More Companies Should Explain Their Censorship Decisions The Way NIS America Just Did [NSFW]

When NIS America announced erotic dungeon crawler Criminal Girls 2: Party Favors would arrive in the US and Europe this September on Vita, it came with a big caveat. Like the last game, there have been "modifications" to make it appropriate. In advance, the company published an exhaustive explanation. Warning: The content in this post may be considered NSFW.

"I want to give you some insight into our process and exactly what's changing so you can make an informed decision," said NIS America senior product marketing manager Jordan Vincent in a blog post. " [...] Although some players might not be happy about the changes, we expect many will still appreciate the product for what it is and localizing it allows them the chance to enjoy the game's unique story, gameplay, and characters without needing to speak Japanese or deal with the pains of importing."

Even conceptually, the Criminal Girls series is likely to make a lot of people uncomfortable. You're a dude sent to hell to "motivate" a bunch of young looking girls (some of them look more like children) to be "rehabilitated", so they can perform better in battle. This is accomplished via sexual mini-games, whether it's spanking or brushing soap off their bodies.

Image Credit: NinNinGame

Yep, it's that kind of game. But whatever you think of it -- and it's not hard to guess what I do! -- it's unapologetic. Criminal Girls isn't hiding anything.

NIS America was forced to change several elements when it brought the original game to the West (but not to Australia, and it's unlikely this sequel will arrive Down Under either), and nothing's changed in the year and change since.

"Some of you might be asking, 'Why change anything in the first place?'" said Vincent. "The answer to that question is pretty complicated overall, but here's the short version: While we do our best to make all our fans happy, we also need to make sure that our games can be released on the platform they're made for, and released in the various territories in which we sell them."

To that end, NIS America explained the how and why behind four changes. NIS America has made these changes prior to submitting the game for evaluation with the Entertainment Software Ratings Board, but given NIS America has dealt with them plenty in the past, they know what to expect.

1) Some artwork, especially during the "motivation" scenes, were altered over their "explicit nature". It seems NIS America worried the ESRB would take issue with women tied up against the their will.

To NIS America's credit, they worked with the original artist to find common ground. "We didn't want to make any alterations to the game that would be jarring to the experience or feel 'off'," said Vincent.

2) Swapping the term "punishment" for "motivation". In the Japanese version of the game, the "motivation" scenes are actually "punishment". Combined with the girls being tied up, it's easy to see a potential problem.

"This reduces the power distance between the player character and the girls in the Reformation Program," said Vincent, "and makes the activities of the game more consensual."

3): There won't be any English voice overs. All of the text will be displayed in English, but the voice tracks are staying Japanese. No explanation was given for this, but given the niche focus of Criminal Girls, one suspects this has more to do with properly budgeting than anything.

4): All dialogue has been removed from the "motivation" scenes. There's no subtitles in these scenes, only voice overs, and since the developer isn't recording new voice overs, this proved a technical issue.

However, it sounds like this came down to the idea of consent again.

"Some of this could cause an issue with power distance, or perceived consent of the activities of the game," said Vincent. " [...] Another reason this dialogue was removed was to avoid a situation of no text to accompany several lines of untranslated Japanese being spoken."

You can see an example of this from the Japanese version below:

Video Credit: NinNinGame

The ages of some girls have been changed, as well.

As part of a Q&A session in the post, NIS America ruled out the idea of an uncensored version for the PC, largely due to a lack of resources and budget, and because it's against company policy to release unrated games.

If you're not aware, games need to be rated to be released on Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo's platforms. Thus, NIS America needs to go through the ESRB to have this game released on Vita at retail and PSN in the US.

Remember, though, that Criminal Girls 2 was altered before submission.

"When we submit something to ratings boards," said Vincent, "we need to be absolutely sure that it's going to be the final version, or we risk costly delays and even the game not being released at all."

The reality is that NIS America is subject to what the ESRB deems appropriate. To maintain their business, they have to play ball with them.

"Though the debate about precedent and what 'should' qualify as AO vs. M is ongoing," said Vincent, "the only opinion that really matters is that of the ratings boards. We can (and often do, trust me) argue our position, but at the end of the day, we have to conform with the guidance the ratings boards give us. If they inform us that a title is going to be rated a certain way, we cannot persuade them otherwise by bringing up [Other Game]. They have made their decision, and we have to respect that and work with it rather than against it."

Of course, that might not matter to some fans. When Kotaku's Mike Fahey wrote about the original last year, he dismissed the changes as too much:

It's just that not every Japanese game needs to come over here. If a game is too racy to be released as is in the West, maybe just mention that somewhere on the company message boards instead. Import sales will boom, pervy gamers will rediscover the joy of adult game imports, and the publishers can focus on releasing entertainment that doesn't require pastel obfuscation.

