Nintendo has a history of localisation, culturalisation and censorship. To some all these three terms are synonymous witch each other, as the end result is the same; modified or removed content to avoid offending someone. While you’d think this would be appropriate, the reality of it is that the Japanese developers don’t give a rat’s ass about it and mostly look at at the sales numbers.
Everybody who played games during the Third Generation remembers how NES had strict censorship rules across the board in order to maintain certain image. Sega used this to advertise themselves as a more mature option, with far more lax rules imposed to the developers, which ultimately ended in the birth of ESRB, the Entertainment Software Rating Board.
Nintendo mainly caters and develops for Japan, and this applies to all Japanese developers across the board. There is nothing wrong in this, though the reality is that a game that has the strongest roots to Japanese culture will sell less in the West. It would make sense for a company to want to localise and culturalise their game for the Western market in order to make it more profitable, but there’s the rub.
As much as game developers may tell use the art when describing games, their actions betray the notion. Art has an untouchable sanctity to itself, where the work and author is required to be respected. This goes to all art. Games, however, are not art and can be modified to any degree the creators see fit in order to make it a more selling product. Certainly developers are willing to meet halfway through and modify things that may seem inappropriate (for some) while keeping the overall work intact, but this sort of approach is not needed for art.
It should also be mentioned that culturalisation is an incredibly half-assed method to localise or translate anything. American sensibilities do not meet up with various European nations to any degree. A chest-size slider from Xenoblade Chronicles may be somewhat eyebrow raising thing in a puritanical nation, yet most European nations would laugh it off and admire the extent of customisation the developers have provided. Yet Nintendo is listening and believing people who consider themselves the guardians of Western (American) culture by taking anything that would seem offensive. Though there’s another rub in there, as most of these offences seem to touch upon only on depiction of women. The aforementioned chest-size slider being a good example of this.
Nintendo’s approach how they culturalise is limited at best. According to an interview, staff from Nintendo Treehouse travel to Japan to discuss with the developers in order to affect development of a game. This effectively means that Nintendo has few selected guardians of morality that dictate what should be censored from a game for Western release. This is of course absolutely bullshit, as this without a doubt affects author’s vision and intent for the game. Staff from Nintendo may claim that they aim to have different region versions as close to each other as possible, though that’s beside the point; without exchange of ideas and contest of contents, cultures stagnate.
Nintendo can claim to disregard politics and concentrate on fun as much as they want. With the action of culturalisation, they are making a political statement about people, their culture and what sort of content they should be have available for consumption. Due to this, the only way to play a Nintendo game in the future in its original, unaltered form, is to play a Japanese original release with no modified or removed content.
Despite all this, Nintendo’s attempt to increase sales by catering to puritanical moral guardians fails to take notice how it’s not the chest-size sliders or the like that affect sales. As much as Japanese developers want to think otherwise, Japanese games don’t sell if they have anime look or otherwise. No matter of censorship won’t change the fact America and parts of Europe reject this look. There are numerous stigmas towards anime, starting with perversions and under-age girls in lingerie to hyperviolence. Often combinign the two no less.
If Nintendo would do culturalisation to its fullest extent, they’d completely rework the Xenoblade Chronicles 2‘s visual design and story to step away from Japanese culture and anime visuals. However, Nintendo, like any other Japanese company, takes pride in their culture and its products and would consider this an impossible task. However, changing something that’s little and of no importance is OK, just to make sure it could sell a bit more.
Which is absurd.
A minor edit in a game’s options or visuals won’t change the fact that a game like Xenoblade Chronicles 2 is inherently Japanese and this is its grand weakness on the market. It can’t be even properly contest on the market place on its own merits due to censorship applied to it from the Treehouse. Nintendo has an extremely small pool of data from which to make their decisions on, and their failure of following reports from sites like Kotaku and Polygon instead of following raw data that is the consumer trends means they will continue to censor their games for no good reason.
Video games may have eclipse Hollywood in terms of money flowing back and forth. However, unlike Hollywood, the game industry is spoiled like a baby. This media can’t mature any further if its ideas, methods and content is being suffocated for the sake of supposed American culture. The European nations suffer from this, as each nation has its own distinct culture and approach things from their own angles. No company would want to make around 53 different versions of a game for the Western world, counting American and Canada with the all the Old World countries and their transcontinental states.
The game industry needs to grow up into its teenage years and stop giving a shit about what people say about them and go their own way. Let the market decide what’s appropriate and what’s not. Culture can’t thrive if there is no open debate on presented ideas. All ideas exist to be tested, and so does a market test a game. However, as said, a game can’t be tested on its own merits if it already has been censored.
Vote with your wallets and make your stance known, as private consumers. The only way to say No to unnecessary censorship is through money.