It's something that's gotten a few people really worked up over the past few years--various Nintendo games getting altered in some way when they come to the US. Here's a brief list, but I might've missed some:
Fire Emblem: Awakening -- Tharja's swimsuit bottom covered by curtain Super Smash Bros. for 3DS -- Tharja trophy removed
Fatal Frame 5 -- Underwear/bikini outfits removed, including in a story sequence (replaced with Nintendo character outfits as unlockables) Xenoblade Chronicles X -- "Boob slider" removed, underage character outfit altered
Fire Emblem: Fates -- "Petting" minigame mostly removed except certain situations when married, purchasable "bikini" outfits removed Bravely Second -- Native American style outfit changed to cowboy/cowgirl, some outfits covered up, art book pages modified to remove blood or scantily clad girls, bad endings for certain choice-driven sidequests removed (it's a little unclear if this is NOA or not, but they're publishing the game in the West so it might be) Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE -- Covering revealing clothing
I thought it might be good to talk about the latest Nintendo controversy and see what you guys think. Is the localization team not doing their job well by altering content? Are the games better off without the extra sexuality? Is the principle more important than that? And is today's censorship any more or less acceptable than NOA's censorship in the 80s to mid-90s? Let's hear what you guys think! (and add to the list if I missed any recent examples)
All of these examples are such tiny, meaningless changes IMO and if I wasn't aware of what the INTERNET was, I'd be surprised by how vocal the outcry about this has been. So for me? I don't care about these changes enough to give a hoot. One way or the other.
I will say this though: wasn't the bra/underwear removal (hey oh) from Fatal Frame a licensing issue? Not a censoring one? From what I understood, the underwear is actually a licensed product that was used as advertisement for a brand in Japan. NOA didn't see the point in spending the money for a licensed product in the game for a Western release - especially when this particular product is only available in Japan.
It wasn't so much censoring as it was a (smart) business decision. Assuming of course, my sources are correct.
I'm kind of with Grant. When push comes to shove I'd go with a "companies should change / remove as little as possible" viewpoint, but I do allow companies some room to make changes to better fit a territory and I judge each change on a case by case basis. None of these changes feel particularly big enough to get worked up about, and in many cases I actually think they BETTER fit the vision of the series they represent. (For instance when did Fire Emblem become about pointless sex appeal? These are warriors!)
One that kind of bothers me is the Bravely Second one, though I don't have enough context to actually say much about it. But having a native American outfit isn't inherently insulting, so without knowing the details I don't really understand why it would be removed. And replacing it with a cowboy feels sort of like erasure of native representation to instead include something that mostly came from white culture? (Yes I understand there were non-white cowboys, but especially our current view of them was primarily created by white culture.) I dunno about that one. It's touchy dealing with representations of other cultures but I think there is a way to do it respectfully. To just remove it is odd.
I also think a boob slider is sort of... I get why on the surface level it sounds sort of bad to include one like OH THEY'RE PANDERING TO DUDES WHO WANT TO MAKE WOMEN WITH HUGE BOOBS but the whole point of a slider is it is an option, and for women who want to create a character that looks like them, why not give them as many options as possible? It's in the context of a character creator with a TON of options, so it's not like they just randomly threw in a boob slider, you can change all kinds of things about your character. Sure pervy dudes might use it to make huge boobed women to gawk at but whatever, that's not the tool's fault.
To get into the deeper conversation about censorship of corporate, Capitalist products, it is a bit more nuanced than I think some people give it credit for. It always gets painted as the original vision being the "artist vision" and the new vision being some corporate decision that ruins the vision of the artists. But why is that assumption made? For all we know putting this stuff IN was a corporate decision to begin with. These are products being made tailored to certain territories, and Capitalism rarely leaves anything to accident. And the very same artists may have made different decisions if it was created with a different territory in mind first. If the same artists made a game for America and then localizers sexualized the young girls more when bringing it to Japan would they also be destroying the original vision? What if the original vision included an understanding that certain things would change based on territory? And you know, of all of the decisions these artists made, maybe "sexualized young girl" isn't the one they particularly feel is important to their vision either. For all we know we might be talking about how these changes are bastardizing their art and they are sitting over there in Japan like... *shrugs*, who cares wasn't really a huge part of my vision anyway.
