Are Video Games Really Being Damaged by Censorship?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the supposed prevalence of sex-negativity in gaming, and why video games should be open to criticism regarding their portrayal of sex. It went down quite well in that I wasn’t chased up a windmill by a torch-wielding mob. However, there was one recurring topic that was raised by those who criticized my main points of contention: censorship.

The apparent issue of censorship has become the go-to argument for those looking to undermine progressive thought in the community surrounding gaming, with many wrongly leaping to the conclusion that those who criticize certain aspects of video games must therefore want those games banned outright. It’s an odd train of thought, with these arguments typically being followed by a right-minded individual pointing out how video games shouldn’t be exempt from criticism, which is then in turn greeted with the baffling counter-point that they should be exempt from criticism pertaining to specific elements such as the portrayal of sexuality, women and other minority characters, as if to deny that gaming has advanced beyond the ’90s and that games aren’t worth more than their graphics and gameplay. 

If you couldn’t already tell, I am very much opposed to this idea that video games are being damaged by censorship, and the suggestion that those who will take games to task for certain elements that they disagree with are therefore looking for those games to be denied a release. It’s an incredible stretch to suggest that a critic discussing their views upon the way games represent women, sex or violence is an indication that they are also somehow advocating for those games to be banned, but it is one that is frequently being made by some in the community. So how have we got to this point, where an opinion pertaining to a video game which verges upon the sociopolitical is deemed unworthy of being made, and even harmful to the industry itself?  


The Grand Theft Auto V ban

Gaming as an entertainment medium has always been forced to defend itself from critics, which has understandably led to a hostile relationship shared between fans of the hobby and those who they perceive as its detractors. However, whereas gaming has mostly been targeted by the ignorant, with activist/opportunist Jack Thompson and his unsuccessful crusade against Grand Theft Auto being one of the most high-profile examples of this, now the threat is perceived as being within the industry itself, as journalists, critics and progressive gamers are being criticized for their apparent attempts to have each video game reflect their own ideologies. 

Members of GamerGate, who have spent the majority of their time since the group’s incarnation fighting against progressiveness in the hobby, have frequently suggested that those they disagree with are guilty of being far more problematic to the integrity of the industry than one would expect. It’s suggested that developers are censoring themselves in order to avoid the controversy caused by not falling in line with the “politically correct,” and that “SJWs,” the derogatory acronym given to so-called “Social Justice Warriors” who are apparently attempting to violently push social justice into gaming, are actively calling for games they dislike to be banned. 

Also See: “Sex-Negativity” in Gaming: Why Sex in Video Games Should Be Open to Criticism

Defining censorship is tricky. While some believe that it requires the involvement of an authoritative system such as a government to enforce it, others would argue that this needn’t be the case, and that censorship can also be a result of individuals campaigning for the removal of a game’s content, or its outright banning. The closest the industry has come to this being the case is Target and Kmart’s decision to not sell Grand Theft Auto V in Australia, which came as a result of an online petition signed by thousands of people who touted the game’s misogynistic content as a reason for it to be prohibited from being sold in the region.

Target and Kmart regrettably complied with the inordinately angry horde, though the game wasn’t outright denied its release in Australia. as noted by publisher Take-Two Interactive’s president Karl Slatoff, who said: “Obviously the Australia situation is disappointing on many levels, [but] it’s not impactful to our business, frankly. Australia is relatively small. Two retailers are relatively small in the context of Australia. There’s other places for folks to buy Grand Theft Auto in Australia.”



The case for the apparent prevalence of actual censorship in the gaming industry is a difficult one to argue for, requiring a number of leaps in logic to be made. While there’s no doubt that video games have faced censorship in the past, the idea that progressives are leading a new era of censorship in the industry would suggest that any has actually taken place. As mentioned, Australian Target and Kmart refusing to stock GTAV was a decision made on behalf of those two companies and did not impact upon the game’s distribution in the country as a whole, and the majority of other arguments made in regards to the supposed suppression of free speech largely revolve around GamerGate members pointing to an individual with a contrasting opinion to theirs, then claiming that the opinion of said individual is evidence of them advocating the prohibition of game developers’ creative freedoms. However, there are easier arguments to be made for “self-censorship.”

