Thursday, 3 December 2015

Censorship in Games - Are Developers Pandering to the Wrong Audience?

In spite of not following gender issues in gaming as closely as I used to, I still follow plenty of people on Twitter to keep myself informed of what gaming's most easily-offended critics are currently annoyed about and how gender issues play a part in gaming nowadays.

It isn't like there has been a shortage of issues to write about. For Street Fighter V, Capcom released an update that switched camera angles for two characters -- Cammy and R. Mika -- to make their poses less provocative. There have been two localisation changes for Xenoblade Chronicles X; adding more clothing to a bikini-clad thirteen-year-old character and removing a slider to change a custom female character's bust size. The Western release of the newest Fatal Frame game has several revealing alternate costumes omitted, replaced with costumes paying tribute to Samus and Zelda instead. And most recently, Koei Tecmo US has chosen not to release Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 in the West, only for to criticise the move and pledge to sell the English-language version released in Asian markets through their website.

There are two reasons behind all of this censorship/refusal to ship games to the West. The first is specific to Xenoblade and Fatal Frame and it's due to Nintendo's steadfast family-friendly image. They're basically doing the exact same thing they did back in the late eighties and early nineties, when they would censor minor instances of nudity, as was the case in games like Final Fantasy VI, seen here:

Examples from the Japanese Super Famicom/GBA, American SNES and Western GBA releases of FFVI.
Where this falls apart is when games like Fatal Frame deal with horror, death and suicide and these are somehow considered less controversial than a woman in lingerie as an alternate costume. The number of games that feature dismemberment, disembowelings and beheadings are somehow considered acceptable compared to a game featuring women playing volleyball. The gaming media has stirred up a non-controversy to such an extent that Japanese developers are under the impression that all Western gamers are uncomfortable or offended by sexuality, rather than just a very vocal minority with high-profile positions. And no talented game developer wants to be called a 14-year-old boy by some talentless hack at Kotaku.

Which leads to the second reason: good ol' fashioned prudishness. I know I've said this before -- probably several times -- but it's remarkable that an audience who claim to want video games to "mature" as a medium have such a fundamentally immature attitude towards sexuality in games. What kind of adult feels threatened by a bunch of polygons on a screen? Essentially what we have here is a tiny contingent of critics who feel it is appropriate to bully and shame developers into making the games they want, based on what they feel is suitable for all Western audiences. Gaming critics have reached the peak of entitlement and the worrying thing is that they're the ones being pandered to by game developers now.

Obviously, there is nothing wrong with characters in games being sexually attractive. Developers have a right to create any kinds of characters they want and audiences, men and women, have the right to enjoy them (as a matter of fact, one of the criticisms against Xenoblade's removal of the bust size slider was that it prevented large-chested female gamers creating characters similar in appearance to themselves). Petty authoritarian bullies stomping their feet and throwing a tantrum because they feel uncomfortable is their issue. It isn't the developer's responsibility to change their game because of hurt feelings.

Regarding Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, game developer American McGee wrote this on Facebook regarding the whole issue. He isn't the only person to speak out against this type of censorship. Following the news that DOAX3 wasn't going to receive a Western release, a female voice actress tweeted this:

(The tweet has since been deleted so, out of respect for the voice actress, I've redacted her name. I wouldn't want her to suffer online harassment or lose voice acting work for speaking out against feminism.)

Apart from the obvious reasons why this is an issue -- games having content removed/not being localised because of puritanical outrage -- it's also an issue because of the recurring claim from gaming's Social Justice Warrior and feminist critics that "we're not coming to take your games away". Katherine Cross wrote about it on Polygon, also quoting Carolyn Petit saying the same thing. Jim Sterling said it about Anita Sarkeesian too.

Yet it's remarkable when censorship of games does occur, how quick this same crowd preaching about sexism from their soapboxes acts as if they don't have any real power whatsoever. As if these same journalists who have given countless column inches to Anita Sarkeesian for the past three years, who called game developers 14-year-old boys, awarded Bayonetta 2 lower scores due to being offended by a sexualised character rather than anything to do with the game's quality, warped #GamerGate to be about sexism rather than ethics in journalism and gleefully used a mass shooting to their advantage tell people to get over Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 not coming to the West are suddenly the least-influential people in the games industry.

As Anita Sarkeesian is so fond of telling us in her Tropes Vs Women videos, "these examples do not exist in a vacuum" and I've only mentioned a few examples. Do these people really think high-profile gaming sites and Kickstarter/Intel-funded Youtube critics who have been arguing against sexually-attractive women in games for years are completely unrelated to sexualised elements in games being removed for the West (or the games not being localised at all)?

If so, it sounds like another example of playing the victim to me; even with their monopoly on gaming journalism and the many years of hammering home the same warped sexism narrative, they still insist that they're helpless, silenced victims.

I actually planned on writing about Feminist Frequency's new video -- Jonathan McIntosh's "5 Ways Men Can Help End Sexism", the first video from Feminist Frequency I've watched in around two years -- but had more to say on this subject than I thought. I may write about McIntosh's video too because, even though it's more of what we've come to expect from McIntosh and Feminist Frequency -- Jonathan sounds more like Anita than Anita does, bizarrely -- it is a hilarious video.

Merry Christmas!