There's nothing that angers some gamers more than censorship. After all, who would want their favorite game tweaked, torn apart and mutated before they even have the chance to play it?
Americans tend to be the most vocal when it comes to changes in their beloved games (or perhaps there are just more of them in general), but to be honest, we don't actually have it that bad in the states. All around the world, games are being modified, censored, and sometimes even banned to a greater degree than those passed through U.S. censors.
We live in a world where less is being censored than ever before (just look at what happened to games brought over in the 90s!), but the game industry itself continues to evolve, bringing us even more violent, even more sexual, and even more boundary-pushing games every year, which is giving content and ratings systems around the world a continuous run for their money. Can you imagine what would have happened to a game with graphic sex scenes in a climate where words like "damn" and "hell" were censored?!
At any rate, game censorship itself will never go away so long as developers and publishers actually want to release their games to the public, which means they need to abide by the (oftentimes vastly different) censorship laws of every country, and you'd be surprised at the sometimes nonsensical issues that keep a game from hitting the shelves...
Common Reasons Games Have Been Censored In Countries Across the World
Violent games have been shooting, bludgeoning, and karate-chopping their ways onto shelves since developers first learned how to render pixelated blood, and violence remains one of the main reasons a game will be banned (or forced to undergo heavy edits) across the world. In our first example of how North American gamers have it so much easier, the absolute worst country when it comes to outlawing violent games is actually Germany.
The number of games in Germany that have had to be radically overhauled to omit any and all blood, guts, gore, dismemberment, slightly-too-overzealous attacks, and minuscule papercuts is nigh on ridiculous, and it still happens today.
Take the Contra series for instance.
The German version of the game is practically an entirely different game. Every human character in the game was turned into a robot as if this would somehow make the violence "acceptable," and the game's title was changed to Probotector, a name that makes it sound like the robots are going to protect me from an anal probing.
And that's not the only game Germany's "roboticized." Take Soldier of Fortune II: Double Helix. Not only were all the enemies turned into robots, every character in the game got the robot treatment, which forced the plot itself to be changed.
No longer did the story revolve around biological warfare, anti-terrorist organizations, and blackmailing the G8 countries. Instead, it was rewritten to take place in an alternate universe in which robots have overtaken the world. Also, the robots have conveniently developed human feelings and emotions over the years, which is why they have things like families and politics, of course.
Germany's not the only country that enforces censorship of violence, however. Japan, in fact -- long thought by American gamers to be the holy land of "uncensored" games untouched by the woes of political correctness -- censors more games than you'd think.
Like DOOM 64, a game that only saw censorship in Japan. All the blood leaking from enemies was recolored from red to green.
And that's not the only game to go under the Japanese knife. Violence is often removed from the Japanese versions of games. Bulletstorm, Dragon Age: Inquisition, Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zero, Shadow of the Damned, Resistance: Fall of Man, and Tomb Raider are just some of the other games where blood, guts, and other violence has been removed or toned down.
More and more games nowadays are getting decidedly realistic when it comes to their depictions of sex (made even more graphic by new levels of high-definition detail), but even the tiniest pixels and subtle suggestions were censored back in the day.
Yes, many of the early games ported from Japan underwent mostly minor and oftentimes ridiculous changes when they were brought to the west (sprites of girls in bikinis or other scanty wear were given more concealing outfits, gratuitous panty-shots were eliminated), and yes, the U.S. tends to censor any showing of skin for characters they deem to be (or at least look) underage. But these days it's actually the United States that lets more gaming nudity through its doors than any other country. In fact, Japan ends up censoring most nudity in western games ported to the east!
Like this scene from Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days where pixelated full-frontal nudity was covered up by undergarments (and even some of the blood was toned down). Other games in which scenes have been modified or removed entirely in their Japanese versions include Beyond: Two Souls, God Of War 3, Heavy Rain, and LA Noire, and don't even get me started on Grand Theft Auto V, which had much of its nudity and sex scenes completely altered in the Japanese version (along with its violence)!
Japan's not the only country that likes to censor sex, however. In Australia, two of the sex scenes from The Witcher II: Assassins of Kings were completely removed from the game on account of being "too hot." In the original version, your choices could determine whether or not the sex scenes would occur, but in the Australian version, your choice is made automatically for you. Bummer!
Or how about Dead Rising?
In the U.S. version of the game, you can use a classical painting of a naked woman as a weapon, but in the European version of the game Miss Topless has been given a convenient tank-top to keep her bosoms covered. In Europe of all places! The land of famous naked artwork!
We'll now start to get into the more inane reasons for censorship throughout this world's many countries. Sure, sex and violence seem at least reasonable things to shield from prying eyes, but... ninjas?!
Yes, in the 80s and 90s, the U.K. decided that ninjas were the equivalent of original sin and should never be inflicted upon the innocent youth of Europe. Any and all references to ninja weapons and skills, and even the very word "ninja", were censored out of, well, everything. Like Tecmo's Ninja Gaiden.
Not only did the action game based on, well, ninjas, undergo a name and face-change, one of the major weapons used within the game was changed as well. Since shuriken, or throwing stars, are the quintessential weapon of the ninja, they had to go.
