More Video Game Art Is Being Sanitized, Likely To Appease China

from the fragility-on-display dept

Mere days ago, we were talking about Activision’s decision to do a delete and replace for the trailer for the latest Call of Duty game worldwide due to pressure from the Chinese government. That pressure came about over 1 second’s worth of footage in the trailer that showed an image from pro-democracy protests in 1989. While only a trailer for an un-released game, the point I attempted to make is that this was a terrible precedent to set. It’s one thing to sanitize games, a form of art, for distribution within China. We could spend hours arguing over just how willing companies should be in bowing to the thin-skin of the Chinese government when it comes to art in favor of making huge sums of money, but that’s at least understandable. It makes far less sense to apply those changes to the larger world, where China’s pearl-clutching sensibilities aren’t a thing.

And now we’re seeing this continue to occur. Kotaku has a quick write up for several changes made to a handful of re-released retro games and this appears to be more of the same. We’ll start with the re-release of Baseball Stars 2, a Neo Geo classic.

Baseball Stars 2 was released on the Neo Geo in 1992 (one year after the greatest baseball game ever made, with which it has a lot in common), and for the last 28 years has been just fine with teams like the “Tokyo Ninjas” and “Spanish Galleons”. The “Taipei Hawks”, however, have just been removed from a console version of the game following an update earlier this week. As noted on this Reddit post and this Twitter thread by users, an update for the PS4, Xbox One and Switch version released in 2019 had removed the team names (and country flags) for both the “Taipei Hawks” and the “Taiwan Dragons”, while leaving all the other names like the “Seoul Dragons” in place.

This 2019 console version of the game was ported by Japanese studio Hamster Corporation, but the rights to the game are held by publisher SNK, which in 2015 was purchased by Chinese company 37Games.

Again, while these are small changes, we now have a trend. That trend consists of changes made to appease the Chinese government in video games being applied to worldwide releases. And this isn’t merely some workload thing, where game companies don’t want to make changes to regional distributions of games. The Steam version of the game, for instance, is even more different, with teams not having real-world locales, instead only the mascot nicknames.

Why is an American, a Russian, or a South American gamer having to feel the effects of Chinese censorship?

This isn’t the only retro game in which this occurred, in fact. Art of Fighting 2 was recently re-released on the PC. In that game, the Japanese “rising sun” flag, which still serves as the Japanese Navy’s flag, was removed from the game and replaced with a banner that just says “karate”.

At the same time, it appears that another SNK-published title, Art of Fighting 2 on the PC, received a similar update this week, where a depiction of the controversial “Rising Sun” Japanese flag was replaced with a white flag that says “KARATE”:

This one is harder to pin on China. After all, most complaints about this flag, which occasionally shows up in real-world sporting events, come from South Korea. During plans for the 2020 Olympics, in fact, South Korea requested the flag be banned from the games entirely due to the sordid history of the Japanese Navy during Japanese occupation of South Korea. But South Korea wasn’t the only country occupied and terrorized under that flag.

Based on a historical experience of Japanese invasion, China’s reaction to the rising sun flag at the Olympics could be similar to South Korea’s. After the Japanese military took the Chinese city of Nanjing in 1937, Japanese troops embarked on a months-long campaign of murder, rape and looting in what became one of the worst massacres of the war.

According to Chinese estimates, around 300,000 people were killed, many of them women and children, and around 20,000 women raped. Yet there’s little protest from China about the flag.

So which country was this change made to appease: China or South Korea? We don’t know, but neither answer is good. If it’s China, this is now at least the third instance of the trend of appeasing that country’s government in a way that effects art worldwide. If South Korea, then it indicates that the trend instead might be for other countries that want to engage in the same kind of censorship jumping on the bandwagon.

We’re still at the “video game art and trailers” level of all of this, so it’s understandable for some not to care all the much. But how much further does this have to go before people will care?

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Comments on “More Video Game Art Is Being Sanitized, Likely To Appease China”

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Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

the Japanese "rising sun" flag, which still serves as the Japanese Navy’s flag, was removed from the game and replaced with a banner that just says "karate"

In the slightest bit of fairness here — and this is a point Kotaku also missed, even though it had the comparison screenshots next to each other — the original graphics for that stage had the same text from the white flag overlaid on the “rising sun” flag. All the edit did was erase the “rising sun” portion of the flag.

