At the beginning of the year, a colleague of mine wrote an article about the growing practice of altering games for Western audiences to make them more commercially viable.
She talked about a scene in which a female character goes from lesbian to bisexual. Apparently, Japanese game publishers don’t think Western audiences can’t handle the idea that sexuality is fluid.
My colleague's argument was simple:
Adults should be able to make their own decisions regarding “explicit or controversial content,” especially where entertainment is concerned. They certainly shouldn’t have decisions made for them, and companies shouldn't alter their products based on fears that a handful of social justice warriors might complain.
Not everyone agreed. It came out that, "women gamers [and] journalists from all over the industry are praising the [removal of the scene.]" Who were these self-appointed, politically correct guardians of our sensibilities?
Where should we draw the line when it comes to removing "offensive content"? What happens when someone is offended by "Schindler's List," for example, and asks the director to remove the bits about the Holocaust? The obvious retort would be to say that, in comparison, the "gay conversion" scene in the video game was of little consequence to the story and its removal didn't impact the plot.
Let me propose a thought experiment:
A group of people find themselves psychologically debilitated every time they are exposed to the description of a whale. This particular minority are so psychologically debilitated by literary descriptions of whales, they find it offensive when it happens, citing insensitivity on part of the writer.
They claim Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is evidence for a historical insensitivity towards their condition. In addition to this, they claim Moby Dick is evidence of Melville’s "white privilege," where 19th century society allowed him to represent whales with impunity, with no regard towards their suffering. Of course, in the supposed enlightened age of the 21st century, this minority have started to demand reparations for decades of insensitivity and suffering.
Ironically, descriptions of the white whale feature very briefly in Moby Dick, providing relatively small passages of text in a hefty, six-hundred page novel. Using the logic prescribed by this particular social justice warrior, it would be of little consequence to remove the passages describing the whale, Moby Dick, after all, they form a minor part of the novel.
At very least, a trigger warning should be issued in book stores stocking Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, additionally, any copies of Moby Dick should be shrink-wrapped, as not to suddenly fall open on a page containing a description of a whale.
Soon enough, the publishers decide these stipulations are too costly, and decide to print future copies of Moby Dick without descriptions of whales, as not to cause further upset for the offended minority. However, to the offended, these gains in the publishing world are of little consequence in a world full of whale descriptions.
There are still numerous encyclopaedias containing whales, and dreaded documentaries, with their prolonged, and painful, visual descriptions...
This example may seem ridiculous, but this kind of thing is happening all of the time, with many people apparently unable to refrain from engaging in what offends them. Consequently, the offended minority are continuously affecting the world we live in, pushing for more and more censorship, and "political correctness."
To quote the late, Christopher Hitchens; “…it was the dense and boring and selfish who had always seen identity politics as their big chance.” This isn’t some kind of straw man fallacy when a professional cartoonist or novelist is restricted on the basis of cultural sensitivity.
That’s not to say all offense in video games isn’t justified. According to a petition at change.org, “Hi-Rez Studios decided to feature three Hindu gods, Kali, Vamana and Agni in their upcoming online game SMITE.” I can sympathise with the Hindus' situation when it comes to a video game like SMITE. After all, you’d be hard pressed to find a video game, or any media, where an Abrahamic God had been lumped in with Zeus and Aphrodite. I don’t want to trivialise anyone’s religion as mythology, but I do expect consistency in the way we treat culture and belief. It has become fashionable, especially in identity politics, to give certain minorities special privileges where offense is concerned. It is socially acceptable for a cartoonist to depict Jesus Christ, for example, but not Muhammad, when in theory, both of these depictions are equal in their blasphemy.
The same can be said about the representation of the sexes, currently a hot-button issue where video games are concerned. There has been a tendency, as there usually is, to propagate the idea that females are vastly misrepresented and sexually objectified, whereas their male counterparts receive faceted, complex depictions. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth; in video games, both genders are often depicted in a fantastical manner.
Surely, it’s hypocritical to expect a realistic depiction of the female form without having the same expectations about male characters.
Last year, I wrote an article about the popular fighting game, Tekken, in which “the male is represented through muscle-bound cyborgs, and eight-foot-tall, shirtless men ready to unleash their ‘awesome power.’ Here, the men are obviously fantastical.”
“To question a game’s representation of gender," I continued, "you have to view a game holistically, in context, and not merely hand pick cut-scenes and motifs that suit a narrative of gender oppression. Quite frankly, the female characters in Tekken go against the standard definition of objectification, because, like the men in the game, they are very much characters who are both acted upon, and act upon others.”
Either way, most of us are adults, capable of choosing the kinds of entertainment we consume. If we ever find offense in a particular product, be it a video game, or Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, we have the self-determination to avoid it, without needing an army to intervene on our behalf. And whilst we continue to allow this to happen, we can expect to see the bureaucracy of the minority make the decisions for the majority.