Market Censorship, Old and New

Josh Bray and Toal Fact go into recent, and not so recent, attempts at market censorship and discuss their effect as well as what you can do.

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(A pre­vi­ous ver­sion of this ar­ti­cle was post­ed with sales num­bers from Dead or Alive Xtreme 1 at­trib­uted to Dead or Alive Xtreme 2. This has been cor­rect­ed, as well as cor­rect­ing a cou­ple of gram­mar errors.)

The year is 1985, the month August. A bi­par­ti­san, but pri­mar­i­ly left lean­ing, group called the Parents Music Resource Committee (PMRC) formed a year ear­li­er, lead by a group of con­cerned wives spear­head­ed by Tipper Gore. Leading up to this month was a ramp up in aware­ness of sup­posed “porn rock” which con­sist­ed of lyrics and im­agery of sex, drugs, BDSM, and sup­posed Satanism, cul­mi­nat­ing in the in­fa­mous Senate hear­ings on the is­sue of how to dis­cuss this “prob­lem” one fall day 30 years ago. An un­like­ly trio in Dee Snider, Frank Zappa, and John Denver teamed up to prof­fer their view that what was be­ing con­sid­ered was cen­sor­ship in prac­tice, and in re­gards to items that would have been gov­ern­ment backed, an at­tack on free speech.

So what was on the ta­ble back then that caused such up­roar, and be­got such a cre­ative al­liance to work to pro­tect what they could of cre­ator rights? Of the items brought forth as pri­ma­ry con­cerns, we had a rat­ings sys­tem akin to movies at the time (and video games cur­rent­ly) that most law­mak­ers said they would want to be vol­un­tary, but some folks look­ing to make a name want­ed as manda­to­ry. The re­sult of this was that we got the birth of the “Parental Warning: Explicit Lyrics” that you can see to­day on CDs (those who still lis­ten to phys­i­cal copies of mu­sic at least). This would seem be­nign at first un­til ma­jor re­tail­ers like Walmart, Sears, and JC Penny would stop stock­ing record­ings with PMRC record la­bel warn­ings on them due to pres­sure.

Don’t think for a sec­ond that this wasn’t the in­tent in the first place. A group of peo­ple want­ed these prod­ucts off the mar­ket for fear of the al­leged (and largly trumped up and mis­sas­soicat­ed) ac­tions we were be­ing told they caused. They used a multi-front war plan to try and com­bat this through the me­dia, by work­ing to ma­nip­u­late the mar­ket into cen­sor­ship via team­ing up with in­ter­est groups to push their mes­sage on the con­sumer front, and by uti­liz­ing gov­ern­men­tal pro­ceed­ings to ap­ply pres­sure where they could. In an age when com­mer­cial in­ter­net was still bud­ding, this was a mas­sive win for late 20th cen­tu­ry cul­tur­al authoritarians.

Eric Nuzum writes in his 2001 book Parental Advisory:

…small record stores also took con­tro­ver­sial al­bums off their shelves, not be­cause PMRC sym­pa­thiz­er groups had asked them to, but be­cause they feared an­tag­o­nism from such groups.”

Some mu­sic re­tail­ers rent­ing space in sub­ur­ban malls were warned that they would be evict­ed if con­ser­v­a­tive pro­test­ers picked their stores.”

This wouldn’t be the last time at­tempts at cen­sor­ship would be foist­ed on the mar­ket in the next 30 years, pushed by in­ter­est groups with the right con­nec­tions, and worked by peo­ple try­ing to cat­a­pult their pub­lic im­age by suck­ing on like a bar­na­cle to the “right” trend­ing causes.

I re­mem­ber vivid­ly be­ing called a Satanic Heathen for dar­ing to roll 20 sided dice and pre­tend I was grow­ing leg­end of a ranger in Dungeons & Dragons. This was an­oth­er con­tro­ver­sy de jour that grew dur­ing this time when folks who just can’t grasp ba­sic log­ic want­ed to sup­pos­ed­ly save peo­ple from them­selves against things these crit­ics just didn’t understand.

It seems re­dun­dant at this point to point out ear­li­er video game con­tro­ver­sies. The Mortal Kombats, the Manhunts, the Mass “Virtual Orgasmic Rape” Effects. But they stand as a his­to­ry of this at­tempt to strong-arm culture.