Without really understanding all of the decision-making processes behind these products in each territory they are released in, it's hard for me to yell CENSORSHIP. For the most part it just seems like basic localization decisions.
It depends on what you feel the role of a localization team should be.
I think a good rule of thumb is that the localization has one overarching goal--to translate a game as accurately as possible. Now, "accurately" doesn't always mean word-for-word, which is why I think a lot of fan-translations often sound stilted and lack personality. If there's a joke or reference in a game's dialogue that doesn't carry over, it's up to the localization team to work in a new joke that still fits the spirit of the game and the characters. I think making decisions like "oh, this character has too much cleavage" deviates from the job of a localization team, and kinda sets a bad precedent for a team "filtering" out the experience in unwelcome ways.
It's a big reason why the censorship in 80s/90s games was frowned upon--no blood in Mortal Kombat, no hospital crosses in EarthBound, no naughty mag (or developer room) in FFIV. Sure, these are all fairly minor, but I think people don't like feeling like they're being babied, especially when they're paying for the experience. Not to mention that all the examples in the original post (except Smash) are T or M-rated.
That said, I also think some of the backlash against NOA has been way over-the-line. Just visiting the FE:Fates twitter brings about an insane deluge of anger in every single post! It's like...dang guys, calm the heck down. A lot of that seems to stem from the translation itself, but I can't really find any good examples on how it's supposedly so much worse. I do think the Treehouse sneaks in a few too many cutesy memes in a couple recent games, but that's a discussion for another thread.
@Zero The Native costume removal is actually the one I do understand (along with Lin's skimpy Xenoblade outfit). Native Americans are groups of rich cultures, spiritualities and beliefs. Cultures shouldn't be costumes. What if the game had a Jewish costume? The only game that can get away with that is South Park.
We grew up with Cowboys and Indians, so our skewed experience taught us to see Native dress/headdress as costumes, but they aren't. Heck, party stores still sell the stuff, much to the chagrin of many Native peoples.
@TriforceBun But it's incredibly unlikely that the localization teams are making the decisions to add more clothing. That sounds like a higher-up decision from marketing / corporate. Like, NOA corporate is going to have a vision for what is and isn't inappropriate content for NA as a whole. I doubt they're letting low-level employees make those decisions, it's going to be based on an overall business plan.
I'm not sure I agree that the goal of localization is to "translate a game as accurately as possible" either. If it was, they would be called a translation team. Localization suggests tailoring something to a specific market. But even just sticking to the word translation... I've been talking about this with Shirley as well, as she studies translations from an anthropological / cultural point of view. She was kind of surprised at this idea of trying to do direct translations, since in her experience:
A. That's not an actual thing. Like, literally the idea of being able to directly translate across cultures is just apparently completely rejected by anthropologists. Each culture is considered to be so distinct not only in language but also in its own sets of views and values that it's considered pretty much impossible to directly translate ANYTHING without losing understanding.
B. Apparently, one of the main purposes of translations are to bring something to a new audience within THEIR cultural lens. She was legitimately confused about why you wouldn't want to do this. To an anthropologist the only way to translate things into a new culture is to work within the framework of that new culture.
I think though that when we're just talking about covering up boobs and stuff we're barely even talking about real messages here. Like, what important artistic vison / message was being censored by covering up a 13 year old girl that was created so guys could look at her a bit more? I guess I don't really see this as that dire of a situation.
