Whenever I see GamerGate or some other group complaining about feminist or social justice critiques of video games, often launching into impassioned speeches about the evils of censorship, I can’t help thinking that they might be rather juvenile or perhaps suffering from severe memory loss. The video game industry is the least censored it’s been in pretty much ever. Violence, religious imagery, sexual content, drug abuse and even eerily predicting the death of a foreign leader are all acceptable fare in gaming these days.
If you want to talk about the censoring of the video game medium, you generally have to travel back to when the rigorous moral standards of Nintendo of America determined what would be shown to Western audiences. Back in the olden days when games were exported from Japan to the United States, they often arrived with big chunks of casual nudity and sex deleted, obscured or covered up. It was just par for the course that American games did not go there.
So, in an age where we can have hyper-realistic murders and scripted sex scenes and any other Rated M for Mature content we want, I thought I’d show how far we’ve come.
I mostly remember Abadox for having one of the most hilariously over-the-top commercials I have ever seen. It's a Gradius clone for the NES where you battle through a monster's belly to save a princess, and it's also one of the most maddeningly difficult games in a genre that's already famous for being unforgivingly hard. As such, I never saw the ending. However, even if I had I would've missed out. In the original Japanese release, Princess Maria was rescued in the nude, but she was covered up in the American release.
9. Landstalker: The Treasures of King Nole
At a time when all the best roleplaying games belonged to the SNES, good ones on Genesis were few and far between. One standout was Landstalker, an action RPG starring a treasure hunter named Nigel. When Nigel reaches Mercator Castle in the original version, it's possible to visit a nude Kayla while she takes a bath. In export versions, a maid has been added to block your way into the bathroom, but using a Gameshark, you can get past her to trigger the scene.
Nudity in Japan is a lot less of a big deal than it is here in the United States. It can be used for humor in entertainment more geared to a younger audience (See the Landstalker scene above), but in Shinto, nudity can also be used to indicate purity. In America, we have almost no concept of that connection, which is why in our port of EarthBound,the lead character, Ness, was covered up in pajamas when he visited a realm he created in his mind, Magicant. In the original he wears only his trademark baseball cap.
7. Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days Here's something a little different for you. In America, Kane & Lynch 2: Dog Days has pixelated violence and nudity, including full frontal male. However, in the version ported to Japan from here, the pixel filter is turned off. As you can see in the screencaps above (American on the left and Japanese on the right), that didn't make the game uncensored. Clothes were added to compensate for nudity and some of the blood was toned down.
6. Another World (Out of This World) Éric Chahi's Another World, later ported to the SNES as Out of This World, was such a success on early home computers that companies clamored for ports. One of those was Nintendo, but they were adamant that their version be completely free of blood or nudity. This meant that Chahi ended up editing the above scene showing naked aliens of any hint of buttcrack. According to Chahi, altering just three pixels was enough to make it acceptable.
5. The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening
Hippo is a minor character in Link's first Game Boy adventure, but she was also a slightly controversial one. She is a model for the painter Schule Donavitch in Animal Village. In both the original Japanese and the American version, she will get annoyed if you talk to her as she is working, but in the original version, she is depicted with breasts that she will cover up when you approach her, indicating she is a nude model. She was desexualized for American audiences.
4. Soul Edge (Soul Blade) The first entry in the longrunning Soul series has a wonderful and pulse-pounding intro, and for my money more than any other fighting game really showed how well narrative could be applied to the genre. One slight change when Soul Edge became Soul Blade for the American port was to Sophitia Alexandra, who is bathing naked in a lake when the god Hephaestus comes to her with enchanted weapons. A bathing suit was added to her American version.
3. Streets of Rage 2 Even Genesis wasn't above censoring fairly innocuous content. In Streets of Rage 2, Blaze's flying kick exposes her underwear, but the U.S. version made this less obvious. This was in 1993, and three years later, Street Fighter Alpha 2 would debut Sakura Kasugano, a character that pretty much existed just so we could see her panties as she came down from her Shoryuken move.
2. Spider-Man After the original Spider-Man film with Tobey Maguire, there followed a pretty good licensed video game. One of the cooler things in the game was that by entering the code "girlnextdoor," you could play the whole game with Mary Jane Watson in the role of Spider-man. Only in the early versions of the game, though. When it was rereleased, the code was removed, and popular rumor is that the reason was so that Spider-Mary wouldn't kiss Mary Jane at the end of the game, showing lesbian themes in an E-Rated game.
1. Super Castlevania IV Super Castlevania IV is one of the most censored SNES games I can think of. A stained-glass window containing a picture of Jesus was changed, blood became acid and nearly every cross no matter how tiny was blasted from the code. The silliest omission, though, goes to the statues above. These statues were more fully clothed in the international version. Look, the three-pixel buttcracks in Out of This World were reaching, but at least they were on flesh-and-blood creatures. Here we're covering up a representation of a woman INSIDE another simulated representation. At some point I'm glad we grew up and stopped being afraid of every boob. So the next time you see someone losing his or her mind because that person thinks criticism is the door to censorship, remember how utterly insane censorship actually used to be.
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Jef Rouner (not cis, he/him) is a contributing writer who covers politics, pop culture, social justice, video games, and online behavior. He is often a professional annoyance to the ignorant and hurtful.