Clothing is not Censorship (Usually)

20 Oct

So today’s bizarre straight-white-troll objection (no, not Star Wars–this is a gaming blog, so I’m leaving that one to the film people) is to the US version of Fatal Frame. Let me begin by saying I know absolutely nothing about the game itself, its gameplay, or anything other than this controversy.

The controversy is thus: the US release does not contain extra “bonus” costumes that are… well, less costumes (Kotaku). The release does contain unlockable costumes–they just happen to cover a lot more skin than the ones in the original Japanese release.

The internet immediately started screaming “censorship!” Well, it’s not. The developer has chosen to release a different version in a different cultural context–the US government did not dictate these changes. No one outside of the company dictated these changes. If the alteration in costuming was not imposed from the outside, it’s not censorship.

So what is it, then?

Quite simply put, it’s a recognition of a (slight) shift in the overall demographic paradigms of Western gaming. Over the past couple of years, gamers in the US are starting to shift ever-so-slightly away from the hyper-sexualized objectification of female characters (ever-so-very-slightly), and Nintendo is recognizing this by offering unlockable costumes that cover more skin out of deference to the cultural context in which the game is being sold.

Does this mean that it isn’t the same as the original? Technically, yes, although the gameplay hasn’t been altered. Will there be people who would prefer the original? Also yes. There will also be people who prefer the new version. And people who don’t care.

I approve of the change, not because I think there ought to be “censorship” of games, but because it reflects something I think is positive. Nintendo saw a shift in preferences in its Western audience and adjusted its content accordingly. What this means, then, is that if we continue to push the boundaries of what is and is not preferred, the median of preference will shift to a place where female characters are less objectified and more subjectified, where there are more verbs than “shoot” in games (and I like shooters, but I like more than just shooting), and where protagonists can have a variety of skin tones and identities.

But the backlash tells me that we aren’t there yet. There are still a lot of very vocal people who think that if they throw enough temper-tantrums about having “hot girls” in their games, they will be able to persist in their adolescent fantasy world without having to acknowledge that there are real consequences for real women attached to those fantasies.