Why Does “Censorship” Only Bother Us When Boobs Are Involved?

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.

Fatal Frame 5
One of the outfits removed from the U.S. version of Fatal Frame: MotB. I can definitely see how the lack of excessive ass cleavage affects the game’s artistic vision.

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.

Dead or Alive Xtreme 3
Dead or Alive Xtreme 3: Remember when these games were mostly about volleyball? I don’t even want to know what’s happening here…

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.

Xenoblade Breast Slider gif
The “censored” breast slider from the Japanese version of Xenoblade Chronicles X in action. Go go gadget boobs!

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).

Xenoblade Lin
Yes, people are actually complaining that this outfit was taken away from a 13 year old character. (Xenoblade)

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).

R. Mika spank
Street Fighter V’s R. Mika spanking her…fanny?

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.

The Quiet
“You see, she’s like a fish, she breathes by absorbing moisture through her skin, so she has to be that naked. Get it?” Yeah, sure, we get it alright…

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.

Phantasy Star Online 2
Sure, you can usually make the skin tone dark, but good look finding decent “black person hair” in most games (unless you want corn rows or an Afro).

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.

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7 thoughts on “Why Does “Censorship” Only Bother Us When Boobs Are Involved?

  1. Phew, and I thought I was the only exhibiting such a view on the issue. Great article, absolutely. Just imagine any halfway respectable American studio had created an outfit for a 13-year old as in the Japanese version of Xenoblade… Well, somehow I appreciate the fact that Nintendo of Japan gives their 2nd-parties so much freedom, which is why I’m inclined to put the blame on Monolith for allowing something like that in the first place. Particularly unreflecting in that regard seem to me some people from the anime-manga-japanese-culture scene in their extreme manner of hailing “the original”. They aren’t only throwing in the the argument of “artistic vision”, but furthermore that of cultural difference that should be respected. Uhm, if that means to respect the oversexualisation of a 13-year old, for me that’s a hard thing to do. And perhaps then the problem lies not so much with Monolith (who after all are just a tiny company within an enormously complex culture), but with a cultural environment that continues to see such depictions as acceptable or even favourable. Well, that’s not something I’d like to respect, but to criticise, in spite of whatever respect for cultural difference I have. And if NoA and NoE change that, that’s not only understandable but perhaps even welcome (with respect to certain other changes my opinion may differ slightly).

    I’m rather fond of R. Mika, though. But I won’t go into detail about that at the moment… 😉

    By the way: Nintendo already removed costumes from Project Zero 2: Wii Edition, which is, by the way, another Nintendo game that never made it to the US but was released in Europe. Hence that’s evidence that the removal of overly sexualized content is not only an American issue. In fact, also given that NoE is essentially based in Germany, i.e. one of the most sexually liberal countries, suggests to me that Nintendo doesn’t remove these things because they might be “too sexy” (a claim I just read in another article, arguing that Fatal Frame V was rated mature anyway and therefore Nintendo’s decision was infantilising) but rightfully because they are too “sexist”. And that’s the crucial difference.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well I’m happy to hear some agreement about my little editorial here. As you might imagine, most of the feedback was negative. Although I’m sure a lot of those people just scanned it, chalked me up to being another “SJW,” and bashed me in kind. Unfortunately, the whole issue has become way too polarized. You’re either 100% rah rah, bring on the boobs, and don’t play video games anymore if you don’t like it! – or – you’re a militant feminist prude who would prefer that every female game character be ugly and wearing a turtleneck. There’s very little middle ground, which is the only place that any actual intelligent discourse has any chance of taking place. Oh well.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I don’t want a bunch of penises swinging around in my game. So if that means no naked women’s bodies either. I’m ok with that. That’s what the Internet is for

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I tend to think that it works to everyone’s advantage when certain politicians don’t have the ammunition of there being “that popular video game where you dress a pre-teen in lingerie” (as if that were the focus or entire scope of the game) to support draconian sanction and regulation of the industry. We’ve been through that, and it was terrible, and I wonder if many of the complainers are simply too young to remember those times. I much prefer publishers making slight tweaks to bring material in line with our cultural sensitivities.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I do get bothered by a decent amount of censorships, very rarely, if ever for the reason of anything revealing. I look at the first Fire Emblem game released worldwide and wonder why the change in Lyn’s age when it has absolutely no impact whatsoever. I look at more recent entries and ask why our custom characters can’t be black or have more customization options. Or in Fates how there’s only one character per gender that can marry a same-sex avatar when ideally there should be 4-5 each, for the sake of variety. Some of it is unnecessary censorship and some is a serious issue.

    I feel that when it comes to character customization, you should be able to have free reign over the character, if you want a blue human with no ears and white Goku hair go for it. You might be writing something and it’s your best way to describe or design a character.

    Within all games should be a feature that allows you to play it as it is originally made, with all cultural features intact. Having localization as the default option and allowing a parental system for allowing the removal if the parents themselves deem it too graphic for their children.

    Just my personal insight.

    Liked by 1 person

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