I've been covering censorship issues for a while now, and though fans of games like this would, in a perfect world, get these games without any alterations at all, the bigger frustration is not knowing why changes are made. Good on NIS America for having thoughtful and thorough answers.


Comments

    If you start calling it censorship like the online hate groups tend to do, in service of their own despicable ends (usually attacks on women involved in games or tangential to the industry), you further legitimise and normalise their behaviour.

    Rise above this tawdry tabloid behaviour, please. The future of the viability of the medium is stake.

    Don't let the toe-rags dictate the discourse.

      Indeed, censorship is basically when someone else is telling you how to do your arts (my catch all term for all art, music, video games, literature, etc). When you're modifying your own arts for your own wants and needs (whether commercial, publicity, arts sake, or whatever) it's not censorship in the slightest.

        Self censorship is not censorship? How quaint...

          It's not censorship or self censorship, it's editing.

            When I go to say something and don't, that's editing? Whaaaa? How can one edit that which has not yet been said?

            Edit: this was edited after I posted it. Not before...

            Last edited 05/06/16 10:47 am

              I don't get your point? I've never said anything about people are saying anything? Are you replying to the right person?

                Oh dear. You can't read past the last post...

                Art is an expression. Your arts, as you've been putting it, are statements. When you release a piece of art, you are saying something...

                If you finish your arts, then decide to omit part of it with the aim of making it more palatable to convention: that's censorship.

            The original game was released in Japan just fine, but is being altered to appease the sensitivities of western markets. Changing your content to align with the sensitivities of others is the definition of self censorship

              By that definition, everyone who wants to walk around in public without a shirt but wears one anyway is censoring themselves. Every time someone is yelled at by their boss and they want to yell swear words back but don't are the censoring themselves? Maybe they are censoring themselves and we're just arguing about the meaning of words, but maybe in this context it's not a bad thing and not what I would consider censorship. Not every video game developer wants to make a stand with their product, some of them just want to make saucy games with no fuss. Editing their product for an audience so they don't have to deal with an undue attention doesn't seem like a bad thing to me. It's called business, after all you don't see Smith's chips releasing and keeping their unpopular flavours just because it might seem like censorship. They adjust their product for the market.

      Ok then what do you call it? Self-censorship? Culturally sensitive localisation? I'm not interested in being part of the hate crowd, I'm just interested in what we're allowed to call this. I mean, it may not be the government forcing the changes, but it still fits within the grand ideology that we need to change some intentionally risqué material so as to not offend and conform to the relevant cultural sensitivities that most censorship promoted.

      Well, I mean, call it what we each want to, it feels like censorship so it's probably going to make somebody mad whether they're assholes or not.

        Do you consider it self-censorship if you're having a conversation in public and choose not to say something, dependent on your actual location? Like swearing on public transport or something?

        Do you consider it self-censorship if you're at a restaurant and didn't march into the kitchen to tell the cook your meal was crap?

        Do you consider it self-censorship if the first draft of American Pie or The Hangover or whatever had a scene that the one dude that was writing it before it even got sold to the studios thought would be un-workable?

        I'm not interested in any aggro either, but my point was actually accusatory towards the author and not the people who want to actually discuss it, like you and me!

        Make no mistake, it's not me bitching at Klepek/Kotaku, but the whole thing reads like a thinly veiled swipe at the likes of NIntendo/etc that...... makes me sound like I'm a corporate shill or something now argh :D

        Last edited 03/06/16 12:50 pm

          My answer to pretty much all of those is simultaneously Yes and No.

          Because it's all a matter of personal perspective over whether conforming to a rule or etiquette is seen as either a naturally sensible action or an action socially forced upon. Similarly, my argument was that the terminology is not rigidly defined for everybody's purpose and even if it was, we'd use it improperly anyway. I mean, heck, we all agree hate-speech is bad right? That's why there's laws about not having it in public... so definition wise some asshole who wanted to do that in public is censored. So it's clearly doing us a service there, but since old times of war-propaganda we've been told that censorship is a bad thing for free-speech and the arts. So which is it and when are we allowed to think it's happening?

          The writer may be fishing for clicks by using the term, but regardless I disagree that it's use here brings it down to the level of some online hate-group. I mean, it's pretty hard not to want to use the term censorship here: here in Australia the same thing happened to Valve and Left 4 Dead 2. That was actual censorship in a fashion, as our classification gave it an RC and Valve had to modify it to be approved. The only real difference here is that these guys did it ahead of time, under the conviction that their 'authority' wouldn't like it. Not really censorship, but also kinda censorship. Nobody is going to completely agree on this.

            Taking your first paragraph to its logical extension, unless we act like animals 24/7 and purposefully allow society to permit all our base behaviours (see also: "a Dothraki wedding") all at once, we're always self-censoring. Or being censored.

            Left 4 Dead 2 in its original state was refused classification, as our laws simply were inadequate at the time.

