Friday, May 31, 2013

When Does “Localization” Become “Censorship”?

Due to innumerable cultural, social, and religious reasons, a video game which is considered perfectly acceptable in one country/region may be looked upon as the devil incarnate in another. This is one of the reasons why localization – as opposed to just straight translation - is extremely important for video games.

But one seemingly simple yet relatively deep and complicated question has always bothered me: when does the “localization” of content stop being “localization” and turn into full-on “censorship”? And to what degree should this sort of censorship be tolerated?

As an example, I’ll use the newest installment in the Yakuza series. Yakuza 3 – an imported Japanese PlayStation game. Almost immediately, it came under fire for the huge cuts it suffered at the hands of Western localizers. Apparently, a significant chunk of the cut scenes, minigames, and events were removed from the US release, deemed “inappropriate” for American audiences.

This gets me wondering: how much of the cut content was actually “inappropriate for American audiences” as in “cultural differences would prevent full understanding and therefore only serve to confuse the player and impede their progress”, as opposed to “Americans are generally far more religious and uptight than Japanese people, so we can’t show them this kind of nudity and/or violence”? I assume that someone purchasing the third installment in a game series would normally have a pretty good idea as to what kind of content they were getting into, especially with a series such as Yakuza, which is relatively well-known. The games even receive ratings similar to films, giving the consumer an even better idea of what the game in question contains.

What I’m trying to say is, basically, shouldn’t this be enough as far as “protecting” the consumer from “inappropriate content” is concerned, with regards to the publishers? Shouldn’t the “localization” have ended with the changing of certain references, place names, and linguistic changes?

Regardless as to what country this game is purchased in, by default (due to content) the player will generally be an adult – or at least old enough to understand that the game may contain some “naughty bits”. Just look at the cover - this fact is not going to surprise anyone. So who are the publishers to decide even further who this game is for, and what parts they should be allowed to play?

This is not the first time this sort of censorship-disguised-as-localization has occurred, but it was the first example off the top of my head. Please feel free to discuss your opinions/experiences on the matter (or share more examples) on the forums.