It’s shitty all the same, but hey, accuracy counts. ????

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

To also add further context from someone in Japan, in general society outside of the navy, the rising sun flag is predominately used now by far right wing fringe groups who display it specifically to hearken back to the "good old days" of imperialism and Japanese supremacy and to communicate their desire to return to that. While it doesn’t precisely compare to the Confederate flag in the US, I would say there are parallels in how people feel about it. Going with the red circle on a white background version is probably a better representation of Japan as a whole at this point.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"It’s shitty all the same, but hey, accuracy counts…."

Well, to be fair neither Korea nor China has many good memories of the rising sun flag. The rape of Nanjing and the raw cruelty of the invaders from imperial japan during WW2 is still comemmorated to this day. In Korea the rising sun means a flashback to the program of full ethnic cleansing the japanese perpetrated at that time.

Germany changed its flag after WW2 but imagine they hadn’t. How many games would be editing out the swastika?

Editing out pro-democracy protests is a more serious thing by far. Editing out a flag associated with a horrifying history of ethnic cleansing and genocide…not so much.

Anonymous Coward says:

"We’re still at the "video game art and trailers" level of all of this, so it’s understandable for some not to care all the much. But how much further does this have to go before people will care? "

And? What can be done?

Talk with our wallets? China got them bigger, that’s why these companies decided to lick the boots and something else of the Chinese Government.

So the money solution is out of the shelf.

Anything else?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

Talk with our wallets?

Yes. China may be the biggest potential market, but it’s not the only market. If enough people in enough countries where these games are sold band together to boycott companies that bend the knee to Chinese censorship, those companies will start seeing more costs than benefits to bending that knee. And the PR nightmare resulting from boycotts based on censorship wouldn’t help those companies, either.

Unless you have a better idea that doesn’t involve actual physical violence or the destruction of property, boycotts remain the best option available to regular jackoffs like us.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"If enough people in enough countries where these games are sold band together to boycott companies that bend the knee to Chinese censorship, those companies will start seeing more costs than benefits to bending that knee."

Plenty of reasons to do so – Chinas treatment of Tibet and Xinjiang, for instance, or their stance on democracy in general.

But for the OP in question I really can’t see the point. The "rising sun" flag in China and Korea has history akin to that of the swastika in europe and the US.

Bear in mind Japan’s current flag is just the red circle on white. The "Rising sun" emblem is different – akin to the US confederate flag it’s a symbol of hardline right-wing extremism.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"But for the OP in question I really can’t see the point. The "rising sun" flag in China and Korea has history akin to that of the swastika in europe and the US"

This is actually a decent point, and ties in with what I was arguing – that this is an example of business self-censoring for its largest markets, not the government stepping in an ordering them to do something that a US-based business wouldn’t.

In short, the gaming market has changed since these games were originally released. Back then, SNK’s largest market was probably Japan, with Western countries coming in ahead of other parts of Asia (I believe anyway, I’m happy to concede if this assumption is wrong). Given that, the Japanese developer might not see any more problem with putting the flag there than the Duke Of Hazzard’s makers had a problem with the Confederate flag.

But, now, the market is different. Korea and China are now very big markets for retro gaming, and the Chinese developer of the re-release is going to see things rather differently to the original Japanese developer. Furthermore, times have moved on and a flag that wasn’t seen as particularly controversial in Japan might be seen as unacceptable. But, even if the Japanese are OK with it, the new developer isn’t going to lose larger markets by offending customers and government censors, in the sake of such a minor aspect of the game.

People can and should be concerned about actual Chinese censorship and overreach. But, at least one example here is not that at all. It’s a case of a product being designed to cater to larger markets, and them not deciding to release multiple versions for different markets. That might be annoying, but it’s no different to decisions made by hundreds of other private companies every day without controversy. People are just panicking because this particular corporation has Chinese people in it.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"People can and should be concerned about actual Chinese censorship and overreach. But, at least one example here is not that at all. It’s a case of a product being designed to cater to larger markets, and them not deciding to release multiple versions for different markets."

It’s all about nuance. One major issue we keep facing is that if you’ve grown too used to using a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail.

