Two steps forwards, one step back with video game censorship

This isn’t exactly a topic I intended to cover this soon after the whole Dead or Alive 6 PR fiasco. Tecmo sure has tried to rebuild their trust with the disassociated core audience with their latest update, but the damage from the initial barrage of news and statements is hard to recover from. Now, Sony’s stepped in for the third time to practice censorship on their platform. The brand that has been selling with the image of being the choice for an adult and mature electronics entertainment user is now a platform more prone to see your title being affected if the content has a sex-positive stance than Nintendo.

So, what’s it this time then? The Western release of Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal will have its skinship mode removed in the PlayStation 4 version, as stated by XSDEED. This is not their decisions, but Sony has wished this to be removed, i.e. they have issued a demand that if this mode exists in the game, it won’t be allowed to be on the platform. Someone at Sony hasn’t played much attention, as this kind mode has already existed on previous Senran Kagura titles without any word from them. It would seem that someone in power has a level of dislike towards Japanese video games with certain kind of fan service elements to them. Furthermore, thanks to GTA’s Hot Coffee controversy, no game can have material that’s not approved remain in the game code. If Sony demands complete removal of Skinship mode, it means XSEED has to spend extra cash to remove all vestiges from the code, which may affect some other parts of the game if not done properly. Hopefully, all they need to do is to dummy out the directory files in order to impact the game’s code least possible amount.

Before this, Sony had banned Omega Labyrinth Z from getting a Western release. They disapproved the title, despite it had successfully gained ESBR and PEGI classifications. PQcube, the title’s publisher, had already had most, if not all, of their translation work done for the title and were ready to release it. Because of the ban, PQube lost time and money, probably necessitating them to choose titles with less risque nature to them and avoid niche titles at least for a time. In order to port the game to e.g. Steam, it would probably take an extra $10 000 to happen, something the company may not want to throw in.

Around a week after screwing PQube, Sony delayed Nekopara Vol1, a visual novel about catgirls, got delayed worldwide. The title was slated for Summer 2018, but searching for the title on PSN gives no results for it. However, going into Nintendo’s Game Store and looking up Nekopara there gives a definitive result. At face value, it seems Nekopara never came to Sony’s platform while Nintendo had seemingly no problems with it. Delayed until further notice, but fans of the series probably have picked this one up elsewhere already, like Steam where they can patch it.

We understand the logic just fine; these titles’ fan service is in nature that does not conform to overall Western values. These three titles are inherently Japanese and do seem over-the-top in their nature of handling the characters every which way. Nevertheless, this exact aspect is part of their charm and have their audience. Omega Labyrinth Z does not have the luxury of having a Steam port like Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal. If fans want the game as intended and on console, they are required to import the Japanese version.

The issue of these characters being too young or the like has been discussed to death, even on this blog. I’ll always point out that this is digital and no human being is present, there is no exploitation or damage to done to anyone or anything. Dead or Alive Xtrme 3 is probably the best point to start with, and all these really raises the question if Sony themselves something to do with it not being published in the West and not just Tecmo wanting to showcase their sensibility towards loud fringe factions. If someone takes offense in how things looks, they can vote with their wallets and not buy the title.

Of course, the discussion that’s always sidestepped in the official circles is that this is taking away the intended artistry from these games, especially in case of Senran Kagura‘s, when an intended function and mode is removed. Sony and other corporations easily fling claims about games being art and such to gain image victories and promote the idea of games being larger than life entertainment like movies and music, which in reality all are rather mundane and at equal footing. When it comes to business and trying to stick to certain kind of ideologies, these words are flung out of the windows. They are pretty words, but that’s what they all are in the end. The industry, and the Red Ocean consumers, have been trying to sell the idea of games as art for so long that some of them take it as face value, but whenever a game is cancelled due to its content, censored because it might offense somebody or because the platform owner simply doesn’t want it for some reason, we are reminded that we are discussing an industry that is business and first and foremost.

Then again, perhaps we should consider games as art in its very classical form, where art is is just extension of craftsmanship and artisanal skills. Someonebody orders something to be made, a painting for example, giving the person money to pain what’s demanded of them and the artist fulfills the request. Art historically hasn’t been trying to express some deep emotions or find oneself, but to fulfill the customers demands and requests the best they can. No, it’s not commercial art, its art as it has been historically. Here we can argue whether or not the consumer should have the veto whether or not the artists, i.e. the developers and publishers, can put in their games as consumers are the one purchasing the end-product, but that would never succeed. The platform owners are just middle-hands, but they clearly have some sort of word what’s in and what’s no already, so the onus originally seems to be on whoever pays the biggest bill, often the publisher.

Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo directly in their wake, should take after Valve and allow free market to reign on their system with consumers being the end decider what’s successful and what isn’t. I’m as surprised as you are, didn’t see that coming. It’s almost crazy to think that Nintendo has been trying to make their platforms appear more mature with titles like Bayonetta, while Sony’s taking steps backwards.

28/10/2018 Addition

As it turns out, it would seem Japanese developers are also required to censor their games from the get go on the table if they want to have their titles on PS4. A Twitter user uitachibana has some comparative examples between platforms, where PS4 versions have more risque scenes effectively blocked by a bright light. Visual Novel developer Light has come forth about Sony’s new policy, forcing the developer to censor their title in order to be released on the platform. Sony’s strict and aggressive approach on anything risque or sexually adult oriented content has prevented their latest title, Silverio Trinity, being published right after new year because Sony is not willing to approve the title.

The worst part of all, the developers have been instructed to plead their approvals in English, meaning that Sony of Japan has relegated this to another party, probably inside of Sony of America. This would effectively mean whatever agenda and politics this party wants to enforce across the platform, they can. The language barrier alone is large to both directions, and it is very clear that whatever party is in charge of the censorship doesn’t care about cultural differences or consumer wants.

3 thoughts on “Two steps forwards, one step back with video game censorship

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