From Japan, With Changes: The Endless Debate Over Video Game 'Censorship'

From Japan, With Changes: The Endless Debate Over Video Game 'Censorship'

One of Nintendo's biggest releases in 2015 is the sprawling 100-hour adventure Xenoblade Chronicles X, released earlier this year in Japan. It's great-looking and fun. That's not in dispute. The most heated debate about the game — making it the latest flashpoint in ongoing skirmishes over censorship, creative freedom and sexual politics — involves a pair of changes made for the American release.

Players of this new Xenoblade can choose to play as a woman, if they'd like, as they could in the Japanese version of the game, but can no longer adjust the size of her breasts. They can still hike through the monster-filled world of Mira with the 13-year-old fighter Lin at their side, but among her customisable outfits, they will no longer find a skimpy bikini.

Lin usually looks something like this:

From Japan, With Changes: The Endless Debate Over Video Game 'Censorship'

But in the Japanese version, Lin can optionally wear a bikini that looks like this:

From Japan, With Changes: The Endless Debate Over Video Game 'Censorship'

As with many JRPGs, it's possible to customise the look of your character. It's also common for Japanese games to include bonus costumes for characters — some silly, others more risqué. This is one of them.

To many in the West, eliminating that bikini option might be a welcome change. A game targeting grown-ups that features a sexualized 13-year-old might be a bit much. To others, however, a change like this is the definition of censorship, an unneeded modification of art.

For a taste of the reaction, here's a commenter from the website Dual Shockers:

From Japan, With Changes: The Endless Debate Over Video Game 'Censorship'

Xenoblade Chronicles X is one of several games that's central to an ongoing Internet argument about the artistic, social, and commercial merits of changing games as they are sold on other sides of an ocean. What's common among these games is that they come from Japan and the details changed involve female characters' sex appeal. But they're also part of a longer continuum of games changed from region to region, sometimes to cut religious references, sometimes to cut violence. These days, the debates about sex are at the fore, as the discussion of how women are presented in games has gained traction in the West.

The creators of these games have largely kept quiet, leaving most of the arguing to fans and critics. The company making many of these changes lately, Nintendo, has said very little about it. Caught in the middle of this are gaming's translation referees, localizers, the people who work on translating and, at times, rewriting games for their new audience.

"Outside of Japan — and especially right now — you have one loud segment of the market saying, 'The artistic integrity of the game is more important than the feelings of the people playing it,'" said localizer Brian Grey, who worked in-house at Square Enix — he was the lead translator on the Kingdom Hearts games — before opening his own studio. "And the other segment [is] saying, 'Games have no integrity unless they respect the feelings of people playing them.' As a translator, it's kind of a terrifying debate to be in the middle of, because someone is going to be upset no matter what choice you make."

The Threat of Censorship

This ideological debate has been going on in the localisation and translation of games for years. At the heart of this topic is a complex question: what constitutes censorship? That usually is intertwined with whether fans are getting the best version of a game or, in some cases, whether they're getting access to the game at all.

The Internet blew up recently because of a single comment on Dead or Alive's official Facebook page. The comment suggested Dead or Alive Xtreme, a sexy fantasy spin-off of the fighting game, wouldn't come over to the West because of "how many issues with regard to how to treat female in video game industry". This fed an ongoing fear amongst a set of gaming purists that conversations about sexism and other sensitive topics were scaring off some game companies.

Though I found no evidence of a coordinated effort to campaign against Dead or Alive Xtreme's release, there's plenty of evidence that Japanese games are being changed in subtle ways.

With 2014's Bravely Default, Nintendo changed the ages of some girls from 13 to 15-years-old and modified their costumes to cover them up.

From Japan, With Changes: The Endless Debate Over Video Game 'Censorship'

In Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water, lingerie bonus costumes were removed.

Most recently, it's rumoured that Bravely Second: End Layer was altered, with a Native American costume removed in favour of a cowboy outfit. We can guess it was changed to avoid criticisms of cultural appropriation — look no further than debate over NFL's Washington Redskins — but since Nintendo didn't respond to my request for comment, I can't say anything for certain.

From Japan, With Changes: The Endless Debate Over Video Game 'Censorship'

These kinds of edits have been going on for decades, and it's possible we're just noticing more of them now thanks to the every-watchful eye of the crowd-powered Internet. Kotaku's Jason Schreier wrote a piece in 2013 railing against some older changes, like 1990s Super Nintendo role-playing-game Earthbound's change of the game's bars to cafes.

When games are released in different regions, it's not as simple as slapping the text through Google Translate and calling it a day. Language is nuanced, with words and phrases taking on different meanings, depending on where they're said. (Speed, for example, translates to "fart" in Swedish!) That's why we have experts. It's up to the localiser (or localisation team) to guide a game from one language to another, trying to preserve the integrity of the game along the way.

Maybe She Meant "I Love You"

"The ideal localization walks a fine line," said longtime localiser Alex Smith, who's worked on Final Fantasy X, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, and others. "It's subtle and intended to reproduce the game's experience as faithfully as possible in the new language. So, if not changing something in the English version of the game would result in a lesser or otherwise altered experience for the English-speaking gamer, that's grounds for 'localizing' whatever the problem is."

Localisation changes can be tricky. When Smith was helping translate Final Fantasy X, there was an internal debate about Yuna's final words to Tidus. In Japanese, Yuna says "arigatou". Plainly translated, this means "thanks".