I also think this is a bit distinct from removing blood from Mortal Kombat or hospital crosses from Earthbound, because in those cases you're talking about removing things that totally, 100% made sense being there in the first place in the context of their respective games. Whereas a lot of this stuff in RPGs makes little sense in context and is just thrown in there for fan service. I'm less concerned about removing fan service because it always feels like an unwanted intrusion that distracts me from the games to begin with. Now, if we're talking about removing the sexiness / sex jokes / etc. from No More Heroes or something, that's a different conversation to me, because that stuff all fits within the context of the game. This is why I also start thinking about artist's visions in a deeper way because... was it REALLY an artist vision to add fan service to a game that didn't need it? Perhaps. But that decision could have come from a lot of places. After all I know a lot of indie dev artists who got out of AAA because they couldn't stand the nonsense they were being asked to make. We can't just assume these decisions are all coming from the artists themselves.
Also, at least in the case of MK, the censorship was pushed on them from an outside company (Nintendo.) But all of the cases above are Nintendo making their own decisions on how to present their own products to different markets. Not quite the same.
As for FE:Fates backlash, I think we all know why it is WAY OVER THE TOP but... let's not go there.
@ploot Hmm, I guess I misunderstood that, even reading costumes I was thinking we were talking about removing actual characters here. It makes a bit more sense if it's just a costume white (or Japanese, or whatever ethnicity these people are) are wearing.
I'm curious about your reasoning on the Xenoblade X one. What is the negative of leaving a boob slider (uh, assuming that in game it is dealt with more respectfully than we are right now calling it a "boob slider") in? A message that it sends? It's a tough case for me too and I don't feel strongly either way since I see arguments on both sides that make sense.
Oh ok. I guess that is another reason these conversations are hard to have with nuance sometimes is because they become about the whole game when for me it comes down to specific decisions I might agree or disagree with. None of which usually bother me enough to get too worked up about over their inclusion or disclusion.
At the end of the day, I wouldn't have any objections to NOA deciding to NOT remove stuff either. Even stuff I find ridiculous like the sexy costumes on kids it's like... I mean, I find that stuff really stupid and I don't want to see it, but whatever. Tiny part of the game, right? Maybe even optional?
I've just gotten into the habit in Xenoblade X of using a combination of stats and looks to pick my outfits. To be more specific, I go for the best stats unless it's like a bathing suit or something that I just really don't feel like watching my WARRIORS fighting in, at which point I go for the second best stats, etc. Can usually find something that's not too ridiculous but is still pretty powerful. Well, sort of.
Well theoretically we are the market, so if we disagree with the way Nintendo does localization and enough people speak up or decide not to support the company or something because of it, they might decide to change how they do things a bit.
...but most people don't care enough to do much other than shrug. And the ones that do care A LOT for... reasons... are sort of ruining their chances of getting Nintendo to take them seriously right now for... other reasons. And even if they weren't, just sort of insisting that as little as possible be changed when localizing doesn't really seem to gel with what these publishers know WORKS. This whole process of localization didn't arise from nowhere, it has been used in other industries and publishers have been using it in video games for many years now.
“I’m sure there was no black nominees some of those years, say ’62, ’63, and black people didn’t protest. Why? Because we had real things to protest at the time…We were too busy being raped and lynched to care about who won best cinematographer! When your grandmother’s swinging from a tree, it’s really hard to care about best documentary foreign short.” -Chris Rock
We lack real things to protest and complain about in our epic, live-like-kings society filled to the gills with first-world problems. Video game localization is a shining example of that. We care about this stuff because we've forgotten (or haven't gotten to experience, having been birthed into excess) what's important to care about. We make claims that it's "censorship" without ever having experienced what true censorship IS. A video game alteration is a shadow of what people should fight regarding censorship, but we're all so fat and happy that we need to find something to hold onto and fight about. Because we can't just be at peace, truly content. Something must be wrong, and if there's nothing actually wrong (or what is actually wrong is too difficult to deal with, like human trafficking) that something must be that we don't get to see underage digital children in racy outfits. Not because we want to see that (or so it is claimed), but because someone tells us we shouldn't. And travesty of travesties that someone tells us what to do/see in a video game. That can't stand, because if we let it, we might be able to live in peace free from complaints and the deep-pit-of-the-stomach anger that we desperately cling to because it feeds us lies and tells us we are right. That lying, righteous anger we all hold onto even when we learn it's terrible for us and we'd be happier without it. That I write this and still hold it myself proves my own insanity.