China does several utterly horrible things. The ethnic cleansing of Xinjiang and Tibet. Obsessive-Compulsive information control. Casual disregard for citizen’s rights. In the normal view of what we’d call a totalitarian self-defined communist dictatorship we’d expect a late soviet-era society on the brink of ruin.

And yet to some 90-95% of Chinese citizens, life is good. World-class education standards, low unemployment, strong economy, rapid and expansive entrepreneurs filling every gap in the market, extremely quick infrastructure expansion, and the fastest conversion of fossil power to solar and wind power on the planet.

And this isn’t the first, second or third time China has managed to be top dog when it comes to keeping the citizenry happy. A few thousand years worth of consistent culture seems to pay dividends there. Apparently in many regards they’re on to a winning concept which apparently eludes the western world.

I sincerely hope that is not directly linked to cruel and dictatorial autocracy, because in the west we could certainly do with more of whatever they base their successes on.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

"It’s all about nuance. One major issue we keep facing is that if you’ve grown too used to using a hammer, everything begins to look like a nail."

Yes, which is why I’m calling for nuance. Attack China on their human rights record, or on the things they’re doing in the movie and other industries where they are having a real impact on what gets produced across the board. But, if people are freaking out whenever China does something that the US does every day just because the word "China" is in the headline, nobody’s going to get anything productive done in issues that do matter.

Whatever else can be said in the cases that have been raised thus far, companies making minor edits to their own products in order to appease a large potential market is something that happens every day without question, except that in this case China did it so it’s suddenly scary.

Anonymous Coward says:

AAA Games cost millions to make like blockbuster action films China is a big market for Hollywood films and games games are made by corporations to make money
Of course certain religious symbols or art will be removed if its thought they will be offensive to Chinese censors games and films can easily be banned in China
This has been going on for years
Notice in film and TV the only villains now are North Korean or vaguely Eastern European men or
Maybe south American gangs
In the 80s and 90s there were films with Chinese villains
Why rusk a million dollar game being banned by putting art or religious symbols in it that might offend Chinese censors

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"AAA Games cost millions to make"

The two changes listed are in re-releases of games from the early 90s, so that point is fairly irrelevant.

"Notice in film and TV the only villains now are North Korean or vaguely Eastern European men or
Maybe south American gangs
In the 80s and 90s there were films with Chinese villains"

I’m not sure which movies you were watching but in movies I watched, outside of Red Dawn, they were usually Vietnamese, Nazis, vaguely Arabic terrorists or Englishmen / "Europeans".

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: More US hypocrisy

Hell Nintendo didn’t just censor symbols, they outright banned entire games on the basis of potentially offending someone. See also Terranigma or the first two SMT games on the SNES.

In the case of the first two SMT games they never saw a US release until the iOS App Store ports in 2014, which cannot be purchased today and cannot run on iOS 11+. Despite multiple ports (PC Engine, PS, GBA of which the iOS ports are based, etc.) of those games being released since then. In the case of Terranigma, as of 2020, it has still never been released in the US.

The video game industry has been committed to censorship for decades. It’s not a new trend. The only thing that is different now, is who the censorship is mainly meant to appease.

As for Nintendo’s cross-censoring, one could argue the censorship was a benefit to the game’s narrative in the end. As the original Zelda made no mention of Hyrule’s Golden Goddesses, the connections that Link and Zelda have to them, Hyrule’s creation myth, the purpose of the whole Triforce, etc. Future games would have had little reason to create such complex lore without the void left behind by censorship and the desire to create a mythos that could appeal to everyone. Again, the censorship isn’t justified, especially when it can only be attempted in hindsight, but it’s far easier to make a sympathetic point for artistic freedom when the entirety of the work is banned instead of a small fraction of it. The relatively little public recognition only underscores the issue.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

A refusal by Nintendo to localize (or all localizing for) certain games for a given market isn’t censorship. (I’d consider it a mix of moderation and editorial discretion.) A refusal by Nintendo to allow the publishing of a given game on one of its consoles also isn’t censorship per se. (It could’ve refused to let Bethesda port DOOM Eternal to the Switch without crossing any legal, moral, or ethical boundaries.) But if Nintendo used its considerable weight within the industry to ever suppress the publication of a game altogether — as in, to keep said game from being published anywhere in the world on any platform — I would call that censorship. I’m sure that happened more than a handful of times in the ’80s and ’90s, considering what Nintendo had to go through with Tengen. But that can’t really happen these days because, y’know, [gestures broadly at Steam, Epic, Sony, and Microsoft].