"And yet," said Smith, "'arigatou' has connotations that go beyond the phrasebook definition of 'thanks.' Literally meaning 'there was much difficulty,' the word encompasses a sense of shared experience. If the patriarch of a family was on his death bed, looking up at his children and grand-children, the word he might say in Japanese is 'arigatou.' It has the weight, and finality in this case, that we associate with the words 'I love you' in English."

The phrase "I love you" hadn't been uttered in a Final Fantasy game before. Complicating matters, the shot where Yuna speaks is a close-up, so the words needed to closely match the original Japanese cut-scene in order to line up properly. Thus, "I love you". Smith consulted with Kazushige Nojima, who wrote the script for Final Fantasy X, and pitched the idea. He approved.

"I've had to back down on other changes in other games because the dev team wasn't so open-minded," said Smith. "So not every localization decision takes place in such an ideal environment, but that doesn't mean localizers shouldn't try."

But with Xenoblade Chronicles X and Bravely Default, we're talking about 13-year-old girls sexualised for an audience who, generally speaking, is much older than 13. It's not hard to suggest most people find that creepy, but by changing those details, have you altered the art?

"Something intended to be simply humorous or risqué in a Japanese game might come across to an American gamer as creepy or worse, as pedophilia," said Smith. "Keeping the problematic content in there with the intent of preserving the creator's original vision is misguided, because the creator presumably didn't intend for the audience to feel uncomfortable or offended. The original vision is better served by making adjustments so the new audience appreciates the work on (as closely as possible) the same terms as the original audience."

Multiple translators I talked to pushed back on the idea of increasing the age of a character, instead preferring to remove the age entirely, allowing the detail to remain ambiguous.

Niche Gamer, a website largely dedicated to JRPGs and other games released for smaller crowds, regularly bangs the censorship drum, demanding that companies stop altering games like this.

"I'm of the volition that we should celebrate other cultures and let media from such cultures exist as is, and not have it be altered or sugar-coated for foreign audiences," said Niche Gamer's editor-in-chief Brandon Orselli. "It's a catch-22 when trying to appeal for people who may not appreciate things alien to their culture goes and alienates the people who enjoy experiencing other cultures."

To Orselli, it's a moot point whether or not anyone — in the West or otherwise — thinks it's creepy. Orselli's perspective is essentially the strict constructionism take, where the original text — in this case, the original Japanese video game — is sacrosanct, should be respected and left largely unaltered.

To that end, Niche Gamer recently wrote about a petition called "1 Million Gamers Strong For Japanese Gaming" that seeks to unify players who agree with Orselli. It's at 5280 supporters and counting.

Three Years Older, If That Makes A Difference

Tom Lipschultz is a localisation specialist at XSEED Games, known for bringing over games for Niche Gamer's audience. That includes everything from Falcom's famed Ys series to Senran Kagura, a beat 'em up famous for its depiction of barely clothed women with exaggerated proportions. It's a game developed explicitly because the creator wanted to show boobs on the 3DS.

From Japan, With Changes: The Endless Debate Over Video Game 'Censorship'

I learned about Lipschultz after interviewing XSEED vice president Ken Berry, who revealed Lipschultz almost quit over his beliefs. XSEED had hoped to test the American waters with Senran Kagura as a downloadable eShop-only game. To help the game operate with less controversy, Berry planned to remove the ages from the profiles of the game's female characters. In that game, Senran Kagura Burst, many of the characters are 15 years old and most are under 18.

Berry believed this to be a "minor" change, but it drove Lipschultz up a wall. As a compromise, Berry let Lipschultz publicly criticise the decision, so the community understood there were divisions.

Lipschultz told me he wasn't against removing the ages, but altering them. One changes a game's plot, the other doesn't.

"Senran Kagura Burst is, at its heart, a coming-of-age story," said Lipschultz, "so changing a 15-year-old to an 18-year-old would suddenly recontextualize a lot of character actions and motivations, turning characters who come across as 'well-meaning but young and inexperienced' into characters who simply come across as immature and misguided. Three years makes an awful lot of difference in human development, after all, and I just felt like making drastic alterations of that nature would irreparably harm the narrative. And I didn't want to be part of a company that would consider making artistic changes of that magnitude for no other reason than because cultural differences might make people feel a little uncomfortable."

While what Lipschultz is saying has merit, let's be clear about the game we're talking about. Senran Kagura Burst, besides being a beat 'em up, is designed to titillate. The visuals knowingly wink at the audience to say "we're here to turn you on." That's not to condemn erotic games — not long ago, we praised one on Kotaku but upfront, it's about gigantic breasts. (Side note: When I've read discussions about Senran Kagura, fans have praised its story.)

"It's an artistic vision — not one I personally agree with, but an artistic vision nonetheless," said Lipschultz. "And I don't think it's right for us to say, 'that's going too far,' because when we do, we set a precedent for others to follow — and others may be just a little bit more conservative, drawing their lines in the sand a little farther up than you did. And then others will follow their example, but draw their lines in the sand even farther up."

On the message board NeoGAF, Lipschultz took his argument further, suggesting the age of virtual characters doesn't matter and that you could even consider a fictional character's age based on the year the character was first drawn.

From Japan, With Changes: The Endless Debate Over Video Game 'Censorship'

(By the end of that message board thread, Lipschultz had been banned from NeoGAF.)

