I’ve covered Sony’s and their censorious practices on the blog for some time now, for a good measure. While Sony themselves haven’t spoken much about their censorship they practice much in the public, outside on particular interview with The Wallstreet Journal, all the other information we have are from developers’ own words and actions. For example, Senran Kagura 7even has been significantly delayed due to the game needing to be be reworked because of Sony’s censorship wall. However, with the release of The Last of Us 2 their practices of censorship must be put under scrutiny. If Final Fantasy VII Remake‘s Tifa had to go through a redesign, where her bosom and clothing was altered due to concerns of offence, how does a sex scene, where one of the participants is cheating, work under Sony’s internal rules over games’ content? While this seems to be double standards, that’s not the case from Sony’s end.
Let’s call the scene what it is; pornography. The porn scene in The Last of Us 2 is different from e.g. Omega Dungeon‘s titillation because it’s not overtly intended as fanservice, to use the term loosely. The difference between the two is that Omega Dungeon is wholly slightly naughty in content, but it’s treated with levity. It doesn’t take itself seriously and knows that it’s in good fun. The Last of Us 2 however takes itself completely seriously and tries to treat itself as a great work of drama and art, in which it fails when the developers introduced self-congratulatory scenes across the game and allowed the story to take precedence over the game. The porn scene itself is the developers masturbating over their characters and the setting they’ve built around them, what it implies of the characters’ actions and motivation in the same manner a teenager would usually do. This is a cultural divide how the United States and Japanese approach sex in their games. For the US, it can only be served in games in this manner of self-patting porn and in no other mean. For Japan, sexuality and cuteness are more tied to each other, and sex is fully explored across the board as porn. Rather than shying away from it, the Japanese media tends to have a healthier view on it, where different approaches are explored on multiple levels, from just having something as the background material to visibly explicit on the screen. Sometimes intended to arouse and titillate, sometimes just as a major part of the work itself. Visual novels are a great example how Japanese media can handle sexual content in all of its variations. Sure, the US has its share of porn games, yet the most people can cite is Custer’s Revenge and even then the rest of the whole US Cavalry Commander raping an Indian takes precedence. As the old saying goes, American media cuts away all the sex and leaves all the violence. This seems to be rather accurate when it comes to how Western games are seen in Japan, and how Sony’s current censorious practices are. Then again, Canada is to be blamed for the Harlequin novels, which is just porn in text.
Omega∆92 made an interesting supposition regarding Sony’s censorship reasoning, which isn’t all that far-fetched compared to Sony bending a knee to the Chinese censors as well as to gaming disorder. In short, it compares current Sony to Sega of America of 1996 to 1998, when Bernie Stolar was adamant not to allow Japanese titles on the Sega Saturn. He notes that during the first years of the 2000’s the PlayStation 2 saw success in visual novels, like Clannad and Tokimeki Memorial, though I’ll drop Kimi ga Nozomu Eien in there too, despite it being an All-Age port. The note that Japanese developers weren’t familiar how much development time the HD Twins, the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, required rings true, as noted by developers of Final Fantasy XIII where they where overwhelmed how much more work HD consoles required. They ended up dropping the towns and making the game a corridor run. The rise of the mobile market was lucrative and required less work, something that still hits home (though games like Magicami put some console games to shame in multiple fronts, especially the DX version.) The rising cost of HD game development was noted, and the financial crisis at the turn of the decade did make a dent on what games got developed and localised. Japanese games didn’t sell or weren’t popular, but admittedly it was also a cultural gulf. Video games that the Japanese audience prefers aren’t the biggest sellers in the West, and vice versa. Many Western games are treated as overtly violent kusoge, shitgames of the worst kind with no other reason but to present ugly death and gore.
The global economy got better around 2015 and more games begun getting localised with bigger fanfares. While Yakuza had been a cult classic since its first game, it had gained momentum to punch through to the general audiences, similarly how Persona games had become successful alongside titles like Nier: Automata. Not to mention Monster Hunter making its first big Western breakthrough on the 3DS, which paved the way to the success of World. Japanese games, while always popular, saw niche titles getting attention from the general public. Cult classics were becoming true classics. This was the exact time when Sony moved PlayStation headquarters to California and installed their internal censorship. Omega∆92 makes the argument that Sony of America wants to humiliate Japanese games on the global stage after most Sony’s own Western IPs were flopping, while Japanese titles were gaining ground. This is also the reason why Sony wants to keep certain third party IPs and creators close to their heart, because that’s all they really got to entice people when it comes to top tier exclusives. While this connects lots of dots, as he puts it, this seems to be dismissive. Rather, this is Californian PlayStation HQ wanting to drive culture and politics.
We know that the Californian HQ is the one handling the assessment and censorship of games on PlayStation platforms, and that is causing issues not just in language, but in culture as well. The people who are spearheading Sony’s current censorious ship don’t have issues with nudity and sex, as they’ve given The Last of Us 2 free pass (though that scene was directly cut out from the Japanese release because it was against CERO rating system.) What they have issues with is when it’s not depicted the way these heads want it to be, and the way Japanese culture shows sexuality is very much different. You can’t have skinship mode in Senran Kagura RE:BURST, but that doesn’t mean it could have similarly blatant intercourse without censorship either. Arguably, shoving bare titties on the screen while being penetrated from the back in rough sex is worse than the player building digitally physical relation a game’s character. The politics of course is apparent in the situation, as The Last of Us 2 is rather clearly a political game, and the porn scene is part of it all. Naughty Dog got far more freedom to do whatever they wanted with their game and its supposed art than most Japanese developers for no real reason.
A game like The Last of Us 2 would not have been made a decade ago. Not because of its contents, but because of the financial state of the world. We are better off now than what we were ten years ago, though that might change soon. The game was in-development just at the right time and was released at the brink of economical uncertainty. Even entertainment goods are suffering. If we had similar macro-economics five years ago, The Last of Us 2 would not have entered production, and Star Trek Discovery or Disney Star Wars probably would’ve been in the same boat. At least not in the manner they are now, as positive economical climate allows businesses to give trophy-freedoms, allow their staff to create works that clearly wouldn’t sell any other time. Sony isn’t really concerned about this, not at this time, as the powers in California aren’t thinking in terms of game quality or sales, but what’s acceptable in current politics. Politics always change, and while I believe this era of California driven PlayStation will be pushed softly into the annals of history as end-page references, publishers and developers have made note of these policies and moved their titles slowly towards the Switch and Steam. The aforementioned Senran Kagura RE:BURST is fully uncensored on Steam, and only its Western PS4 release is censored. It managed to come out in Japan before Californian censors were at full throttle. The political pendulum has swung too far, everything is taken to its extreme to protect one side of the discussion while attempting, and sometimes succeeding, to drown the other. Sometimes it appears as taking over a district, sometimes as censorship of cartoon tiddies. Whatever standards Californians at Sony think they are enforcing aren’t global and barely even US-wide.