By: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
The word “censorship” is getting thrown around in video gaming circles a lot more than usual lately, and most of the outrage seems to focus on four specific games: Street Fighter V, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water, and Dead or Alive Xtreme 3. Basically every article and rant I read about one of those games inevitably mentions the other three, so they’ve all become somewhat linked together as one big example of supposed censorship, the “SJWs” winning, and the industry catering to the easily offended.
What do all of those games have in common? More specifically, what is it that has people crying censorship about all of those games? They all involved sexualized depictions of the female body. To be clear, I’m not using the word “sexualized” – although my spellcheck is informing me that it isn’t actually a word, but oh well – in a negative manner. I don’t have a problem with things being sexualized. Most of us aren’t 100% opposed to anything ever
being sexualized – we are sexual creatures who rely on sexual stimulation in order to procreate. To say it in a way that doesn’t hide being science, we all enjoy getting turned on by sexy sights. The debate over what does and doesn’t constitute “sexualizing” a video game character is a very divisive one, and typically doesn’t leave much room for middle ground, but at the end of the day, it’s hard to dispute that it isn’t meant to be “sexual” when a character slaps herself on the ass, or wears lingerie, or is frolicking around on a beach in a tiny bikini that barely contains her massive boobs. Fine if you don’t see anything “wrong” with any of that, but don’t deny that it’s meant to be titillating and sexual. Of course it is. Again, that’s fine – I’m not here to argue against an artist’s right to design sexually attractive characters (male or female) or a consumer’s right to enjoy them, but let’s not waste each others’ time and deny the clearly intended sexual nature of such things.
I am absolutely a proponent of freedom of expression, and I acknowledge that the whole thing falls apart if you start picking and choosing what is and isn’t acceptable in terms of free expression. Anybody who claims to support freedom of expression can’t really turn around and say “…well, unless it involves half-naked women. Then I’m opposed to it.” That said, I also don’t think that it’s a “slippery slope” that deciding to cover up some cleavage in one game will eventually lead to every single game being completely G-rated and kid friendly. The whole concept of slippery slopes is hyperbolic and overly alarmist – after all, a certain well-known politician said not too long ago that allowing men to marry other men is a slippery slope to eventually allowing men to marry dogs. That’s always the example I like to use when people start spouting off about slippery slopes as an argument for one specific instance of a thing happening. One game taking away your ability to adjust the size of your characters breasts (Xenoblade) isn’t going to mean that in 5 years every single video game female is going to be a flat-chested Plain Jane wearing a turtleneck. To make a jump like that is a little ridiculous and has absolutely no merit.
Before I go any further, it occurs to me that everyone who is reading this might not necessarily be aware of what has people so worked up about the four aforementioned games. I will just give a brief overview of each one and will expand on them as they pertain to parts of my article. In Street Fighter V there is a character named R. Mika who is a female wrestler and is dressed in attire typical of a Japanese woman wrestler, meaning low cut in the front to accentuate her breasts and forming a thong for the portion that “covers” her rear end. As of now, nothing about her outfit is said to be changing – the only thing that has been done at this point is to change the camera angle of an ass-slapping move that she has so that it occurs just out of frame rather than the camera zooming in directly on her ass and having it fill the entire screen as she spanks it. In Xenoblade Chronicles X, when the game was brought to North America they removed the ability to adjust the breast size of custom female characters, as well as giving a 13-year old character far less revealing clothing. In the Japanese version of Fatal Frame: MoBW, you can dress the game’s female protagonists in a variety of outfits that include skimpy lingerie and bathing suits (including a 17 year old), most of which were changed for the North American version. And finally, Dead or Alive Xtreme 3, a game that involves a cast of buxom women with exaggeratedly animated body parts traipsing around in minuscule bikinis, was announced to only be releasing in Asian markets (even though the previous two installments did come to North America).
In every single one of these cases, cries of censorship were heard all across the video game blogosphere, on social media, and among the video game press in general. There were even talks of boycotting the games in question, and/or creating petitions to put the material in question back into the games (and of course, to have DOAX3 be released here, period). I get it, censorship is bad and we should battle against it. But I have two major problems with the discourse surrounding these particular games and games like it. First off, altering a game’s content when it moves from one region to another isn’t necessarily the same thing as censorship. There are parts of the world where the age of consent is incredibly low (if there even is such a thing as an “age of consent”), and therefore in those regions, it probably isn’t seen as something to bat an eye at to sexualize a 13 year old girl. But here in the U.S., our culture is as such that we don’t think it’s okay to put a 13 year old girl in sexually provocative clothing. Sure, it can be completely subjective as to what is or isn’t “sexually provocative clothing”…to an extent. If you are going to make a case for the outfit pictured above – which I honestly feel uncomfortable even having here but I feel its necessary to make my point – to not having been designed to be visually pleasing in a not-entirely-wholesome manner, especially in a game where there’s no justifiable context for any of the women to be dressed like that in the first place, then we’re going to have to agree to disagree. But I see a change like that as catering to cultural differences and just plain good taste rather than censorship. In fact, I would argue that it is more artistically uncompromising that they kept the character her original age – a far more important part of her character than the amount of clothing she wears – then just artificially making her 18 so they could keep her outfit and just make it risque instead of inappropriate. That is, if artistic vision is really what’s important to you, and not just your right to more nakedness (on a child, no less).