Are we to presume pornographic images of Lisa Simpson are acceptable because The Simpsons has been on the air for 27 years? It's hard to imagine many people buying that, and this opens the door to the thorniest issue of all: cultural differences on sex in popular media.

In this case, at least, the creator of the game has spoken up. Senran Kagura creator Kenichirō Takaki is marvelously clear about his intentions.

"So, first and foremost, I want — I need, really — to create a game that's actually a solid game, and not just a vehicle for sexual content," said Takaki in an interview with Nintendo Life. "I didn't want to make a half-assed game with cute girls fighting and their clothes ripping off for no reason, just because it's visually pleasing. I wanted there to be a reason why they're fighting, and why each individual is different. I wanted to have a story that explains why they're fighting, why their clothes are ripping off, why the sexual aspects are there — I always want there to be a reason why. And because of that core essence, that reason why, players can relate to each of the characters, and I can tell a bigger story."

Takaki's aware of what's happening in the West, admitting it's "a topic that comes up on Japan's side too, 'cause there are people who aren't into the sexualization of the game or eroge." (Eroge is a term for Japanese pornographic video games.)

"I think as of right now I'll keep going on the path that I have been, but in the future it might change," he told Operation Rainfall, another outlet that covers Japanese games. "It really comes down to, I want to create what I want to create and it's not a take it or leave it. I do understand what this group of people [in media criticism] are trying to say, but I don't want to change everything to please them, because that's what dilutes everything that I am trying to make. It is a series that is still new in the West. There's a lot confusion about the game. There is a core mechanic of the game that I will not be influenced by the naysayers just because they are a naysayer."

Takaki is happy to defend his work in public, but not every developer can or will. If more developers did, it might lead to a better understanding on both sides of the argument.

Auteurs Vs Sports Coaches

"One huge misconception out there is that every director of a Japanese game is a Hayao Miyazaki who labors over every aspect of his creation," said localiser Brian Grey, who's worked with some of Japan's most eccentric game designers. "There are auteurs in the industry — among the people I've worked for, Tetsuya Nomura and Goichi Suda jump out — but actually, to a large extent, their work is mostly devoid of awkward, out-of-context pandering just because auteurs are all about context."

Suda's games, for example, are full of attractive women and eyebrow-raising features, such as Killer Is Dead's "Gigolo Mode." But Grey had no problem working on Suda's games because his intent was clear and the sexualized part of the games seemed to fit with the ideas and themes the creator was exploring. Given the vast scope of games these days, that's not true of every single one, which can lead to the unexpected outfits or ages that raise eyebrows and questions about how integral they are to the game's artistic purity.

(Thanks to omegaevolution for the clip.)

"For every auteur title, there are nine more titles that are helmed by directors who are more like sports coaches," said Grey. "They don't create every single piece of content; some of them don't even look at every piece of content. They delegate. And those are the titles where you run across things that feel out of place, like they ought to be reconsidered."

When it comes to sexualixed content, he tries to figure out where exactly it came from.

"Is it the director, or is it Horny McHornHorn over in the corner?" said Grey. "Was it only left in because it didn't need to be removed in Japan, or was it left in because it's actually a defining component of the game's identity? I don't mean to imply that these directors don't have vision, because they do, but if their products are so big that no one person can ultimately even look at it all, then of course you are going to find some strange things out in the fringes of that universe that might not be what they intended to make at all."

Who Takes The Blame?

What bothers fans — and to be honest, what also bothers me — is Nintendo's continued silence on the issue, which makes it hard to tell just what is going on with the "small" changes being made to games like Xenoblade Chronicles X and who is calling the shots. In response to this story, Nintendo would only give the vaguest of statements.

"Different regions make different localization choices based on a variety of factors," said a company spokesperson.

The company refuses to discuss the changes or announce them ahead of time.

In the absence of any rational explanation, desperation can lead to conspiracy theories.

Alison Rapp is a product marketing specialist in Nintendo's Treehouse division. Though the Treehouse is commonly referred to as Nintendo's internal localisation team, these days, its responsibilities are far broader. Rapp is one of many who work at Treehouse, and despite zero evidence suggesting that she's been involved in the localisation of Xenoblade Chronicles X, let alone influenced its content changes, it hasn't stopped some from viewing her as an enemy.

It's unclear how or when Rapp became a target; she's been with Nintendo over two years. The most vitriolic discussions happen within places like 4chan, where threads are regularly deleted.

Why Rapp's a target is more clear: she's an outspoken woman with progressive-leaning politics who fits into the narrative that "social justice warriors" are leading to the censorship of games. An 8chan thread from earlier this year that was started after Rapp had appeared on one of Nintendo's E3 livestreams featured a group of people worried Rapp would "infect" Nintendo of America. They found reasons to dislike her:

From Japan, With Changes: The Endless Debate Over Video Game 'Censorship'

Tumblr diss? Check. Mocking queerness? Check. Problem with gender issues? Check.

When it was clear Xenoblade Chronicles X would see changes in the US, it didn't take long for Rapp to get connected, a misguided conspiracy that's gone on for months. Again, while there's no evidence Rapp had anything to do with Nintendo's decision, she became a boogeyman.

From Japan, With Changes: The Endless Debate Over Video Game 'Censorship'

Some went as far as writing up a (wildly unsuccessful) petition to have her fired.

Rapp still works at Nintendo. When I contacted her last week, Rapp explained she hadn't worked on Xenoblade Chronicles X. In fact, she doesn't work with the localisation team — period.

