What's The Deal With Censorship?
In what feels like the five-millionth instance of this topic in 2015, consumers are up in arms against Lab Zero's excellent fighter, Skullgirls. With a recent update, around 15 or so frames of animation were altered on certain characters, removing panty shots that were previously visible during certain moves. Putting the question of who the hell actually pays attention to that when playing a fighter aside, it speaks to a larger concern that's been popping up in recent months.
This larger concern is that video games are somehow being censored in the name of "political correctness." Nintendo removing outfits in certain games, Capcom altering booty slaps on R. Mika, Ninja Theory removing a line of dialogue from DmC: Devil May Cry and now the whole Skullgirls thing... all of this is, allegedly, part of some larger social justice scheme to censor video games and shame human sexuality.
But the real question we should all be asking, in my opinion, is what censorship even is to begin with.
The actual definition of censorship, as a term, is a bit cut and dry, really, and if more people actually understood it, maybe we wouldn't be having this conversation to begin with. Basically, it's the official (read: done by an authority figure) suppression of ideas, images, and words in media that could be deemed harmful to society. It's something that's been covered time and time again in classic dystopian fiction like 1984, Brazil, Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451, and for good reason: it's scary fucking stuff. The idea that a governing force could rob us of our freedom of speech and force us to adopt a shared set of cultural values is absolutely terrifying.
Just ask Native Americans!
Biting satire aside, that's the gist of "censorship." It's about material and/or thoughts deemed unacceptable by a higher power getting suppressed, eradicated, destroyed, yada yada yada. Pretty horrible stuff, and something that's still happening around the world. Like, shit, guys, have you seen what's going on in North Korea? They literally rewrite history books, are forbidden from romance, and believe their leaders are almighty deities. What about Japan, too? Not nearly as bad, but whole passages of Japanese history are erased from textbooks (you know, the stuff about comfort women, the Rape of Nanking, so on,) and they still censor genitalia in pretty much everything. That's kind of messed up. Censorship is alive and well in the 21st century, unfortunately.
But you know where it's not really all that alive?
Yes, despite what dozens upon dozens of angry Steam comments and alarmist news articles might have you believe, a developer/publisher opting to alter contents of their own product, of their own volition, is not tantamount to censorship. It's not even close, in fact.
This might be a controversial opinion among some circles of the gaming community... but it shouldn't be. Why? Because anybody who knows anything about actual censorship and doesn't just blindly yell something is "Orwellian" when it gets altered by its creator can distinguish between genuine censorship and simple changes for internal reasons.
Let's take the whole kerfuffle about Nintendo as an example of this. The first instance of their "censorship" this year stems from Fatal Frame V: Maiden of Black Water. Now, the larger issue of the game is that it's a pile of steaming trash with a horrible story and even worse gameplay, but for some reason, that's not what a lot of people are mad at. No, what people are pissed off about is Nintendo's stripping (ha!) of costumes found in the Japanese version of the game. Instead of guiding teenagers (one of whom is 17) around in through perilous situations in revealing lingerie as they get wet and scream a lot, players now have to settle for... Princess Zelda and Zero Suit Samus. Apparently, that's a bad thing?
Anyway. The other instance of "censorship" coming straight out of the Big N this year is in the much-hyped and most likely little-sold JRPG Xenoblade Chronicles X, where a 13 year-old's skimpy outfit is being altered, and her age is being bumped up to 15. To put it straight: Nintendo thought that maybe an outfit that would make a lot of porn stars blush on a 13 year-old might not be the best idea. To put it even straighter: Nintendo didn't want to sexualize a 13 year-old. This is a thing that a lot of people are really mad about, apparently, which, logically, means that they're opposed to it. Which also logically means their side of the argument is, "yes, please sexualize a middle-schooler."