Of course, those ideas are heavy and disrupting to the self-righteousness inside us. So instead, here is a capybara eating watermelon.
Look how happy he is! I can't wait for summer when I can eat watermelon again. That will be fun.
One thing I would add is that I never really get too caught up in questions of "artistic vision" when it comes to video games, because games seem to have hundreds of parents. It's not so much like film, books or music. There's not really an auteur theory of video games, at least not on the scale that Nintendo currently makes games (small indie development is different, but that's not what we're talking about). Whose vision is it that Tharja should have her tits out? Why is their vision more valid than NOA's localization team? You have hundreds of people who worked on that game. I'm sure they don't all agree on the subject.
But, yeah, I tend to side with the voices that are saying, "If this is the worst we have to complain about, then life is pretty good." Because, seriously, a lot of these just break down to the differences in sexual mores between the US and Japan. That's not really a big deal to me. And anything that keeps a sexy bikini off of a 13 year old in a video game is alright with me.
To me, even as a fan of more fanservicey games and anime like Senran Kagura, a lot of the costume changes to localised versions of games can generally be described as "so what?". They don't particularly bother me; and I think that a lot of you make the very valid point that these kinds of changes are definitely pushed for by the executives and Money Men because they think that the thing holding back Johnny CoD from playing a JRPG is how short a teenage girl's shirt is or a silly headpatting minigame or something. They do not, personally, detract majorly from the "art" itself - I find it a little patronising and annoying, but the changes are generally agreed upon with the original artists. In cases when they're not, however, that's just kind of scummy. Still not a dealbreaker, just kinda scummy on the part of the English Language publishers of the game to not get a change okayed first.
For me, the real problem I've had with a lot of Nintendo of America localisations as of late has absolutely nothing to do with the changes to arguably sexual content, mind. Their translations seem to have taken the Victor Ireland route to its logical conclusion - detracting from a game's actual story content or majorly impacting the tone of a scene to throw in a joke that just doesn't fit the universe, script or scene in particular.
For those who aren't aware of Vic Ireland, he founded Localisation company Working Designs in the 90s, and his translation philosophy involved heavy re-writes to the games he localised, including contemporary pop-culture references in medieval fantasy RPGs that, when you go back and play them now, are horribly dated and kind of cringey. Only, when they're using memes like Doge and "Rawr means I love you in Dragon", memes that are already incredibly dated, it has the amazing effect of a 2016 game reading like a Reddit post circa 2013. Now, Ireland's philosophy had a time and place - his games were arguably instrumental in giving the JRPG a bigger "base" in the United States that lead to companies like Squaresoft, Bandai and Namco bringing over more and more games during the PS1/PS2 era that would have otherwise just stayed in Japan forever.
Granted, there's a lot of history in the many schools of thought for video game localisation, and I'm oversimplifying, but basically, a lot of the better localisation teams in recent years (XSeed in particular) seem to have followed the general philosophy of Ted Woolsey, the translator of Super Mario RPG, Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III (VI). He always translated as accurately as possible, though in places where the Japanese script was either unclear or just "weird" when translated, he'd either re-write the scene to avoid the elephant in the room, or change pieces of dialogue to get around the fact they just didn't make sense in English. Funny thing is, the changes worked, very well - the Mario RPG translation in particular is as funny now as it was 20 years ago, and even the FF III and Chrono Trigger translations are so good that the main changes Woolsey made have carried on to future remakes of those games, sometimes even in Japan. Hell, Kefka's characterisation in all regions' scripts of the Final Fantasy Dissidia crossover fighting games is majorly inspired by the changes to his character made by Woolsey all those years ago. In other words, done right, they can lead to changes so good that even the original creators adopt them for future works.