Self-censorship is a term that is being frequently banded about in recent months, with it most commonly being linked to the apparent concerns of Japanese publishers in regards to releasing their games in the West. Self-censorship is essentially the act of an individual censoring their own output out of fear of a negative backlash, and specifically in the case of Japanese game makers, there is certainly evidence that they are wary of raising the ire of gamers outside of Japan who may be critical of the content of their games, with Japanese culture having a far different approach to the topic of sex and sexuality. A recent example of this would be Xenoblade Chronicles X, which featured the option to have the 13-year-old female character Lin fight alongside your player-character in a bikini, something which was removed from the Western release of the game. It’s easy to deduce the reasoning behind this alteration, though no official statement was made by publisher Nintendo nor developer Monolith Soft.

Lin, a 13-year-old character in Xenoblade Chronicles X. The option to make her default costume a bikini was removed in the Western release of the game.

However, to suggest that Japanese publishers’ alteration of their games is a result of them being afraid to release the original versions in the West, is to overlook the lengthy history of Japanese games being changed to better suit the contrasting sensibilities of a Western audience, with incidents such as these having taken place over the past few decades, not just since the apparent rise of “SJWs.” From Resident Evil‘s ultra-gore being toned down considerably in the US and European versions of the game, through to Final Fight‘s two transsexual enemies, Poison and Roxy, being replaced with male enemies Sid and Billy all the way back in 1989, Japanese publishers have always been conscious of the difference between the two cultures, with this having resulted in them changing up many of their games in the past.

Suggesting that alleged “self-censorship” in video games only exists as a result of this supposed progressive agenda highlights a very liberal reworking of gaming history, showcasing no small amount of cherry-picking on behalf of those trying to make this argument. So if that’s the case, why does this argument keep taking place? Why do many keep suggesting that progressive opinions are leading to the Japanese gaming industry completely changing its approach to Western releases, even though this has been their approach since the ’80s? Well, to put it simply, it’s far too salacious a narrative for many not to run with.

“Japanese Publisher Alters Game for Western Release, Just Like Japanese Publishers Have Always Been Doing” is far more feeble a war cry than “JAPANESE PUBLISHER CENSORS GAME OUT OF FEAR OF WESTERN OUTRAGE,” and given the current anti-progressive mindset of many within the community surrounding gaming, it’s easy to gather support by adding another perceived threat to their hobby atop the pile. This is why a petition titled ‘1 Million Gamers Strong for Japanese Gaming‘ was allowed to gain any traction, with it asking Japanese developers to “stay true to the visions of your creative endeavors,” adding: “Please don’t deprive us of those works on account of those who would specifically seek to drive a divide between the global game culture.” Embarrassingly, the petition only garnered over 7,700 supporters, 992,300 shy of its goal, but that it even got that amount of support in the first place is indicative of just how much people have bought into the narrative that this alleged self-censorship forced upon Japanese developers is symptomatic of the push for social justice.

Contrary to popular opinion, some Western games do get censored for their Japanese release. Here are the two different versions of PS4 title Until Dawn.

Japanese publishers altering the content of their games for the West is the perfect story for social justice detractors to latch onto, because unlike the argument for actual censorship taking place in the industry, it’s something that is actually happening – just not for the reasons they suggest. Ignoring the region’s history of changing their games for a Western audience, then adding in the perceived threat of progressives immediately leads to the jackpot of headlines, unearthing GamerGate supporters to pledge support to the outlet making these dubious claims.

This makes this current wave of censorship talk similar to the Jack Thompson controversies, then, only this time many of those who are fighting against the supposed “censors” are guilty of Thompson’s opportunism. Unfortunately, it’s an argument that is destined to continue happening for as long as there people willing to overlook the history of censorship in gaming, in favor of pegging it upon progressives in order to generate traffic. So until the end of time, then.