In the in­ter­ven­ing years, once time lawyer Jack Thompson staked his ca­reer on de­fend­ing the pub­lic from some imag­i­nary harm pre­sent­ed by video games; be­com­ing a never-ending joke in the process. He was per­ma­nent­ly dis­barred by the Florida State Supreme court back in 2008 based on his egre­gious ac­tions in work­ing to push his cause.

For a time there was a much ex­pect­ed sigh of re­lief. Over two decades of video games con­tro­ver­sy be­ing pushed by disin­gen­u­ous per­son­al­i­ty cults had abat­ed. One of the biggest pro­po­nents of the in­creas­ing­ly mytho­log­i­cal “me­dia is harm­ful” claims was drummed out of le­git­i­ma­cy, and the peo­ple rejoiced.

755128729dc71b84baae08ed5c1c81f78e3c1a2c (1)Little did the gam­ing world know that an­oth­er gag­gle of moral au­thor­i­tar­i­ans was brew­ing, and not even 10 years af­ter Jack Thompson’s dis­bar­ment we would learn again that lib­er­al zealots can be just as con­trol­ling as their con­ser­v­a­tive coun­ter­parts. Except this time we wouldn’t have the “en­thu­si­ast” gam­ing press in our cor­ner like that by­gone time.

Before tran­si­tion­ing into present day “cul­ture war” era events, I want to point out a trend. Most know this, but I feel it’s im­por­tant for this to be laid out plain­ly. Certain fig­ures thought some­thing was in­her­ent­ly “prob­lem­at­ic,” and they worked with pub­lic and pri­vate in­sti­tu­tions to re­move these items from the cul­tur­al ver­nac­u­lar even though they were not the au­di­ence for, nor were they in­tend­ing on buy­ing, these cre­ations, And with­out the cre­ators and au­di­ence for those cre­ators stand­ing up against them… they might have won more ground than their mea­ger vic­to­ries al­lowed as it stands.

It’s of no sur­prise that the rise of, es­sen­tial­ly, “not giv­ing a fuck” about these moral grand­standers came about with in­creased sat­u­ra­tion of the in­ter­net. The large­ly un­fet­tered dis­tri­b­u­tion al­lowed by the in­ter­net was a huge equal­iz­er for spread­ing cul­ture, and al­low­ing those who en­joyed their part of it to meet oth­ers who share those views or pas­sions you do. It’s a lot eas­i­er for most of us to say “shove off” to oth­ers when they know they are not alone with their ideas.

Now I want to throw some de­f­i­n­i­tions out here. This isn’t to pa­tron­ize the read­er, I as­sure you. I’m fair­ly con­fi­dent that most who read our work un­der­stand this al­ready. But so-called cul­ture war­riors who are now cham­pi­oning the trend­ing “plights” of Social Justice and PC is­sues just don’t seem to un­der­stand these con­cepts. So why not lay this out plain as a sun lit day be­fore proceeding.

Censorship: “The sup­pres­sion or pro­hi­bi­tion of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are con­sid­ered ob­scene, po­lit­i­cal­ly un­ac­cept­able, or a threat to security.”

Chilling ef­fect: “A dis­cour­ag­ing or de­ter­ring ef­fect on the be­hav­iour of an in­di­vid­ual or group, es­pe­cial­ly [but not lim­it­ed to] the in­hi­bi­tion of the ex­er­cise of a con­sti­tu­tion­al right, such as free­dom of speech, through fear of le­gal action.”

Market Censorship: “The cat­e­go­ry of overt mar­ket cen­sor­ship en­com­pass­es self-censorship by writ­ers and artists who fear that their work will not be pub­lished, ex­hib­it­ed, or distributed.”

Self-Censorship: “The ex­er­cis­ing of con­trol over what one says and does, es­pe­cial­ly to avoid cas­ti­ga­tion (read: be­ing reprimanded)”

So let’s roll this all to­geth­er like the Jackson 5, be­cause this is as easy as 1 – 2‑3. Attempts at sup­pres­sion of “po­lit­i­cal­ly un­ac­cept­able” ideas or me­dia can cre­ate a chill­ing ef­fect on cre­ators, and overt at­tempts at that can cre­ate mar­ket cen­sor­ship in which cre­ators then self-censor them­selves for fear of be­ing rep­ri­mand­ed or worse. Sound fa­mil­iar? Because if it doesn’t, then you haven’t been pay­ing at­ten­tion to this past year and a half.