Regions have differences; not necessarily for better or worse, just different. The word “fanny” not only means butt in the U.S., but it’s a rather innocent and lighthearted word to use for a butt. It sounds like something a kindergarten teacher would tell her students to sit on so she can start story time. In England, “fanny” is considered rather vulgar slang for a vagina. Not exactly a subtle, insignificant difference. So if there is a piece of fiction made in the United States where a young girl talks about having her “fanny tickled” by a boy, there probably needs to be a change in how that is worded if that fiction makes its way to England. Is that line being “censored,” or is it just a cultural adjustment? I would say the latter. Even in Fatal Frame where the women are more age-appropriate (though 17 is still pushing it), I see it as more of a cultural change to not allow players to dress (sometimes underage) female characters in the kind of slinky lingerie that you’d have to go to a special kind of store to buy (meaning you won’t find it at Target or Wal-Mart) when there is zero context for it, then the game being censored. This may come as shock to you, but the U.S. is actually quite prudish about sex and the female body compared to much of the world – it’s just a fact. You can be annoyed by that fact, but it doesn’t change it’s position as a fact. Sometimes the media that is brought here from other countries is going to be altered to reflect that fact. Call it censorship if you must, but it’s not censorship because of “feminists” or “SJWs” or Anita Sarkeesian or anything like that. It’s censorship because of our overall cultural values – and by the way, tons of things that Americans produce and export get changed for the same reason, even things that go to Japan. It’s not just overly sensitive America that is guilty of that.
A lot of the talk involving these four games is that it is somehow indicative of our current gaming climate. That people have gotten too sensitive, and now we can’t have nice (read: sexy) things anymore. Anybody who feels this way obviously hasn’t paid any attention to Metal Gear Solid V: The Phanton Pain. When the character known as The Quiet was first introduced, there was a lot of negative flak thrown Konami and Hideo Kojima’s way, with people saying Kojima should be ashamed of himself, and that she is a major step backward in the evolution of positive female portrayals in games, and so on. So what happened to her? Not a damn thing. After well over a year of that talk being thrown around, the game came out, she remained in all of her bikini-top-wearing, ripped fishnets glory, spending the entire game arching her back and lying down with her top undone and having the camera always be there with the perfect angle to see it all. In fact, there are a number of portions in that game where the camera pans across breasts and zooms in on asses for no other reason than just to show off the characters’ breasts and asses. Onechanbara Z2: Chaos was brought to North American PS4s just this past summer, a game that is literally all about girls in teeny bikinis killing zombies – and that game arrived on our shores with absolutely nothing changed (including the art on the disc itself, which features a woman in a bikini with her legs spread and the hole in the disc suggestively sitting right where her crotch is). Ditto for, interestingly enough, the most recent update of Dead or Alive 5, which featured all of the ridiculous outfits and jiggle physics the series has always been known for (and by all accounts, DOA6 is expected to reach our shores as well). The revamped version of GTAV is barely a year old, a game which lets you go to a strip club whenever you want and have two fully topless girls grind you and each other in first-person, 1080p high definition. I could go on. The point is, games are as sexually-charged and filled with near-nudity as ever, and to use a couple of examples of
censorship cultural changes to suggest otherwise is a bit Chicken Little-esque. The sky isn’t falling, and nor are the levels of gratuitous eye candy. And by the way, ask Australia how many of their games get changed, if not outright banned. Ask Japan about the lack of decapitations in recent Resident Evil games released there (that are intact here), or the lack of blood at all when Uncharted or Resistance: Fall of Man are played on a Japanese PS3 (it’s present here). Ask Europe about how their version of South Park: The Stick of Truth had all references to anal probes removed (but they’re present here). Ask Germany about how all of the games released there that take place during WWII can’t have swastikas or even use the word “Nazi” in any way, even when the Nazis are clearly the villains of the game. Every region of the world has its own region- and culture-specific idiosyncrasies that lead to games being changed for various reasons. In no part of the world is every single game released exactly as it was in its original country. Zero. Or do we just not care when the “censorship” goes the other way? That hardly seems consistent with our supposed view of being against any inhibiting of artistic expression to only be concerned when it effects us directly, but not when it effects the art we create but send elsewhere, which leads me to my final point.
What probably bothers me most about the whole thing is that the topic of censorship never seems to be on most gamers’ radars until someone threatens to take their chance to see boobs and asses away. Then all of a sudden everyone is up in arms, launching petitions, threatening boycotts, writing “political” rants when they wouldn’t normally say anything remotely political. If you truly care about censorship and freedom of expression, than you need to care whenever it happens, not just when it involves covering up female skin. When Joker’s fatality was changed in the North American version of Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe to have the gunshot to the head happen off screen, the outrage was minimal and short-lived. Literally the only change being made to R. Mika in SFV at this point is that her ass slap happens off screen. That’s it. The move where her and another female wrestler sandwich an opponent’s head between their basically bare asses remains, as does her costume in all of its jiggle-revealing glory, but pan the camera up from an ass slap and people are literally threatening to boycott the game. Why did nobody care when it was violence off screen but care when a spanking is happening off screen? Be consistent. Get angry when a game only lets men and women get married and “censors” the option for same-sex marriages, instead of only getting angry if a game censors girls making out. Get angry when a game like Six Days in Fallujah is cancelled because its content is deemed too politically-charged, instead of only getting angry when they cancel the North American release of a game about watching girls’ boobs bounce as they jog around on a beach. Get angry when a game’s character creator doesn’t feature nearly enough options to reflect all different races and ethnicities, instead of only getting angry when a game takes away your ability to control your custom character’s cup size. If you’re going to care, if you’re going to protest, if you’re going to boycott, if you’re going to sign petitions, if you’re going to carry the torch of freedom of expression, if you want gamers to be able to play whatever types of games they want, make sure you do it for everything. Not just when you’re being deprived of skimpier clothing options and a better view of a girl smacking herself on the ass.