Baseless accusations of pedophilia aside, the common rallying cry of the opposition is "anti-censorship." "Pro-freedom of speech." "Anti-PC." "Feminists killed video games again." Stuff like that. And all told, I really... uh... I really don't get it. Like, at all.
In the case of Nintendo, or in the case of any developer/publisher that does this, there's absolutely no indication of why something got changed. I mean, sure, we can guess sometimes. Nintendo probably didn't want to sexualize underage characters, for example. But in the cases of Skullgirls, R. Mika, and so on? We really don't know the full story.
But what we do know is that, more likely than not, any sort of actual, legitimate censorship was not involved. We know this because stuff with much, much more risque content has gotten published in North America, even by Nintendo. Have you played most of Atlus, XSeed, or NIS' output as of late? Like, seriously, actually played it. Heaving bosoms, nearly-exposed flat chests, and booties of all shapes and sizes are prominently on display, and they're are available anywhere fine video games are sold. I mean, sure, once in a blue moon, a game gets content chopped off to avoid an AO rating (see: Criminal Girls, a game in which you sexually punish teens and pre-teens in Hell,) but the government isn't actively stepping in and saying that it's obscene. No one is. The ESRB is saying, "hey, guys, here's what the rating for this would be, deuces." That's it.
And if a publisher and/or developer does alter the contents of a game for a lower rating, well, get this: it's their own fucking choice. See, the whole "freedom of speech" argument is absurd, because by altering the contents of their game, publishers and developers are actually exercising that exact right. They could totally publish the game in the state it's in. That's a thing that can happen. Hatred got published with an AO. Starless got published with an AO, and its cut content (illegal in some territories) was restored a day later. There's some lesbian ghost dating sim coming out on Steam that's probably getting an AO.
But in order to make a game more marketable, or in order to make it more palatable to whatever region the product is coming out, changes are sometimes made... and that's the right of the company. It's not censorship because nobody's making them do it. Instead, they're thinking, "hm, how can we make the most money in this territory? 13 year-old tits probably aren't the answer!" It's business, pure and simple.
And as far as other changes go, like the post-release alteration of Skullgirls, or the omission of Mika's butt slap in Street Fighter V? I mean, who knows, man? Who knows why they took that out? Even if it was "SJW bullying" or "feminist propaganda," it really doesn't fucking matter. Because the developers of those games could have just as easily said "fuck it, we'll do it live" and kept those crotch shots and camera angles. That would be well within their rights. But it's also well within their rights to listen to whatever criticism they may or may not have heard and said, "hm, well, maybe we'll retool some stuff." Nobody made them do it.
The weird thing? A lot of these loud opponents to the changes are actually advocating for censorship, in a way. "Put this back in here or we'll seek refunds, en masse." "We'll boycott you unless you put a camera angle back in." "We'll harass Nintendo if they don't give me my 13 year-old titties, dammit!" And all of it has to do with sexualizing characters. They bully and shout down any opposing viewpoints until they get what they want. It's freedom of speech and expression, sure, but it's being used in a way that actively tries to marginalize different ways of thinking. People who have gone online and said, "hey, maybe R. Mika's outfit is sorta sexual and the camera angles are a bit much, in my opinion," get harassed, threatened, and bombarded with all kind of hate. Over a fucking video game character's tits and ass.
In other words, they actively seek out opposing views and then try to shout them off the Internet. Isn't that a little hypocritical?
I'm not saying I'm right or anything, though. Like, if you want to get mad about this stuff, go ahead. It's your right. There are some valid conversations about societal norms and maintaining artistic vision to be had. But when you throw around the word "censorship," it makes you look like you don't know what the fuck you're talking about.
Also, if you're so hard up (ayy lmao) to see crotch shots of characters, I mean... just look up porn of them or something. They don't need to be sexualized in a game for you to seek out sexual content of them, right? Here, I'll even do it for you. Those links aren't safe for work, by the way.
Although if you really want to seek out porn of a 13 year-old character... maybe get some help for that, bud.