12 million copies world wide in the first five months since their launch.

Likewise Supports work in the same way in the Fire Emblem universe, providing a stronger bond and in-game statistical bonuses that will help in battles in the main campaign and versus battles. Sure Soleil's support conversation will be altered so that won't really hinder the game, but what about the hours of dialogue that is getting axed with the removal of skinship?

In Famitsu Vol. 485, Masahiro Sakurai makes some interesting points when dealing with people who call for the removal of content in games.

I recently took a look at user reviews for Fire Emblem Fates, and what stood out to me was the overabundance of comments saying “I don’t need this; I don’t need that, either,” especially in comparison to reviews of other titles.

One such feature users commented on was the ability to invite your companions into your house and stroke their heads and faces to raise your affinity level. Basically, you bring them into your room—regardless of whether you’re married or not—and give them a rubdown. Even I chuckled to myself the first time I played: “What is this, Pok√©mon? Nintendogs!?” Some reviewers, however, went one step further and said, “We don’t need this!”

I’m not a big fan of dating sims myself, so I can’t say I don’t understand their disinterest to a certain extent. At the same time, however, the feature in question doesn’t have any impact on one’s ability to complete the game, so if it bothers you so much, then don’t use that feature.

Say you buy a boxed lunch and it happens to contain a variety of foods, including one you hate. Even if you love everything else about the meal, are you going to single out the one food you dislike and lambast the entire meal for it? What about the people who happen to love that food? Is a meal only worth it insofar as it caters to your each and every preference?

Developers include all sorts of bonus features simply because they want to provide a little something extra for the fans. Even if one were to remove these bonus features from the game, it doesn’t mean that would “make room” for something else. That isn’t how it works.
Number 2- Maturity plays a large part in games “growing up”

I remember a few years ago Gaming news sites were trying to tell us that “Games need to grow up”. Whatever that means. You'll notice that the same outlets and journalists that have tried to push that sentiment are the same ones that look towards anything that has sexual overtones or characters showing skin and unironically yell out “EWW GROSS” like children. Between seeing this behavior and the temper tantrums when dealing with opinions that don't match up with theirs in particular, it's quite easy to come to the conclusion that we may have individuals who are of adult age but haven't quite reached a state of full maturity.
Maturity means dealing with adult things in a responsible manner. That also goes for sex and sexual situations. Taking that into consideration Why are we still treating games that are rated T and up like the people playing them can't even handle or accept mature themes? I was under the assumption that being a teenager meant that you should be taking preparations to enter adulthood. This is why we have sexual education classes, and programs suited to teach young adults how to handle things post high school.

Then again we do have a bunch of regressive children (air quotes) crying on college campuses about “safe spaces” and now the college is more a home than it is an intellectual space now don't we?

We often throw out that tired ESA statement about how half of gamers are women, but we never really talk about how the ESA found that the average age of gamers is 31. Let that sink in for a second. As of last year The ESA also states that 29% of gamers are under the age of 18 , meaning there are a lot of adults out there playing video games. Which begs us to ask the question again. Who are you censoring these games for?

Number 1 – know your audience

There are Western gamers out there who don't want to play games that are a shell of what was originally intended to be released. I am obvious one of those gamers, but there are many more out there, and they are willing to put money down in order to play these games as they are.

Meanwhile we have games journalists out here trying to make the case for arguing why coercing a game to censor it's content through bad press isn't censorship, while trying to lie and say that this isn't an issue. As we've stated before, at the top of the video, pressuring someone into changing something because you don't like it is in fact censoring. Even trying to muscle companies into leaving games you find “Gross” or offensive in their country of origin in forcing self censorship, or as we're starting to figure out, a case of adults trying to dictate what other adults can enjoy. As consumers, we don't have to take any of that nonsense.

Places like IGN, Kotaku, Polygon, or any other rag don't speak for you, nor do they speak for me. Forums like Neo Gaf, aka “The running joke of the internet” don't speak for the entirety of consumers, either.
Logically, catering to people who likely will never buy your product will always result in hurting your company and the loyal members of your consumer base who stuck with you through thick and thin.

The consumers who support you want to enjoy your content, and they Want your products and your company to do well. They will support you even when the press and people who whine and complain about any and everything target you for going against their vocal minority. To companies like Xseed Koei Tecmo and Play Asia, you have my utmost respect for making importing games available. If I actually do decide to get a copy of Fire Emblem Fates, I'll likely get it via import and get the fan translation.

If you feel the same as I do with any of the stances presented, please check out Operation Torrential Downpour,and KiA's Op They don't speak for us and Op No gaming censorship.

-See you next bossfight!


  1. I am going disagree on statement number one since you forget that Nintendo doesnt give a rats ass about petitions or non corp social media blitzes. From the moment the Japanese wageslave becomes part of his game company workforce one key tenant is to ensure the maximum satisfaction of the journalists. If they get angry you bust ypur ass to make ammends since they are ones who provide the information that draws in your audience. But the big thing is Japanese Culture dont rock the boat. Western Journalism on the othernhand have been obsessed with feel good gluten free mindsets and have poisoned their reviews. Think SK2, Akiba's trip and Whatever installation from Neptunia and see how they compared it to shovelware.

    That is the first they see. Not our cries.

    And Japan has no idea on how to handle that. All they see is negative reviews and opinion pieces from the people they had paid off to be shills and yet these shills are acting inappropriately and they now have to make amends like they are so used to with their own journalists. That is why they censor because it is what was drilled into their minds

    And sadly the method worked since Fates was spared from the journalist's wrath.

  2. To respond to the statement that "Japan has no idea how to deal with North American negative press"

    Nintendo has been at odds with the gaming press since the Gamecube, and notoriously been bashed by sites like IGN. Matt Casamassina's IGN article "Nintendo is Lazy and you don't care" was a slam piece on New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Nintendo's lack of not producing more "hardcore" games despite a lack of solid effort on the part of third party developers, but That was just the tip of the iceberg.

    I remember listening to 1up podcasts back in 2009 where people were just breaking Non Disclosure Agreements on Punch Out just for the sake of getting the early scoop on Piston Hondo's reveal. ( Gaming press had been annoyingly favorable to PS3 and Xbox 360 while Nintendo at the time, were often the but of most jokes. Which was where we got the casual vs Hardcore nonsense of last generation.

    Ultimately, Nintendo created the Nintendo Week / Iwata talks, and Nintendo direct series. to circumvent the press to better promote their own products. The results, while arguable, were actually favorable for Nintendo. It's also become an option that Disney is looking into for their E3 presentation.


    I'm wondering if more Japanese developers would stand to benefit from the same, while keeping the PR at arms length? IF IGN, Polygon, and Kotaku want to focus more on controversy instead of what they claim they're about then pass them over for sites that legitimately care about news and getting information out about upcoming games.

    Stranger Still, why is Nintendo now buddy buddy with these folks, when they know that at any time, the same press that praised Fates to the moon will turn on them over misconstruing their actions (Tomodochi Life, anyone?), later?