It's impossible to know if Rapp would have avoided becoming a villain if Nintendo was more forthcoming about localisation changes, but other publishers err on the side of transparency.

Earlier this year, Atlus was faced with erotic RPG Dungeon Travellers 2 getting an Adults Only rating, which would make it largely unsellable in America. The ESRB, the group that rates video games in the U.S., asked them to make four cuts to secure a Mature rating. Such ratings distinctions are important, because retailers and platform holders won't stock Adults Only games. Atlus decided it was better to make the cuts than cancel it, but crucially, it issued a press release transparently outlining the changes and even answered my questions about them:

"Dungeon Travellers 2: The Royal Library & the Monster Seal presented some challenges during the localization process — specifically, adapting some of the fan service content to western sensibilities. Localization by nature requires some changes to be made for content to be understood en masse, which is why ATLUS worked closely with developer AquaPlus to preserve the game's themes and content to its fullest.

In order to comply with restrictions set forth by rating boards, ATLUS made concessions on just four in-game images. On these images, some minor edits were made (and approved by the developer) to adjust the overt graphics to within acceptable ranges for the game's M-rating."

Warning: What's featured below could be considered pornographic. It's not safe for work.

In terms of cuts, we're not talking about an occasional panty shot. No, it's more like this:

From Japan, With Changes: The Endless Debate Over Video Game 'Censorship'

"Atlus actually consulted with the ESRB prior to submitting," a company representative told me at the time. "They helped identify which images would be an issue, and we took their feedback to the developer to change the images appropriately."

Whether or not you agree with the changes, the alterations were communicated to players.

"I think if more publishers would at least talk about the changes they make and why they made them," said Niche Gamer's Brandon Orselli, "people would be a LOT more understanding, at the very least. Instead we mostly get quiet edits/changes/removal of content, and most people avoid talking about it."

It's a fair point.

This is all not a one-way street, either. In Japan, there are concerns over violence and cultural taboos. Later Resident Evil games had decapitations and other gore removed. A Fallout 3 quest where players could defuse or detonate an atomic bomb was changed so players couldn't detonate it. There's no way to come up with a set of rules applicable to every game and every localisation.

Localisers have much to consider, and each one I talked to seemed to approach the job with deep respect. They believe games are art, and want to maintain that art. The considerations are vast, from the business realities of a company hoping to sell a bunch of copies to individuals trying to preserve the creativity of the games they're working on.

"The best translators I know in the business are hopeless perfectionists," said Grey. "They pick apart the dialogue and see the pros and cons and different reactions people can have; they step into the shoes of different gamers from different walks of life and agonize, and I mean really agonize, over what the right way to represent each line is. I'm personally against content that degrades or hurts people — who paid money, and are expecting to have fun — but I also know that I have a responsibility to maintain fidelity to the original — because other people also paid money, and are expecting that."

"There is no striking a balance," he continued, "so all I can do is present the argument to the creators or publisher, whenever possible, and see how they want to handle it. Sometimes it goes one way, sometimes the other. Usually it goes in the direction of not degrading people, and I can only assume that's because the market is still responding more positively to that course of action."

This topic isn't going away anytime soon. Idea Factory International president Haru Akenaga recently told Operation Rainfall it won't bring over some Compile Heart [a Japanese developer known for Hyperdimension Neptunia and Record of Agarest War] games because they "don't want to censor anymore because we know that's not true to the original developed art."

What constitutes acceptable editing or unacceptable censorship remains unanswered.

Illustration by Sam Woolley


    Hey it's not Japan's fault the rest of the world had to pressure them into making child pornography illegal in 2014.

    It's also not Japan's fault they left exemptions for drawn/illustrated child pornography.

    And people wonder why they have to censor these games.

      I'm still wondering though, or does it have to do with something along the lines of games making people do these things in real life?

    No offence to the writer (it’s not your fault), but this whole argument has to be one of the most inane discussions in human history.

    “You created awkwardly sexualised cartoon images! Then you changed them! Stop censoring yourself and give me the awkward fake pornography that I’m entitled to have you create for me!”

    The people drawing this stuff are stupid and should be embarrassed.
    The audience for this stuff is stupid and should be embarrassed.
    The people who care about the changes are stupid and should be embarrassed.
    The people who care about censorship of this stuff (either legitimately or as a guise to hide that they are from groups 1-3) are stupid and should be embarrassed.

    It almost reminds me of the NAMBLA episode of South Park having people publically fighting to protect their rights to be creepy wierdos.

      I think the crucial point though is where our boundaries are, and how we police them. Arguably, any kind of forced modification to media is a form of censorship. This can be good. But it is important that we have a discussion about where we think we should draw the line between mild adjustments and heavy handed censorship.

      Don't get me wrong, I don't care about child porn masquerading as art - that stuff should go. But I think it's good that a community and society can have reasoned debates about where we draw the line. And we should be able to calmly articulate why we believe our values should be upheld to the detriment of others (i.e. good taste vs freedom of expression). Just because something doesn't sit well with us doesn't automatically mean it shouldn't be made. There need to be better reasons for that, and I think it's good to have that discussion.

        Sure, but this stuff really is the bottom of the barrel as far as art that needs defending. It’s awkward titillation stemming largely from a country where censorship of consenting adult bodies has resulted in the overt sexualisation of ageless (but young looking) cartoon characters.