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

A refusal by Nintendo to localize (or all localizing for) certain games for a given market isn’t censorship.

Except that’s exactly the question being raised by the article, and (in the case of SMT) literally the reason stated by the developers as to why the games were not released. The game’s content violated Nintendo’s censorship policy.

A modern equivalent for your argument would be Facebook / Twitter / YouTube / etc. censoring material because it criticized those in power. Neither act is justifiable, and very self serving. Both acts may go against the will of both the intended audience and speaker, and both acts may leave the speaker unable to reach their audience effectively silencing them.

Just because there are other outlets today that might allow for a given speech doesn’t justify the censorship of one outlet. Nor does the "ease" of getting to those outlets. Censorship is censorship no matter where / how / or when it occurs, and none of it is justifiable.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"A refusal by Nintendo to localize (or all localizing for) certain games for a given market isn’t censorship."

So you’re fine with China refusing to localise the games when they decide to release a ported version of the game they own? Or, is this another example of double standards where you lose it because "China" rather than "Japan" is mentioned as the owner releasing the game?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

So you’re fine with China refusing to localise the games when they decide to release a ported version of the game they own?

I was quoting the poster above me. Read the response.

Or, is this another example of double standards where you lose it because "China" rather than "Japan" is mentioned as the owner releasing the game?

Again read the response:

Just because there are other outlets today that might allow for a given speech doesn’t justify the censorship of one outlet. Nor does the "ease" of getting to those outlets. Censorship is censorship no matter where / how / or when it occurs, and none of it is justifiable.

That includes China / Japan / Russia / <Insert Country Name Here.>

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

…or Korea, since Imperial Japan under WW2 ran a full program of ethnic cleansing there.

Neither south korea nor China has any reason to look at the "rising sun" banner and see anything other than what westerners would see when looking at a swastika or a confederate flag.

There are plenty of reason to censure China over their inhumane treatment of dissidents and their censorship…but when it comes to editing out the flag of world war 2 japan I’ll specifically give them a pass.

PaulT (profile) says:

Well, at least this one is changes to the actual games rather than marketing. But, I’ll maintain this is still stupidly trivial to worry about, compared to the actual major changes the Chinese influence in other media. Plus, these are changes made by Japanese studios, so this is really no different to the long-running trend of cuts made for the US market becoming the defacto cut around the world that also happens in movies. Wake me up when the influence is as bad as when I couldn’t get a version of certain classic martial arts films that hadn’t been butchered by Harvey Scissorhands because he thought Americans were too dumb to handle the original version (and then refused to release any other version in the UK).

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re:

A censor who gets their foot in the door will keep trying to get inside the house and fuck everything up. To give “insignificant” censorship a pass is to open the door enough for the censor to stick their foot in. Whether the censor is one lone whackjob with a grudge or a foreign government bent on being a global censor shouldn’t matter.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"A censor who gets their foot in the door will keep trying to get inside the house and fuck everything up"

Yes, so worry about the places where they’re actually doing that in extreme manners, not cases that were exactly what the US was doing 30 years ago. I mean, literally, I’ve had to put up with far worse shit that was done to UK releases because the industry was trying to appease Americans.

So far, we have an edited trailer, and 2 possible examples (even the article admits there’s no real proof) of extremely minor changes made to 30 year old games, that apparently took people a full year to even notice had happened after the games were re-released, on properties that are now actually owned by Chinese studios. Compared to the Weinsteins butchering Chinese martial arts films because they owned the Western rights, it’s barely noticeable.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Yes, so worry about the places where they’re actually doing that in extreme manners

I’ll worry about the places where they’re getting a foot in the door without much notice. That’s where widescale censorship starts: under the radar of the mainstream. By the time the mainstream notices, whoops, lookit all that censorship that happened before they did.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"I’ll worry about the places where they’re getting a foot in the door without much notice."

Which, again, is not here. So far, we have examples of a company choosing to release a different version of a trailer instead of releasing multiple versions for different markets – something China is not stopping them from doing, nor which affects the game itself. Then, we have 2 examples of China making changes to CONTENT THEY THEMSELVES OWN, in a manner so unobtrusive it took a year for anyone to notice anything that happened. This might be concerning, but then you have to argue that a company be forced to release content in forms they don’t wish to release it in, which has far more disturbing implications than allowing China to control its own property. We have exactly zero examples of them getting a censorship foot in to anything but advertising materials, and that’s only because someone was lazy and wanted to stick with a single international trailer.