It's a large inspiration for things like the localisation of the original Animal Crossing that just wouldn't have worked in English at all, otherwise. To see the Treehouse straying from that general school of thought is disheartening to me as both a fan of Nintendo games and a fan of Japanese games in general. They were, to me, one of the few companies who managed to "get" the way to localise so well that even the purists who demand honorifics everywhere were satisfied.
... I realise I've said a lot and gone nowhere, so here's a nice summary - Changes to a character's costumes or the sexual content of a game are not inherently bad. They feel kind of patronising and annoying, but whatever, I can live with them. Changes to the script, however, depend. Throwing jokes in to otherwise serious scenes is kind of insulting, throwing in dated Internet memes is kind of obnoxious, but especially in places where the script does not call for a joke. I do not, however, think that a 100% accurate translation is ideal, or even preferable - being liberal with your translation is always needed to some degree, especially with a language as inherently incompatible with English as Japanese is. Hell, some of the most iconic translations of all time are incredibly liberal, but there's definitely such a thing as "too liberal", and certain Treehouse translations in the past year or so have been displaying that in increasingly obvious fashions.
I didn't focus too long on cultural differences in my post, but I do think that's an important part of localization. By "accurate," I guess I meant more that it should be as accurate as possible barring cultural/humor differences that don't translate directly.
It's almost impossible to trace if artistic intent is linked to sexy-type fan-service. But either way, I think it sets a bad precedent. To give an example, the girl from Fatal Frame is meant to have a sexual type of backstory (played for drama rather than sensuality)--in removing the bikini from a flashback cutscene, it affects the story in a subtle way. To take it a step further, Bravely Second's sidequests losing their "bad endings" also likely stems from localization wanting to sterilize things for overseas audiences. So where does it end? If we end up getting Mother 3, will the rather transsexual-like Magypsies get changed or removed? What about the game's numerous heavy and/or dark sequences? Will it depend on the localizer's tastes? When it gets to that point, I can't blame people for getting upset about altered content. (well, as long as they aren't jerks about it)
Yeah, I touched on that in my earlier post though about localizing humor, cultural references, etc. The point is, what does covering a pop idol's cleavage in a T-Rated game have to do with localizing for the US?
I guess when discussing video games (or anything, really, provided it's not something super-heavy), it's important to keep it all in perspective. I wouldn't advocate that removing Xenoblade X's boob slider is worth picketing in the streets or whatever. But this is a gaming message board, and it's fun to discuss things like this--in other words, time I spend thinking about this, or making Zelda survivor polls is not necessarily time I'd otherwise spend trying to stop genocide. I agree that some things aren't worth getting worked up over, but I don't think anyone here is particularly riled up about this.
Also talking about this with Shirley she said something like "People are making the argument that making changes is disrespectful to Japanese culture, but who is deciding that this is Japanese culture to begin with? It seems like mostly men get to make those decisions in the game industry. How different would these games be if Japanese women had as much power as Japanese men about how to represent their culture?"
Anthropologists never take culture at face value. Culture is dictated by power yo.
@kriswright This is kind of what I was trying to say about vision, but worded better. We're talking about huge Capitalist products here. On occasion you might get a director with a vision they are allowed to produce, like Kojima... but then again the recent nonsense with Kojima shows that maybe he had less power at Konami than we thought. Apparently they destroyed his vision for MGS V in some ways. And even if it was his vision, that doesn't say much for the rest of his team.
