There's a new censorship allegation out, and it's causing a major debate in the gaming community.
The upcoming Japanese RPG Akiba's Beat is going through localization with XSEED, and while looking through the game's content, the publisher found a joke that's worth pointing out: a sign that says "KKK Witches," a pun on the Japanese company NKK Switches. One localizer defended the joke, but XSEED decided to strike it out.
So now, localizer Tom Lipschultz wants his name off the project. Period. And due to XSEED policy, that means his name won't be appearing in any future XSEED titles, either, even though he'll continue working with the studio.
Why does Lipschultz consider this censorship? Here's an excerpt for his reasoning below, according to a forum post he made:
I personally felt "KKK witches" was pretty funny for its shock value, but when I mentioned it to my coworkers, they... were not as amused. For various reasons (some of which do include legitimate localization concerns, but most of which involved personal offense, worries over offending others, or worries over stores not carrying the game due to this "controversial" inclusion), they were insistent upon the name being changed.
Lipschultz saw this as an "act of censorship," even though he said it is "minor" and "even understandable." But nonetheless, he insists the game has been censored: in part because of the developers themselves, Acquire.
In the end, however, it was Acquire themselves who voluntarily changed it to "ACQ witches"... sort of. We only ever got as far as emailing them to let them know that the KKK is a well-known abbreviation for a hate group in America, and asking them if the name "KKK witches" had any specific meaning in Akiba's Beat, and the conversation never progressed beyond that point before Acquire simply changed the sign text and sent us a new build.
Ken Berry, XSEED's executive vice president, told Kotaku that Acquire had no idea "KKK" was an abbreviation for the Ku Klux Klan in America. But even though Acquire ultimately pulled the plug on the phrase, Lipschultz calls it a "gray area," insisting that he would most likely take a stand no matter what.
So, Is This Censorship?
This is a question that's divided the gaming community for several years now. If a game's content is altered or removed to avoid offense, is that game being censored? Is it still censorship if the original creators made the changes?
First off, it's pretty clear that censorship does happen in gaming, and it certainly affects gaming franchises. When EarthBound was released in America, the game was significantly censored to fit Nintendo of America's publication code. This included removing bars from the game, pharmacies becoming shops, and red crosses being removed.
Some pretty serious edits were made to the game, too. An opening scene where Pokey and Picky are spanked by their father is replaced with a much less violent sound. "Threek" was changed to "Threed," as, according to fan speculation, "Threek" sounded too much like a Ku Klux Klan reference. And the Happy Happyism cultists' heads had their "HH" removed, along with a pom pom added to their hoods, making them look less like Ku Klux Klan members.
While some of these edits make sense, EarthBound was clearly censored by Nintendo. Significant portions of the game were edited or changed to fit the company's regional preferences, and those changes were made in a way that deviated from Shigesato Itoi's vision on some pretty serious character designs and locations. That's a pretty solid example of censorship: changing a game's references and commentary because of Nintendo of America's publishing code.
In fact, this was a pretty common problem in the 1990s. When Wolfenstein 3D was brought over to the SNES, Nintendo censored the game pretty heavily. Nazi armbands and symbols were removed, Adolf Hitler was renamed "Staatmeister," Nazi Germany was renamed the "Master State," blood and gore were stripped from death animations, and enemy dogs became enormous rats.
Serious changes, no? And that was pretty normal from Nintendo back in the day, since the company was so concerned about pushing out a family-friendly image.
So what about Akiba's Beat? Well, that situation is much more complicated.
Instead of immediately changing the game's content, XSEED looked to Acquire for advice. And it was Acquire that decided to change the game, altering the "KKK Witches" joke into "ACQ Witches." It's hard to argue that the change is a form of censorship if the original developer decideded to change the game's content upon learning of its interpretation.
And in the end, localization always features small changes to assure a joke lands properly with an audience. Lipschultz himself acknowledges that textual changes happen for this reason. Keeping "KKK Witches" in the game would have affected the player's experience, because it would have sent the wrong message from Acquire -- that the studio intended to have a Ku Klux Klan joke in their video game for shock value.
Instead, Acquire wanted to preserve their original intent by removing the phrase. That isn't censorship, that's commendable. It's preserving artistic intent by adapting content for new audiences.
XSEED clearly cares about preserving the work inside their game from one country to another, and they understand that material should only be changed for the most important moments: like, say, an accidentally inappropriate abbreviation. It's not like XSEED is eager to change small details the same way that Nintendo of America altered EarthBound's content. They want to provide an enjoyable experience to enthusiasts while preserving artistic intent.
The company should be respected for their decision. And at the very least, they shouldn't be put under the spotlight for trying to make the game's content transfer over from one culture to another.
Do you think XSEED made the right decision? Share your thoughts in the comments below.