In a flash back to the 1990’s, we saw the con­tro­ver­sy with Destructive Creations game Hatred. The day it launched on Steam’s Greenlight pro­gram it got prompt­ly pulled down by Valve be­cause “[Valve] found the con­tent so dis­taste­ful that it wouldn’t want to dis­trib­ute it.” It was re­in­stat­ed short­ly af­ter when Valve co-founder Gabe Newell caught wind of the in­ci­dent, apol­o­giz­ing to the team for what “wasn’t a good decision.”

Xenoblade Chronicles X couldn’t avoid land­ing in the con­tro­ver­sy trap again and again. While some choic­es can be more un­der­stand­able, a la the de­ci­sion to put a bit more clothes on the char­ac­ter Lin (age 13 in the orig­i­nal re­lease, age 15 in the west) for the Western re­lease. Others choic­es, like the re­moval of the breast slid­er or ex­tra cov­er­age of un­der­wear for men and women, can seem ar­bi­trary to peo­ple who are ac­tu­al­ly the au­di­ence for this game, and who are be­com­ing in­creas­ing­ly in­censed at be­ing treat­ed like chil­dren. It should be not­ed that Xenoblade Chronicles X is rat­ed Teen by the ESRB, and if you feel that some­one 13 and above can­not han­dle a bit of cleav­age or a dude in tighty whities then I im­plore you to make sure they don’t view any TV com­mer­cials or the mag­a­zine rack at your lo­cal gro­cery store check-out aisle. The horror.

In a re­cent in­ter­view, XSEED Games Vice President Ken Barry touched on how hard it can be for Japanese de­vel­op­ers and pub­lish­ers to walk a line be­tween re­leas­ing a prod­uct for the peo­ple ac­tu­al­ly buy­ing said prod­ucts, and those who are pick­et­ing it yet not ac­tu­al­ly con­sumers of their product.

When asked about cen­sor­ing a game for lo­cal­iza­tion, he stat­ed:

That would be plac­ing us in a very, very dif­fi­cult po­si­tion be­cause cen­sor­ing it would alien­ate the very au­di­ence that we are try­ing to bring the game for, while not re­al­ly ap­peas­ing any of the crit­ics that had no pur­chase in­tent in the first place. So we’d be do­ing a lot of ex­tra work and go­ing through a lot of ex­tra trou­ble and pleas­ing no­body. So hope­ful­ly, we’re nev­er in that position.”

Xenoblade wasn’t the only Nintendo bound prop­er­ty that got a toned down Western treat­ment. The Mature rat­ed Wii U ti­tle Fatal Frame: Maiden of Black Water suf­fered some cen­sor­ship in it’s west­ern re­lease as well. This time it hits a bit clos­er to the sto­ry in­tegri­ty mark than the Xenoblade ex­am­ples. This time a pro­tag­o­nist, Miu Hinasaki, is not shown in her gravure biki­ni in a flash­back scene. On the sur­face this may seem in­con­se­quen­tial, un­til you learn that Miu Hinasaki’s for­mer pro­fes­sion is a Japanese Idol. The biki­ni was an out­fit she was wear­ing as such, and the flash­back cen­tered on her feel­ing emp­ty and used, and to fans the im­pact of this scene was less­ened by the out­fit change.

Just last month Koei Tecmo an­nounced that the lat­est volleyball/BFF sim­u­la­tor spin-off of the Dead or Alive fight­ing game se­ries was not go­ing to be re­leased for a Western au­di­ence. Despite the pro­duc­er of Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 stat­ing, “If de­mand calls for it, they may re­lease a ver­sion of the game ad­just­ed for North America” in Famitsu. It’s also of note that DoA Xtreme 1 sold more units in North America (360k units sold) than all oth­er ter­ri­to­ries com­bined (240k units sold).


This now delet­ed Facebook post pro­vides some in­sight as to the de­ci­sion to not re­lease this ti­tle for a Western au­di­ence, and this was clar­i­fied lat­er by Koei Tecmo officially.

One Asian games im­porter, Play-Asia, de­cid­ed to cap­i­tal­ize on this sit­u­a­tion by let­ting fans know they could still get the re­gion free English ver­sion of the game via their store­front. This in­cit­ed the nor­mal in­ter­net furor raised by the per­pet­u­al­ly out­raged, and start­ed one of the most laugh­able fail­ures of a boy­cott this au­thor has had the plea­sure of seeing.