To be replaced by darts! Deadly darts! Because of course, any proper warrior never leaves home without their darts...
If you think that's bad enough, just imagine what Europe had to go through when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had its heyday! Not even something as popular as our turtle friends could get past the outlaw on ninjas. No longer were they to be ninjas...
...they were to be heroes!
I love how you can tell the font size for "hero" in the new logo is not quite right...
Nazis aren't exactly the best topic for a tea time chat, and they've never gone over very well in video games either. Especially in Germany, where it's actually against the law to display Nazi symbolism (i.e. the swastika) except in cases of educational and historical purpose or in promoting art or science (and I'll give you a hint—none of these apply to games).
So where does that put games that pit you against members of the Nazi regime? Well, banned or severely edited—take your pick!
Wolfenstein 3D, for instance, the 1992 MS-DOS game that had players take on the role of an Allied spy escaping from the Nazi German prison Castle Wolfenstein, is completely banned in Germany.
Wolfenstein: The New Order, however, developed just recently in 2015 by Bethesda Softworks, is not banned. And only because of massive cuts the game was subjected to, as well as to the official website and all marketing materials in Germany. Imagine removing all instances of the swastika and other Nazi symbolism from a game in which the entire plot revolves around what would have happened if the Nazis had won World War II. No easy task, for sure.
Another game that underwent severe de-Nazification was the NES cult classic Bionic Commando, or, as it was released in Japan, Top Secret: The Resurrection of Hitler.
Surprisingly, it wasn't just the German version that underwent this Nazi-less overhaul, but every other version outside of Japan, as well. Adolf Hitler, the original final boss, was redesigned and renamed to "Master-D," the Nazis were renamed to "The Badds," and, of course, all swastikas throughout the game were removed. In the remake Bionic Commando ReArmed released in 2008, upon defeating the game and shooting down "Hitler's" helicopter, you're rewarded with a rather graphic, up-close shot of his head exploding. This was completely cut from the German version.
Though religions icons, text, and imagery don't end up on the censorship knife as much today as they used to, it can still be a touchy subject, and many of our beloved games of the past were heavily wiped of any and all religious themes. Nintendo of America in the early 90s was the worst transgressor—pixelated crosses were removed, churches were renamed to Houses of Healing, any and all references to "prayer" or "holy" were secularized, and names from real-world demonology all had to be altered.
In the current day and age, Nintendo has greatly eased up with their magical wand of instant religion removal, but that doesn't mean religious censorship in games has ceased to exist (and it doesn't only pertain to Christianity, either).
The 2008 PlayStation game LittleBigPlanet was originally delayed after it was revealed that one of its songs quoted two lines from the Koran. As "the mixing of music and words from [the] Holy Quran [is] deeply offen[sive]" in Muslim culture, the lyrics had to be removed from the track before the game was released.
And what about in the German release of Tales Of Xillia where a character named "Jude" was renamed "Jyde" on account of "Jude" being the German word for a Jewish person?
For an even more famous (or infamous) example, there's always the original Fire Temple music from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. If you were lucky enough to nab yourself one of the original cartridges of this beloved game upon its release, your version of the Fire Temple's music would be decidedly different from the version released in all later cartridges. The stock sound effect used in the background is actually a Muslim chant and deemed necessary for removal, so the music was redone.
The Future of Censorship in Games
As I mentioned up above, censorship in general is nowhere near what it used to be. Ridiculously violent, sexual, and outright disturbing images are almost becoming old hat by this point in the gaming industry, and I suspect censors will continue to grow increasingly more lax as time goes on.
That being said, games will never escape the need to be culturally sensitive, same as movies, advertisements, or even brands and logos for that matter. Things one country deems appropriate maybe not be as acceptable in another culture and vice versa, and if that game is going to be released there, they'll have to take this into account or forgo the additional player base. There's a difference between "censorship" and respecting other cultures (and not being an asshole?).
For instance, I don't believe they'll ever stop ageing underaged characters (or giving them more clothes, if necessary) in games brought to the west. Pedophilia even in (animated) fiction just isn't accepted in the states like it's reluctantly ignored or even pandered to in countries such as Japan. Like Ryan Winslett of Cinema Blend wrote in his article about one such change done to outfits in the western release of Bravely Default, "The purpose of these types of outfits in a game is to titillate. What audience, exactly, is supposed to be stimulated by these child-like avatars?"
I also don't think they'll ever stop censoring Nazi symbolism in Germany—or at least not for a very, very long time.
Nevertheless, I believe we're currently at the height (if you can call it that) of freedom from censorship, and it can only improve from here. It will be interesting to look back in ten, twenty years and see just how far video game censorship (and content, in general) have come. Will the doors be wide open for whatever our hearts desire (no matter how disturbing)? Only time will tell.
For more about censorship and early game publishing practices, check out these other articles here on Now Loading:
- Censor-shit: Awesome Game Scenes You May Have Missed Out On.
- The '90s: A Remembrance of Gaming's Greatest Decade
- Happy 15th Birthday 'Silent Hill 2'! Here's 15 Horrifying Truths You (Probably) Never Knew