        I’m guessing there’s only two kinds of people who want to enter into this kind of discussion, people with a fetish for this kind of stuff and people who run the “all censorship is the same” line because they can’t tell that reasonable, healthy societies create sensible boundaries in relation to censorship all the time.

        Most of the censorship argument is irrelevant regardless. In the vast majority of cases these titles are changed because people in the west really don’t want to buy a product (regardless of its other merits) if it’s full of awkward cartoon panty shots. It’s not because it needs to be blocked because it’s dangerous, it’s just not profitable because it’s viewed as embarrassing and sad to be a fan of this kind of stuff if you live in a healthy and free society. The majority of the market sees the gratuitously sexualised images and go “That’s weird….. why would the artist draw that? Is there an assumption that I’d want to see that….. because it’s a little creepy… and awkward….. and sad….. and I want it to go away”.

          people who run the “all censorship is the same” line because they can’t tell that reasonable, healthy societies create sensible boundaries in relation to censorship all the time.

          Who is in charge of defining a 'healthy society' though? This is something that can indeed be scrutinised, especially when every failed society we have criticised in the past and present has used some form of control of art through censorship and propaganda under the guise of having a prosperous and healthy society.

          people in the west really don’t want to buy a product (regardless of its other merits) if it’s full of awkward cartoon panty shots. It’s not because it needs to be blocked because it’s dangerous, it’s just not profitable because it’s viewed as embarrassing and sad to be a fan of this kind of stuff if you live in a healthy and free society. The majority of the market sees the gratuitously sexualised images and go “That’s weird….. why would the artist draw that? Is there an assumption that I’d want to see that….. because it’s a little creepy… and awkward….. and sad….. and I want it to go away”.

          Hey thanks for telling me what I want, and what I think. I'm comfortable with my sexuality and I definitely think people who would be so put off by some fanservice are rather prudish and in some ways not really contributing to a 'healthy society.' I can understand the profit argument, but I should be allowed to be annoyed that I now don't get something I want because of people who didn't want that something.

            Hehe, I think I may have accused you of having leftie views below and I think that might be the case. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I think equating failed societies with censorship pretty much confirms it.

            Aren’t ALL laws forms of censorship? In that case the theoretical non-failed society you speak of is the ultimate leftie paradise where everyone lives side by side in a completely free society with zero governance and everyone chooses to use that freedom only for peace and hugs and love.

            In the spirit of that freedom, I’m not going to tell you what you can and can’t like, but I will suggest that you consider what the outcome of propagating images which sexualise members of our society who can’t make informed decisions or protect themselves. That might not be the best.

              My political leanings are irrelevant. Also I didn't equate Failed societies to censorship, I correlated: it's something most of them did and we now learn about in history classes so we can recognise it and make our own critical choices about it.

              I also didn't say I supported depictions of sexualised children. But I recognise the facts: they're fictional. Nobody is hurt in these examples, just like no actual men or women or creatures are hurt when we murder millions of them in our fictional video games.

      Here's the issue I see...

      How can you have a reasonable debate on this when you have pretty much labeled all folks that are against "censorship" of this material as

      "creepy folks" who "should be embarassed" for being an audience for "this material"

      You've basically boxed them off as something worse than normal society and shouldn't be treated on equal terms already. How can you even attempt any civil counter argument against that line of thinking?

      But would it be too much too ask for you to try and look at it from another persons box w/o immediate judgement?

    “Different regions make different localization choices based on a variety of factors,” said a company spokesperson."

    I think this is a fair response, anything else with just be outrage-bait for various outrage campaigners.

    If you want the original art, untouched, then purchase the original version, and learn the language, and spend some time in the country to become part of the culture, it is the only way if you want to 'preserve the purity of the art'.
    Otherwise accept that there will be changes both to the dialogue and the imagery as a result of translating it into another language and for another culture. It makes sense, and in some cases will keep the art closer to the artists original intent than doing a 'straight' translation, even if such a thing were possible.

      Oh so we can't talk about it? Or criticise it, just accept it? An outrage may certainly be unbalanced, but being able to complain about what x company has changed is just as allowed as complaining about what they didn't.

      It also makes sense to be a bit annoyed at a company for not explaining their decisions in any convincing way.

        Talking about it is fine, but I think the explanation is pretty self explanatory, they localise stuff to suit the local market/fit local censorship laws/make the product more saleable.
        I'm not sure getting into specifics throws any more light on the situation, but getting into gritty details nearly always seems to get the over the top outrage happening.

          Well we can surmise the changes to say, the revealing bikini of a 13 year old. But the removal of the breast-slider in the character creator? There's no reason to remove that; there is no message to control, especially in western cultures.

      It's worth discussing; the devil is in the details.

      Should a sexually explicit image of a person who looks 18+ but is actually underage be illegal? Most people would say yes, and I would agree; it's exploitative.

      Should a sexually explicit image of a person who looks UNDER 18 but is actually 18+ be illegal? Technically such images are legal. Arguably they shouldn't be, but where does that leave the young-looking woman who (for whatever reason) wants to be photographed under such circumstances?

      Now consider a drawing of an imaginary person. Who is being exploited? Who is the victim? How can this be differentiated against the second case, especially when the creator of the image indicates a "legal" age for the fictional person? In Australia, there is existing case law that such images count as child porn.

      The victim here is the (presumed) future victims of the person who takes their "appreciation" of such imagery and tries to turn it into reality. A bit like, say, somebody playing Grand Theft Auto who is obviously going to start shooting up police stations. Fundamentally, you're creating a thought crime. Where do you then draw the line?