SuperNerdLand con­trib­u­tor Toal Fact blunt­ly sum­ma­rizes the events as such:

Recently the lo­cal­iza­tion site Play-Asia has ver­bal­ized its dis­dain for the DoAX3 sit­u­a­tion, pic­tured here:

As a re­sult this has, of course, caused a ma­jor shit­storm on­line. The ac­count has since been mobbed by wail­ing crit­ics — whom seem to be mad be­cause they were called by a ti­tle they tried to jok­ing­ly ap­ply to them­selves in the first place.

One of the more out­ra­geous parts about this en­tire af­fair was when a for­mer IGN and USAToday writer, as well as for­mer Bethesda, Bioware, and Ubisoft em­ploy­ee Carolyn [Last Name Withheld] seem­ing­ly threat­ened to use her con­tacts to pun­ish a Play-Asia’s PR em­ploy­ee. She lat­er backpedaled on her state­ments, in­sist­ing she was us­ing her words ex­treme­ly poor, and apol­o­gized lat­er in a twit­longer.

On the oth­er hand we have less re­pen­tant com­menters such as CitizenNapoleon, who has gone on the de­fense for the au­thor­i­tar­i­an crit­ics. He in­sists again, and again, that there is not a mar­ket for this game, de­spite the ev­i­dence to the con­trary in wide­ly avail­able sales num­bers. In his video, he is ac­cus­ing Play-Asia PR of ly­ing about Koei Tecmo’s fear of con­tro­ver­sy in America’s po­lit­i­cal­ly cor­rect cli­mate. Also de­spite a re­cent opin­ion piece in Japan re­veal­ing they see the same is­sues, as well as state­ments made by this ron­in­works piece trans­lat­ed by Twitter user mom­bot that it was specif­i­cal­ly char­ac­ter Rose Marie that gave Koei Tecmo cold feet on a Western release.

It is iron­ic, see­ing how the moral ma­jor­i­ty types are now at­tempt­ing to nor­mal­ize peo­ple who ad­mit to be­ing pe­dophiles, as ex­am­pled with Salon. But I digress.

Just look at Grand theft Auto 5 get­ting banned in Australia af­ter fem­i­nists protest­ed the ti­tle. Or the con­tro­ver­sy sur­round­ing Hatred’s re­lease in re­gards to at­tempts to re­move the game from Steam. Inferring that there isn’t back­lash is de­nial. Another bla­tant ex­am­ple is with the MMO Blade and Soul, and their re­moval of adult themes from a quest in an M rat­ed game. So for­give me if you are very poor­ly con­vinc­ing me there is no is­sue with cen­sor­ship attempts.

In what can be called the worst boy­cott ever, Play-Asia’s Twitter ac­count more than dou­bled their fol­low­er count since these events, which cur­rent­ly sits at 25.8k fol­low­ers. I know this doesn’t all equate to sales, but that is a damn good jump in mar­ket­ing presence.

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Wouldn’t you know, just af­ter the Dead or Alive Xtreme 3/Play-Asia con­tro­ver­sy, we have a con­fir­ma­tion from Street Fighter V pro­duc­er Yoshinori Ono that Japanese de­vel­op­ers are try­ing to tip-toe around sup­posed Western sen­si­bil­i­ties when re­spond­ing to ques­tions about the self-censorship of as­pects of the char­ac­ter Rainbow Mika.

Our ob­jec­tive with Street Fighter ’ is to start over from zero[…] We want the pro­fes­sion­al play­ers and the ca­su­al fans of the se­ries to re­turn, but we also want to reach those who have nev­er even touched a fight­ing game. So we can’t have some­thing in the game that makes peo­ple think, “This is not acceptable.”

We didn’t make any change be­cause of ex­ter­nal influences[…]Those changes came up in­ter­nal­ly. We de­cid­ed to re­move that be­cause we want the biggest pos­si­ble num­ber of peo­ple to play, and we don’t want to have some­thing in the game that might make some­one uncomfortable.”