@tudsworth You know I was just saying that it's unclear how well Japanese games would have taken off in the West if they DIDN'T localize them for Western audiences the way that they did. I do agree that it has become a bit less necessary over time, but at the same time a lot of Japanese developers have bridged that gap by just actively trying to appeal to the West from the start, so their games would require less localization to make them palatable to Western audiences.
@TriforceBun I think in general "where does it end?" arguments rely too much on slippery slope for me to be overly concerned. If anything localization has gotten less extreme over the years, so where it "ends" is probably wherever the apex of changing the most in localization happened... somewhere in the 80s/ 90s?
As far as Western audiences being scared off by trans characters and things like that, I'm more concerned about actively working to educate people on trans culture and making it, you know... less scary, and one of the ways of doing this is in games is supporting the diverse games out there that do have positive or nuanced representations of trans characters in them. (Check out Read Only Memories!) Another is pushing for better representation from both big publishers and small ones (something which a lot of the "censorship!" people think is somehow a bad thing.) We're already to the point where Nintendo has openly said they're cool with gay characters in their games, so openly being ok with trans characters can't be too far off? (Some would argue Birdo was already trans, but having an openly trans character who isn't played as a joke would be different.)
I mean yeah, when push comes to shove I'd prefer publishers not erase trans characters and the likes, but if that isn't actually happening but is more a "what if?" I'd rather focus my energy on pushing for more diverse games and promoting the ones that do exist.
I love talking to you guys, but I'm just out of steam when it comes to gaming and gaming culture. Like, it's true even with this issue. I was surprised (or maybe not, really) to learn that this had turned into a big GamerGate situation, with calls to get someone fired and all sorts of dumb stuff. I just don't care enough about gaming or gaming culture anymore to even engage with those sorts of battles, now. I just don't see the value in it, anymore.
That makes me basically useless at Negative World, especially since I don't have time to do any other kinds of creative writing, with the baby taking up most of my time.
Yeah, disrespectful to Japanese culture my ass. They want a tits slider. That's not Japanese culture, that's just listening to your penis. I'm not going to act like I don't understand it - and you at least make a good point that some women are busty so why shouldn't they have a tool to make themselves in the game - but let's not pretend this is some huge offense to an entire culture. That's really thin soup, here.
And, anyway, not to sound insensitive, but since when has creating an exact replica of the Japanese experience been a requirement when localizing? I mean, nobody who uses the name "Mega Man" has a leg to stand on if they think that's offensive. (And, let's also face it, that anyone who insists on calling Mega Man "Rock Man" when speaking in English is a total weeabo dork.)
@kriswright Well, in one of our TOP SECRET mod discussions we basically decided to try to have this discussion WITHOUT getting into the... group that will remained unnamed... any more than necessary. So if you don't want to talk about them we're all on board with that.
And yeah I mean for the most part we all grew up on games that were heavily localized, and for the most part we loved them. That's not to say we can't care now that we know more about how things work, but there would be a lot of babies to throw out with the bath water if we decided to take a crash and burn approach to this topic like uh... them.
To be honest sometimes when this topic gets thrust on me and I have no interest in talking about it I just start making jokes about how Sega censored Sonic by calling Eggman Dr. Robotnik.
I think slippery slope isn't necessarily fallacious if it's rooted in simple cause-and-effect, i.e. "if NOA changes adult-themed plot element in game A, will they change adult-themed plot element in game B?" But either way, the current examples don't really bother me too much (although all other things being equal, I'd prefer as few non-dialogue-related changes as possible in localized games). I would be...louder if they messed with Mother 3 though.
Fair point with Rock Man. I don't think this topic is spiraling out of control into a quagmire or anything, though--I certainly have no interest in discussing GamerGate and their usual curse-laden-mountain-out-of-a-molehill approach, but it's a Nintendo-related situation that I was curious on everyone's thoughts about. Hope this kinda talk doesn't spook you too much! For something lighter, the Zelda Survivor could always use more votes! Heck, we could've used some Zelda 1 defense last week. P-p-peahats!