Yesterday, a localiser for the publisher XSEED took a dramatic stance on what he saw as potential censorship, asking his company to remove his name from the credits of the upcoming JRPG Akiba's Beat after the developers removed a controversial phrase involving the KKK from the game.
"I wanted to make a statement," localisation specialist Tom Lipschultz wrote in an email. "I don't think it's right to make any change, no matter how minor, for the purpose of 'sanitizing' a game."
Akiba's Beat, a JRPG developed by the Japanese studio Acquire, will be out in the West next month. XSEED is handling publishing and localisation in the West, which means they have a staff working to translate the game from Japanese to English, edit that text, and determine how best to present it to an English-speaking audience. That also means tweaking the game so some Japanese phrases or jokes aren't lost. For example, a character whose Japanese name is "Futoshi Futoi", or "Fatty McFat", is "Chunk Widebody" in the English version.
Localisation gets thorny when certain cultural themes don't make sense in other languages — or, worse, when they're too controversial. Akiba's Beat's "most egregious change," Lipschultz wrote in an XSEED forum post, had to do with a parody of the Japanese light switch company NKK Switches. A sign in the original Japanese version of the game read "KKK witches", a play on the phrase. He wrote on XSEED's forum, "I personally felt 'KKK witches' was pretty funny for its shock value, but when I mentioned it to my coworkers, they... were not as amused." Lipschultz has long been an advocate against what he sees as censorship in localisation, and he says his priority is retaining as much of Akiba's Beat's original meaning as possible.
XSEED (sans Lipschultz) e-mailed Acquire asking what originally inspired the sign. Ken Berry, XSEED's executive vice president, helped explain what the letters meant in the US. "Acquire immediately responded that they had no idea the sign could be taken that way in English," Berry told me in an email. Two weeks later, Acquire removed the phrase from Akiba's Beat, with no further conversation or discussion, replacing it with "ACQ witches".
Although this decision was made by the developer, Lipschultz decided to take a stand, asking XSEED to remove his name from the credits of Akiba's Beat. As a result, he won't appear in XSEED's credits again — XSEED has a policy maintaining that "If someone is ashamed to be associated with one of our games, then they are ashamed to be associated with the company as a whole and won't be credited in future games either". Lipschultz says that, because "KKK witches" isn't being removed to "aid the player's comprehension" but to "avoid offending people and to avoid the possibility of retailers protesting", it infringes on the game's artistic value.
A year ago, Lipschultz protested when ages were removed from girls' profiles in Senran Kagura Burst, a game Kotaku's Brian Ashcraft reports was made because the developer wanted to put boobs in a 3DS game. Lipschultz almost quit. "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," he told former Kotaku reporter Patrick Klepek for a feature on video game "censorship".
Lipschultz knows that the removal of "KKK witches" from Akiba's Beat is "insignificant", and truly, one might wonder whether this is really the place to take such a stand. But, he says, his dramatic gesture was inspired by the well-trod Evelyn Beatrice Hall quote, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
"When I first requested to have my name removed from the credits, I actually didn't know we'd never specifically asked Acquire to change this — I assumed we had," said Lipschultz. "If I'd known that then, I might not have ever suggested removing my name from the credits. Then again, I still might've! And either way, because this is such a grey area, I don't entirely regret my request. If nothing else, it's bringing censorship back into public discussion, and I think that's important, since I feel it's a problem we — as an industry — really need to talk about. In my own backwards, awkward way, I'm hoping I've opened the topic wide enough that maybe some good will come of this in the future."