Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Abuse of the word "censorship"

This is a dual-media post on a topic that's been on my mind a lot in the last couple months. I've uploaded it in video form, but you can read the text version below if you prefer.

If you’ve read my posts over the years, you know how important linguistic integrity is to me. A word’s definition is susceptible to change as people’s use of the word evolves over the years. On a geologic time scale, this is probably inevitable. But if mass public misunderstanding causes enough people to misuse a word enough times in a certain period, the word rapidly stops carrying the meaning it was originally supposed to have. Suddenly a word that used to be perfectly good isn’t effective anymore. Whether the misappropriation is intentional or not, I call this phenomenon “language abuse.”

The word I hear abused most often these days is “censorship.” And the people I most often hear abusing the word lately are gamers and gaming bloggers. In November of 2015, the internet seemed to explode with cries of “censorship” in reaction to Capcom’s decision to adjust the camera angle to hide Rainbow Mika’s butt slapping animation in the beta phase of Street Fighter V. Even after Capcom explained quite clearly that the decision was an internal one, made for aesthetic reasons, the knee-jerk machine that is online forums and comments sections shook its gigantic collective head, put fingers in its ears and said, “La-la-la-laaa, I’m not listening.”

This whole series of events annoys me for multiple reasons. First, I’m annoyed that Capcom would think that removing one animation from a game in a genre otherwise inundated with racy costumes, ridiculous stereotypes and out-of-control innuendo would somehow broaden the game’s appeal. But I’m even more annoyed that the gaming public’s refused to accept Capcom’s explanation and instead attributed of the change to censorship, which by definition involves the intervention of an external authoritative party like a government. At best, Capcom’s completely voluntary action, taken without anybody telling them to do a thing, could be called “self-censorship.” But we don’t have to call it that, because we already have a much better term for it: 

Quality assurance.

100% of the footage of Street Fighter V shown to date at the time of this blog post is footage of an unfinished product. And anyone who can read should know that the product shown in a demo, a trailer or a playable beta test may differ from the final product. We’re told so in disclaimers all the time. So why have gamers suddenly chosen to ignore that basic fact of life when it comes to Street Fighter V? I have a theory about the reason, but you probably don’t wanna hear it. It involves the words “pervy” and “geeks.”

Speaking of pervy geeks, the reflexive internet did the same thing again later the same month when Koei Tecmo clumsily announced that Dead or Alive Xtreme 3 wouldn’t be localized for North America. Once again, the not-too-intelligent collective brain of the internet’s most vocal loudmouths responded with the C-word.

I don’t think the word “censorship” would have entered this discussion if we had been talking about any other Koei Tecmo franchise. Nobody would cry “censorship” if one of the Dynasty Warriors games didn’t make it to our shores. The only reason we started to hear the word “censorship” is because people who anticipated DOAX3 wanted one thing: T and A (is that two things? Three things? What ever). And since censorship is the natural enemy of T and A, censorship became the face of the force preventing the delivery of said T and A.

We clearly shouldn’t jump to such a conclusion. In fact, we shouldn’t even have to have a discussion about why Koei Tecmo would choose not to export the game, because you all should have read my blog post about it in the wake of the release of Dead or Alive Xtreme 2 back in 2006, in which I explained exactly why this would happen. The game was panned almost universally by critics and consumers alike in the West, while Japanese players seemed to love it (or maybe they just let their cognitive dissonance get the better of them when they wrote their glowing Amazon reviews).

Well, good news, everyone. We don’t need to call it censorship when a company decides not to release their game in a certain market. For that, we already have another convenient term:

Business strategy.

And if we’re really honest with ourselves, business is all that’s really happening in either of these stories. Consumers love to tell themselves that the companies they love, love them back; that their favorite game developers make games out of sheer goodwill and adulation for their customers. But companies aren’t capable of love. Sure, individual members of a company might be genuinely grateful to the people buying their products, but at the end of the day, a company exists for one reason and one reason alone: to make money.

Depressing, maybe. But it’s true. Koei Tecmo doesn’t care about the North American games market in regard to DOAX3. Why should they? After the cold Western response to DOAX2, failure in that market is a forgone conclusion. Capcom doesn’t care how much you want to see butts. Why should they? The Street Fighter franchise doesn’t live and die on the strength of its glutes. And, I regret to inform you, Konami does not care about whether you’d personally rather play Silent Hill in your living room or in a pachinko hall. Why should they? They’re too busy bathing in money.

Before anybody knee-jerks with “Oh, now he’s defending Konami,” believe me. I’m not. I disagree with Konami’s business decisions as much as you do. But that’s just what they are: business decisions. And since you and I aren’t on Konami’s board of directors, our opinions don’t matter.

If you feel strongly enough about #RainbowMikaButtSlapGate to “vote with your wallet” and abstain from buying Street Fighter V, go ahead. Then again, if your enthusiasm for the game hinges on something as shallow as whether or not you can see someone’s butt when they super, you probably aren’t a member of the game’s target audience. And that makes your opinion matter even less to a company like Capcom.

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