            The R rating we now have was more important for the developers/publishers to do business in this country; and local retail being allowed to continue to make money off of the most lucrative genres.

            On the PR front, yes it's all about protecting children from mature content 'they shouldn't be seeing' - actual censorship. In this case, mutually agreed upon and desired by the people in charge.

            But if the local video game market was unable to make a buck off of the likes of COD, Assassin's Creed, etc, it'd die in the arse. GTA V is still selling in the top ten lists each month, don't you think every adult in this country who wanted to play that game would have bought it by now, twice over?

            Children are absolutely getting their hands on that game, and the local entities involved absolutely bank on it. Everybody from the EBs and JBs to the PAX AU people to the suits flying business class to E3 each year. They just wouldn't like to be seen acknowledging this.

            There's censorship, there's not-censorship. But those who seek to profit over the grey areas are probably the worst, we can agree there I think.

              Taking your first paragraph to its logical extension, unless we act like animals 24/7 and purposefully allow society to permit all our base behaviours all at once, we're always self-censoring. Or being censored.

              I can't agree with this. I murder, rape, and curse exactly as much as I want to: none, none, and casually.

              Self-censorship is when you really want to say something, but decide not to because of the consequences. Honestly, people who need to self-censor a lot are people I don't want to be around in the first place, because they probably have significantly different opinions about what's acceptable. And as for me, my views on acceptability are informed not (generally) by act of law, but by my own ethics and morals. That is to say, by how much hurt I may cause. If making a rape joke might cause significant displeasure to someone, and I know it's likely because generally one in three women have been sexually harassed and one in 50 at least have been sexually assaulted in the last year, well, then I don't think I should make the rape joke. That's not self-censorship, that's conscientiousness

              I don't know if it's reasonable to say 'seeking to profit over the grey areas' I mean yeah Rockstar don't hate all that money coming from under 18s but I do believe that they fully intended to be satisfied selling to their adult-aged market or they would have openly made the game more safe.
              I mean, I don't know what you're getting at? That the devs of Criminal Girls were going to prey on and fool all those ignorant shoppers and children who didn't know how better about all those laws designed to prevent them from viewing adult content? So thank god those guidelines are there to warn them that they can't even release their game unless they change it to fit?

              So I don't know if I agree on profiteering in the grey areas, since I'm not sure who's doing it or why. But I think the discussion is straying. We can all agree that we 'know' why certain modifications to this game were made and we can all agree to disagree on whether or not that can be seen as censorship, since at least, I think it's a mix or things. However I do think it's really important that we question why we accept X or deny Y, or if it's unfair to do so. I'm an artist so I know that there's think I may or may not make just to be civil, or that if I had to publish my work in a country with different rules, I might have to change it. Whether or not I agree with those rules or consider them censorship or not is separate and of course, just thinking about someone coming along and saying, "you can't make/share that" is a distressing thought. Then I also acknowledge that it's never that simple.

          Yes. Those are all examples of censorship...

    It really does seem like an exercise in futility. Let us not kid ourselves, this a sexual game. Sex is not only penetration or the 5 squared centimetres of total skin that make up the "naughty bits". I really don't see the point of bringing in a sexual game if you have to make it less sexual to do so? The fans and potential customers will get a diminished experience while the censoring won't be anywhere near enough to change the minds of the people who wouldn't buy it. I don't think you need more than one hand to count the amount of people that think "oh yeah, I'd totally go for a game about fondling underage-looking anime girls... if only there's no bondage involved!".

      It seemed pretty clear to me why they changed it. Ninty US feared ratings boards in the US would refuse to classify it in the original state because of torture bondage and sexualised children. Unrated games won't be released by Ninty US.

      Just because Japan thinks something is fine doesn't mean the rest of the world does. They only outlawed photographed child pornography in mid 2014 there.

      http://time.com/2892728/japan-finally-bans-child-pornography/

      I agree, nobody who wants to buy this would want a modified experience (excepting translations et al.) I just wish that there was a better way to get it through with as little changes as possible so that it can push the envelope and call attention to the fact that the rules are too puritan.

        Hm. Now, see... I'm all for 'less puritan' ratings systems, but, unless I dramatically misread the article, these changes were about making the game 'a little bit less rapey of minors'.

        I'm not sure that counts as puritan.

          I was struggling to come up with the right word. I don't know what actual puritans would think, I just picked a word that meant 'scared of/morally against sexual/vulgar things.' It being rapey to minors brings up a whole 'nother debate once again touching on the concept of fictional minors vs. real minors. I stay ambivalent on that. I mean, the ratings systems cover all those rules somehow I think...

    Fine with this. We all live within the boundaries of various systems and rules.
    The changes are so minor it's inconsequential. Of course there will always be a bunch of puritanical dickheads who cry foul because they need something to rally against. But that's more about their failings as human beings than the actual issue.

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