Plus again, by your standard, I should be absolutely petrified of the far worse examples of censorship enacted on the behalf of the US for decades longer. Something you’re fine with, apparently. I don’t doubt that China wishes to do such things, but let’s wait until we have an example of them doing it.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

"That’s where widescale censorship starts: under the radar of the mainstream."

That’s all true, but the example in the OP is…poorly chosen. The rising sun is an emblem which in much of Asia carries the same connotations as the swastika. In japan it’s still embraced by their hardline right-wing hawks as if it were the confederate flag.

You have several point worth taking but in this specific example I’m giving the edit a hard pass whether it’s S. Korea or China asking for the changes.

Anonymous Coward says:

I am sure that there’s a shit-ton of game art that gets thought of, but never even gets drawn because it might be slightly offensive to some random political, religious, racial, ethnic, sex-or-gender-based, regional, professional, or other group in the USA.

I’m seeing tons of articles with lists of things you’re not supposed to say because they have racist associations in some people’s minds, or might otherwise be offensive to various people. Often those problems aren’t even with things that were originally racist; they show up because very old expressions were appropriated by objectionable people at some point in history, and sometimes that point was pretty long ago. Sometimes they even show up because something totally unrelated sounds vaguely like something objectionable. I bet you won’t find the things listed in those articles in the next round of games, even though the expressions are often really only problems in the USA.

How is cutting the WW2 Japanese flag more questionable than cutting "Turkey in the Straw" (a very old tune that’s apparently being dropped from ice cream trucks because it was used by some racists in the late 19th or early 20th century and may have been inherited from there)?

Is it actually a problem if a game doesn’t want to get political or offend anybody?

… and if it’s a problem to cut stuff to please China because it keeps China from being called out as abusive totalitarians (which they are), then why is it OK to sell games to abusive totalitarians in the first place?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Is it actually a problem if a game doesn’t want to get political or offend anybody?"

The only reason there was a problem with these games is that they were re-releases of games that had existed in a different form in the 90s. If they were new games, nobody would know or care about the decisions made in the design process, which as you say happen all the time in US boardrooms. Even then, the changes were so minor that it appears to have taken a full year for anyone to notice.

"… and if it’s a problem to cut stuff to please China because it keeps China from being called out as abusive totalitarians (which they are), then why is it OK to sell games to abusive totalitarians in the first place?"

Actually in this game, it’s buying from totalitarians, as both product mentioned are now owned by Chinese companies. Which makes this whole argument even sillier – if you object to change the Chinese are making to their own property on political grounds, why are you even buying the games from them in the first place?

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The Mail splashes at "Boris and Carrie’s baby hurt by Covid, reporting that six week old Romy was badly ill but is now on the mend. Above that a tale dismisses the "Narcissistic rabble as to Tory MPs" trying to topple the PM and tells Davis "In the God, age, The Express follows a similar opinion with its lead: "In the url of party unity, Go and in return the PM, changes has "PM fights on as plotters withdraw from the brink" It says the pm has been granted a reprieve by MPs plotting to oust him as concern builds that the Gray inquiry will be more critical of the pm than expected.

The Telegraph qualified prospects with Johnson’s defiance, "manley: i will not quit if rebels force vote, The Sun plays with the theme of the what are known as pork pie plotters, "As our Bojo pork pie chart illustrates to, It blogs, within the headline "wrestling PM crust ahead" And a shot of a pie sliced up in accordance with the pressing issues of the day. The FT splashes having "johnson buys time after defection to Labour rallies restive Tory MPs, The i paper has a similar feel with "manley clings on to power for now,

Sign upThe Guardian Morning Briefing is brought to thousands of inboxes bright and early every weekday. If a person already receiving it by email, one can sign up here. Dozens of anglers have protested outside Peru main oil refinery, los angeles Pampillos angeles, Which processes around 117,000 barrels a day and is managed by learning to speak spanish company Repsol. An Italian flagged ship was loading the oil into La Pampilla when strong waves moved the boat and caused it to spill its cargo into the ocean.
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