There are many games on the market that are deemed acceptable in America that other countries ban from release due to what could be considered socio-cultural unacceptability. Just last week, Volition had to announce that their open-world exercise in flamboyance, Saints Row IV, would have to undergo minor changes to be released in Australia. (Full story here.) Well, it hasn’t even been a full week and it looks like the foreign rating boards have been at it again.
It has been confirmed that Naughty Dog’s European release of their blockbuster The Last of Us was censored. This title, which is almost universally acclaimed by the gaming industry, underwent a few minor changes to accommodate some European rating boards.
On the PlayStation forum, user Ramify posted an email he received from a Naughty Dog representative. In the email, the representative wrote, "The gore and violence ratings are subject to local regulatory boards in various countries, so the game must be slightly changed in order to accommodate those choices." (Here’s a link if you’re curious.)
The hell you say?
Now, I can understand the effort of these developers to ensure that their product reaches as many consumers as possible and that localization is a big part of any successful video game franchise. What I can’t understand is why such minor attributes of these games are being debated as a vehicle for whether or not a game can be played by a rating board’s local population.
What’s the big deal? The changes being made to these games are trivial at best. In the grand scheme of these titles, they have little, if any, real impact on the overall tone of the game. While it has been said by the developers that these omissions do not affect the story of these games in any way, I can’t help but think that these versions are incomplete.
Unfortunately, these occurrences feel like censorship for the sake of censorship. I could see Saints Row IV garnering a ban for it being an over-the-top killing spree or a showcase of sexual innuendos, but not because a character smokes fictional alien drugs once in the game. I could see The Last of Us receiving a ban for it being an exploration of the morality of killing for survival and one of the grittiest experiences in gaming, but not because enemies get dismembered in the process. Do you see what I’m getting at here?
It seems that rating boards are getting hung up on games for all the wrong reasons. If you are going to ban a game, by all means, go ahead. But ban it or rate it differently for the right reasons. Typically, games have recurring themes, and removing one minuscule portion isn’t really going to change anything. Well, unless a kids game has one extremely out-of-place occurrence where the main character is shooting up heroin in an otherwise child-friendly world, then that’s a different story. Otherwise, it’s pretty hard to change the tone of a game.
I suppose the point here, if there is one, is that regulatory boards should stick to rating the games and stay away from trying to change them. I’ll remain hopeful, but I’m not going to hold my breath. It’s a good thing I live in America.