      To be clear, I think the the censorship of these images in the US/AU versions of these games is basically a good idea. The raunchiness is not a central part of the game, and the game doesn't really suffer for the change. It's a cultural adjustment which will broaden the game's availability.

      But there's nothing wrong with the discussion itself. It is in discussing the grey areas that we are forced to examine our own motivations and how they differ from others. Figuring out how other people think is almost always a good thing. At its simplest level, it's pretty fundamental to human society.

      Saying "this stuff is gross, I don't want to see it, other people who want to see it are gross, other people who want to talk about it are gross" is simplistic and short-sighted.

    what about having a limited run of the uncensored version sold through online means, so that copies that comply can be sold through stores, and those who carry on about localization changes can get their copies untouched.

    Are we to presume pornographic images of Lisa Simpson are acceptable because The Simpsons has been on the air for 27 years?I'd be more inclined to say it's acceptable because it's just a freakin' drawing :P

      But the message it sends is that it's acceptable to look at and treat young girls as sex objects. And by sex object, I simply mean something/someone who you can have sex with.

      Would it matter if it was a drawing of a real person? A real child? Still a drawing... What does that say about us as a community that we allow that to happen? What can young girls reasonably expect to happen to them if these things become more widely acceptable?

      I'm not saying these things rhetorically, I think they are all important questions worth asking about these issues.

        It is an important debate. So in the same way, almost like a 'catch-22': how is it acceptable to control the message of a piece of art?

        We do have precedent since we control the output of propaganda from hate-groups and terrorists. However the silent concern is that somewhere alone the line, the definition of 'hate-group' or 'terrorist' will be changed to include artworks that say, speak out against the government, or affect a competing business.

        That's a different spectrum of the issue, but it all happens in the same way. I don't want to sexualise teenagers, but I also don't want teenagers to lack sexuality (as they are indeed aware of themselves.) Artwork needs to be able to address or depict that and be involved in the general discussion about what it means to occupy those states, or communicate those states to others.

        The thing about artwork out in the wild is that there is (and shouldn't be, really) any end to its interpretation by its audience. Clearly in this case - a double-edged sword.
        I do understand though, that I do not really have an answer to your hypotheticals, only a kind of syllogism.

          how is it acceptable to control the message of a piece of art?
          With games, this has usually already happened long before it is released, the company decides what makes it into the final release and what doesn't. I don't really see a difference between that process and the process when it is then released in other countries, the process is basically identical. Some extra stuff may go into the foreign market release and some stuff get held back, just as it did in the domestic release.
          The message is already changed, just by it being released into a different culture/different language. Plus you can always import the game.

            Well there's censorship and self-censorship, or simply changes based on the changing sensibilities of the artist. All of these things are up for criticism. In this topic, the hard ask is all about who gets the control to cause these things. One would be outright destroying or hiding the artwork by another, one would be the encouragement by others to voluntarily destroy or hide it, and another is the consideration to destroy or hide it through one's own opinion on the output.

            Every one of those factors can be criticised, from who changed it, why the changed it, what they changed and how it was changed. In these examples I can say that my own sensibilities think these games were not offensive, that the changes being made by the artists were being affected by third-parties sensibilities I disagree with (even if it's just CEOs looking to sell more) and so I think these changes were unnecessary; revealing both a concern over the control of artworks output and the general and outdated attitudes we have towards sexuality, art, and critical thinking.

            Last edited 15/12/15 2:58 pm

      Meaning that since no children were harmed in the production of this game it can be distasteful but not grounds for actually banning it even if many people find it disturbing?
      Then you'd have to permit it on the same argument that violent movies/games don't make people commit crimes in real life.

        Meaning exactly that, yes.

        Or are you arguing that GTA and such should be banned? :P

    i hate how they censore mainstream porn, i mean its porn for a reason... fucking minecraft laws are so stupid

      Everyone thinks the laws are stupid. They were implemented as part of the complicated political circus between Japan and the US after WW2.

      At this point they could be repealed and most people would be fine with it, but the politician who put the bill to parliament would be committing career suicide, so nobody will step up and end the silliness.

    Personally I don't want to see children being harmed in anyway in games and child pornography really is an insidious evil. I'm not keen on pornographic drawings either.

    A couple of lingerie costumes in fatal frame though? That's ridiculous. And the rubbish altered costume in bravery default (on a figure that that hardly resembles a person?!) give me a brake, thats just trivialising the deeper issues with political correctness gone mad (which was hardly touched on in this article for some reason).

    The term 'social justice warrior' should be a devisive term, because a blanket crusade against anything deemed 'sexual' and hence 'explicit' at all, is absolutely having a blanket effect on content that shouldn't necessarily qualify as a problem in anyway. If I see a girl at Coles with a bikini top and mini skirt on shopping for milk, is that sexualy unexceptable? If it's not, why is that a problem in a game made for adults?

      It's a problem simply because you're not allowed to like anything social justice warriors do not.

      That's really all it is, and they would absolutely police each and every thought you had if they could. Then punish you for having views they simply disagree with.

      To be clear, I use 'social justice warrior' in the worst sense of the term here. There are absolutely a lot of people who have reasonable points and complaints that get labelled an SJW and are then dismissed entirely as a raging zealot when they shouldn't be. Usually they're labelled by the lunatics on the opposing side of the fence, both sides have the types that ruins it for the rest.

