So apparently I'm not the only person who was inspired to make a post about censorship today. I don't know if the folks at Penny Arcade were also motivated by the news that an edited version of Fallout 3 is going to be released in Australia, but one way or another it seems to be topical right now.
Aside from the Fallout 3 news, what really brought this up for me was running across uncensored versions of sprites from Final Fantasy VI recently, as I've been on a sprite-hunt to gather material for a game I'm making. Not only are these 32-bit pixelated images that were being censored in the 90s, but they weren't exactly the most offensive of images to begin with. Let's look at a couple examples.
Here we have one of the parts of the final boss fight, specifically the "Godess." She has gone from not-nude to more-not-nude, which is truly a profound change. I mean really, 60% of a pixelated female thigh is ok, but 80% of a pixelated female thigh is just asking for eternal damnation, apparently.
But FFVI didn't just include scantily clad women.
That's right. FFVI's last boss fight also included a bare-assed man. Oh, the humanity. Actually, both this picture and the manner in which it has been censored remind me of something...
To quote my AP Art History teacher, "See that cloth there? There used to be a big old shlong hanging out there." He later claimed that he was just trying to keep students awake when he said that, but I think it's a very informative way of putting it. Michelangelo's Last Judgement happened to coincide with the beginnings of the counter-reformation, and the artist was forced to censor his painting in order to maintain propriety. It was ridiculous, but worth pointing out that 1) The original figures were actually nude, and 2) They were very realistic, masterfully painted figures, not pixelated enemies (that's not an insult to FFVI's sprites - we're comparing them to Michelangelo's Last Judgement here). Does this mean that we (and by we I mean Americans in the 1990s) have become more prudish since the 16th century? That's quite an accomplishment.
Or is it because we believe that video games are a kids' activity, and therefore should be tailored to be consumed by children? Despite the fact that the average gamer is not a 13 year old kid, many people seem to be holding on to the belief that video games are fundamentally a child-oriented medium. The creation of games like Fallout 3 is evidence that this is simply not the case. Many games are being created for mature audiences (just as many movies and books are), and to account for the difference, we have a game rating system. Just as children shouldn't be taken to R-rated movies, they should be given M-rated games. It's not hard to find these ratings - unlike movies they're printed right on the front of every game released, in plain view. Instead of taking three seconds to look at the rating and try to gauge the game in question, however, paranoid parents want to make developers jump through hoops to release even mildly adult content in games, and in doing so limit the narrative possibilities of games.
What about the question of going international? In FFVI, we had a Japanese game being censored for American audiences, but in the case of Fallout 3 we have an American game being censored for Australian audiences. I can't fault Bethesda here: if in order to sell your game in another country you have to edit it, it just makes sense as a company to do so. Still, I can't help feeling like developers are losing something when they compromise in a case like this. I'd rather Australians get to play a censored version of Fallout 3 than no Fallout at all, but it saddens me to think that people there won't be able to see Fallout 3 as it was originally conceived. Note that in this paragraph I'm running on the assumption that Fallout 3 will be a good game - I can't say that for certain, obviously, but knowing it's being developed by Bethesda I don't think it's unreasonable to have high expectations.
P.S. Didn't get around to mentioning the most hilarious examples of censoring in FFVI. In one area, a sign that says "Pub" is changed to "Cafe," and one enemy smoking an opium pipe is censored - to not include the smoke (the pipe is still there). Really, what are we supposed to expect the pipe is for?