Probably we won’t be able to re­move every­thing that could of­fend some­one. But our goal is, at least, to re­duce that num­ber as much as pos­si­ble so that they think ‘Ok, there is this is­sue here, but it is with­in the lim­its’. We want that every­one can play and en­joy with­out wor­ry­ing about any­thing else.”

While the idea of ex­pand­ing the au­di­ence of a giv­en game or genre is an ad­mirable one, he states in his re­sponse the num­ber one rea­son cre­ators should just stick to their vi­sion in­stead of try­ing to bow to peo­ple cash­ing in on trendy “is­sues.”

Probably we won’t be able to re­move every­thing that could of­fend some­one. …We want that every­one can play and en­joy with­out wor­ry­ing about any­thing else.”

That hits the nail on the head. And when it comes to it, fans of the game — male and fe­male — have no is­sue with a char­ac­ter smack­ing her buttcheeks. In fact, that Capcom would change just this as­pect seems to re­veal that Japanese devs don’t even know what the is­sue pre­sent­ed by fem­i­nists is ex­act­ly about, as the fol­low­ers of Anita Sarkeesian’s per­son­al­i­ty cult look to have a prob­lem with about every de­pic­tion of women in games, not just a sin­gle taunt­ing smack of the ass.

So why care about all this? Why should we care if wrestling char­ac­ter can’t smack her ass with­out it be­ing op­press­ing to women, or about a mu­si­cian writ­ing on pos­si­bly taboo sub­jects? Why should we care to fight for the Fatalities, the bikini’s, and the breast sliders?

Because out­rages of this kind of are a soup of the day. As quick­ly as one con­tro­ver­sy wanes, an­oth­er one wax­es. It’s a cy­cle of con­cerned hand-wringing that op­por­tunists use to prof­it, build ac­claim, and to place them­selves in a po­si­tion to dic­tate what is and is not ac­cept­able cul­ture. If cre­ators and fans of those cre­ations don’t stand up then they ac­tive­ly cede pow­er to moral au­thor­i­tar­i­ans who want to tell you what is dam­ag­ing you, when in fact they are just be­ing pre­sent­ed with ideas or con­cepts they dis­agree with, or feel un­com­fort­able around — all with nary a vi­able piece of ev­i­dence to back up their out­ra­geous claims.

If you do not stand up to these types of peo­ple then it could very well be some­thing you en­joy next. The fick­le dice of out­rage could term your fan­dom a prob­lem next. It doesn’t mat­ter if you land a frag­ile piece of elec­tron­ics on a damn comet, if you wear the wrong shirt (that was gift­ed to him by a fe­male friend, FWIW). As gamers found out in August 2014… any group can be tar­get­ed next.

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What can be done about all this? Well, be­sides just stand­ing up to the cul­tur­al bul­lies, and say­ing “NO?” Reach out to the com­pa­nies you love. Let them know you love their prod­uct as is, that your mon­ey wants to go to their cre­ations how they want to cre­ate them, and not how peo­ple who don’t plan on play­ing the game first place want them.

E‑mails are great in this as­pect. Even Twitter and Facebook en­gage­ment can let a com­pa­ny know that their fan­base ap­pre­ci­ates what they are doing.

Some gamers are try­ing to go a step far­ther with the cre­ation of the “1 Million Gamers Strong For Japanese Gaming” pe­ti­tion. Their aim is to let these Japanese de­vel­op­ers know that the ac­tu­al con­sumers of their prod­ucts don’t want these prod­ucts changed for some er­ro­neous con­cept of go­ing against “Western sen­si­bil­i­ties.” While I think the “1 Million” mark may be try­ing to over­shoot a rea­son­able goal, I still ap­plaud the idea be­hind the pe­ti­tion and the at­tempt to let Japanese devs know we love them just the way they are.

So what is the moral of our sto­ry here to­day? Just say no. When some­one tells you that you are a hor­ri­ble per­son for en­joy­ing a cer­tain form me­dia, just stand up and say no. As we’ve seen, the cur­rent “cul­ture war” isn’t the first time we’ve seen moral ar­biters try to dic­tate what we should con­sume, and it sure as hell won’t be the last.


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Josh has worked in IT for over 15 years. Graduated Broadcasting school in 2012 with a fo­cus on A/V pro­duc­tion. Amateur pho­tog­ra­ph­er with a pas­sion to make things work… by any means nec­es­sary. Editor-in-Chief and do-er of tech things at SuperNerdLand

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