      People liking things I dislike, or vice versa, doesn't bother me one bit... People forcing their personal opinions and beliefs on others is absolutely the issue any reasonable opponent has with the SJW crowd. And it very much is forcing it on others, there's a "Believe this or else..." sentiment at the core of it.

      I've personally never witnessed a single person who called themselves as a social justice warrior that hasn't also been known to spew vitriol and obscenities at others, or do much worse, simply because people disagreed with their opinion.

      You dislike someone's opinions, it's fine to say something to a certain point... But doing shit like trying to ruin someone's life, get them fired, etc, purely because someone doesn't adhere to your opinions and beliefs is the equivalent of a child throwing a temper tantrum for not getting their way.

      Last edited 15/12/15 3:10 pm

    A reasonably long piece with a good exploration of the debate. Personally, as an artist, I'm always on the side of the original artworks intent.

      I don't think you should side with the intent when it's a transparent attempt to titillate with a sexualised image of a cartoon child.
      None of these artists are trying to make some kind of grand artistic point. Just because it's "art" doesn't guarantee it has artistic merit.

        Well nobody gets to really be right here. The intent is their own and the interpretation is your own.
        I side with the artist because they'll only ever know what their intended and will never ever know what the audience will think. This very debate exists because there are members of the audience who are annoyed by either direction the artwork can go; you can't please everyone.

          I don’t agree with that at all.

          This all stems from the (usually leftie) view that you can’t ever judge anything, or that all ideas are equal, that everything is permissible because you don’t know how others think.

          I’m not buying it. If you’re drawing a cartoon that’s filled with gratuitous, unnecessary images of schoolgirl panties, you’re doing that because you like gratuitous, unnecessary images of schoolgirl panties. There’s no deep artistic meaning there, you’re just kind of a grub and you should stop what you’re doing. It can have a negative effect on the society that we all share so it needs to be judged by people other than just the artist.

          That’s a line that I’m comfortable drawing. I’m confident in my judgement, I can explain sensible reasons why sexualising children is wrong, why society should draw a line there and not for other types of art.

          I can’t stand the notion that ideas, including art, which are fed into the public space are beyond reproach. If you’re drawing art could be socially damaging it should be challenged and if you can’t justify it then sometimes it needs to be condemned.

            And I'm more than happy for you to have that opinion. No artist can control their audience and so you're fully within your rights to hate it. You can even tell other people you don't like it. But that's it. Unless the artist actually commits a crime then there's nothing that can be done to stop them. Sure, they don't have the right to exhibition: they can't just display it anywhere not approved, just like in this situation they've considered their output and where it can be shown and what constitutes an "m" rating etc.

            ’m not buying it. If you’re drawing a cartoon that’s filled with gratuitous, unnecessary images of schoolgirl panties, you’re doing that because you like gratuitous, unnecessary images of schoolgirl panties. There’s no deep artistic meaning there, you’re just kind of a grub and you should stop what you’re doing. It can have a negative effect on the society that we all share so it needs to be judged by people other than just the artist.

            Go tell an actual teenager that. That they're not allowed to explore the topics of their art and that they're not allowed to appreciate their own sexual interests. Well you don't have to, because we already do.
            Oh you're probably right, they're just little pervs and aren't making any 'real' artistic contributions, then they'll grow up and mature, I just don't want them to then look back at it and completely hate their past experiences.

            Last edited 16/12/15 1:32 am

    You can still purchase the bikini for Lin it is slightly edited. They've just retextured parts of the skin as cloth. From a graphics stand point it looks terrible because the texture edits don't have spec or bump maps and share the same flat skin shader as the rest of the skin. I wouldn't have been aware of it if it weren't for this >:'(

    Lol @ the Bravely Default costume change
    "We'll change the costume from a traditional American culture to a culture which essentially destroyed it."
    It's politically correct guys

      Was just thinking the same thing.
      It's especially stupid as after a quick browse I couldn't find anything stating the class name would be changed, so it's still going to be the tomahawk class. WTF!?

    I am fine with the censoring that involves character's ages. When I played through Bravely Default I didn't know that in Japan the main character's ages were all 15, as opposed to 18 in the West. It definitely made some of the outfits inappropriate. Did they have to change the outfits on top of upping the ages? No, not really. But the changes were minuscule enough that it didn't really bother me and was most likely only done to get a lower ESRB rating.
    Now entire changes to costumes like the one shown in the article for Bravely Second? That grinds my gears. The class still seems to be referred to as the Tomahawk even after the change, so why? Replace one stereotypical outfit with another? Great job...

    Last edited 15/12/15 2:33 pm

    The thing that constantly amazes me about all of this is the SESAUID (Sometimes Economics, Sometimes Art, Unless I Disagree) argument.

    When people want to have a game with bikini girls fan-servicing everything within an inch of its life, there are two options. It's either a company serving the market that makes them money so everyone can just shut up, or it's a work of art and it should be enjoyed as the producer intended.

    But when a company decides that they would make more money by removing or toning down the fan-service in order to market it to a larger audience, the same people complain about self-censorship. Not only does it go against the economics argument, but it also goes against the art argument. The producer has decided that they want to change their art of their own volition. So it should now be enjoyed as the producer intended.

    Unless the government tells you to change it or else, it isn't censorship.

      Well IMO, it doesn't go against the art argument when criticising the aspect of business that informs this voluntary action. I know these artists need to make money and so to appeal to their market they 'voluntarily' change their artwork. They're probably completely fine with this, yet I feel compelled to view this as a sad truth more than a validation that things are ok.

        Art and commodification go hand in hand. they always have. the Sistine Chapel was painted by a sculptor who thought paint was shitty art for talentless jerks. But he worked on it for half of his life and went blind doing it because art and money are inextricably linked.

        I'm also a bit sceptical of the artistic merit of sexy bikinis for children, but that's a matter of taste. Just because it's art doesn't mean it's good art.

          True. But I think it's important to consider the value from multiple perspectives. Some art was done for free, or at a loss, and some succeeded in talking to its audience in surprising ways because of it.

          The thing about shit art though, is that someone out there has found value in it.

            I absolutely agree with all of that, but when we get back to the idea of art and commodity, it unfortunately becomes a simple sum. Artists have to eat. they choose to make their art as a profession, so they make what is going to get them paid. There's always going to be a push and pull between artistic purity and the need to produce art that people want to buy. Regardless of whether it's for a huge company, a king, or a guy on the internet who wants something pretty niche, the question is the same: Is this art worth money to the patron/s?

            If the answer is no, then often it just isn't worth making. This is why patronage is a good thing. If someone honestly believes an artist is worth it, they can give money in order to give the artist freedom to create without constraint. But games will rarely be that way. The artists involved may have not wanted to make the alt costume at all. Maybe the change is closer to the artist's intent. We just don't know and it honestly doesn't matter. The company commissioned the work. They get what they paid for. The artist gets to live another day doing what they love.

    I just don't think the art argument applies to these sort of games; they're meant to be arousing not thought provoking (or at least I certainly hope they aren't meant to be thought provoking, that would be very sad). Really I think Japan has major issues with this sort of thing; some might label them cultural differences, but the way in which Japanese media sexualizes extremely young girls is just not OK. If people want to make a porn game I have nothing against that, just don't make the subject/s underage school girls and don't try to pass it off as a "coming of age story", that's just bullshit. Make porn if you want to, but don't try to pass it off as anything more than that.

      How is that definition much different than American Pie or any other 'teen' movie filled with the same smutty humour that it's been proven both teenagers and adults enjoy?

      I admit one is run to western standards and the other, eastern but the stories are the same.

        Nobody in American pie was 13 is one difference. When you sell a product in a place, it needs to adhere to local standards.

        Hang on a second... You're not trying to argue that American pie is art are you? American and Australian films also have serious issues with the representation of all kinds of "minorities" on top of a long established basis of objectification of both women and men in order to appeal to the other party (although women get this in a much more awful and damaging way a lot more of the time). European films are largely better but still have issues, but Japanese media are the only forms I can think of where it's almost expected to see underage characters in highly sexualized positions within the sorts of low-brow media this article discusses. Again, I've got nothing against smut, but when it's involving very young children I'm not OK with that, especially so when it's so widespread and accepted.

          It's as much art as anything else is. It's all up to interpretation. Just like the Mona Lisa is also just another painting of some woman.

            For me (and I'm a self-confessed art snob and horrible person, so I don't put much weight on what I say, nor do I think I'm in any way qualified to say anything I do say) Art needs to exhibit two things; one is technical skill (which going from the performances, writing and direction I personally don't find American Pie has) and the other is an idea, concept or notion that the audience must evaluate, challenge or confront (again, I don't find any value in American Pie on this front).

            Art for me is a conversation between the artist and the audience and it doesn't matter how eloquent the language is if the meaning/ message isn't there, and vice versa; if the artist's grasp of language is very poor then the art won't work either no matter how strong the concept. The language metaphor is somewhat useful as I don't "get" the language of say Jackson Pollock or even Leonardo Da Vinci but many other people do, while I completely understand the language of John Olsen, or Jean-Michel Basquiat while others don't. For me American Pie is closer to porn than art, but of course that's purely subjective.

            I wrote a shitty blog post (apparently blogs look good on resumes) on this sort of subject a while back, the link to which I'm going to shamelessly dump here < >. I don't usually like that sort of creepy self-promotion but the post begins mentioning American Pie and touches on issues with commercialisation, objectification and Japanese culture. It's not the best write up, but it's probably going to explain my 2 cents a little better than these comments will; feel free to ignore it though, you wouldn't be missing out on much.

    I don't agree with this petty censorship, and I've spoken with other people who don't agree with it, simply because we're being told what we can and can't watch/play/whatever. Once it starts when does it stop?
    I'll respect others beliefs, but don't tell me what to believe.

    Just wanted to chip in a correction. There were no 13 year old characters in Bravely Default. One female character was bumped up for 15 (Japan) to 18 (the West) and the other was bumped from 17 (Japan) to 20 (the West). Google is your friend for when you don't have access to the source material. Still, the fact the devs felt compelled to do this is in some ways just a big a deal as the fact they modified certain outfits.

    As for the argument itself, specifically regarding the one issue of Japan de-sexualising certain content in their games for the localisations, I'd rather they didn't. Just give us the original work as it was envisioned it its entirety, skimpy clothes and boob sliders and all. For people who don't care about it it doesn't affect them, they don't have to use a bikini. For those that do, so what, it is harmless. Don't understand people who get off on being angry someone somewhere is playing a game where a character could be wearing a bikini.

    End of the day, aside from a few news stories no one would have given a fuck if the games came out unedited. No boycotts, no riots, no western offices raided. Sooner or later Japanese companies will realise this.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now