As video gaming evolves as an increasingly powerful force in art and entertainment, challenges continue to emerge for developers and publishers seeking to operate in a global market of differing cultural-sensibilities. The opposing views, traditions, and even laws regarding content of varying territories worldwide have always been cause for concern, particularly during the early console era when so many developers originated in Japan and sought to revise games for Western audiences; but the issue has grown more heated in recent years as social media and international commerce has allowed a greater variety of voices to weigh in on the controversies of what used to be a secluded, “niche” medium.
Though Nintendo, one of gaming’s most respected and long-lived institutions, rarely courts controversy in its own releases, it has been drawn into this latest fight over the removal of a controversial sequence from the U.S. version of one of its new games. The scene had been criticized as homophobic during its original release in Japan, but now some Western gamers are calling the move “censorship.”
The controversy in question involves the latest release in the Fire Emblem franchise, Fire Emblem: Fates. In the tactical RPG, matching specific characters into pairs can gain the highest level of support during battle, with the increased bond between the pairs being reflected in the game’s narrative – often in the form of a marriage proposal. The original Japanese storyline of one such pairing involves a female teammate who is attracted to women and finds herself unable to perform on the battlefield when there are too many beautiful women around. To help her, a male partner secretly slips her a magic potion that causes her to see people as the opposite of their actual gender; ultimately leading her to fall in love with the “female” version of said partner… and remain so even after the magic wears off.
Apart from the (obvious) issues expected to arise from portraying the drugging of a young woman against her consent, many gamers and journalists raised concerns that the sequence could be interpreted as promoting so-called “gay conversion therapy,” a widely-derided practice involving the use of psychological and/or medical treatments to supposedly “cure” gay or bisexual individuals of their attraction to the same sex. Such “therapy” has been banned in many territories worldwide, including several U.S. States – with President Barack Obama petitioning for bans to be extended nationwide. In an official statement, Nintendo of America confirmed that the sequence would be changed in the U.S. version, clarifying:
“In the version of the game that ships in the U.S. and Europe, there is no expression which might be considered as gay conversion or drugging that occurs between characters.”
Some gamers, however, have reacted with anger to the localization changes, calling it “censorship” and demanding that the original version of the game being preserved via petitions and outraged posts on Reddit, with some also linking their anger to an earlier controversy over Nintendo altering the (originally) skimpy costuming of under-aged girls Xenoblade Chronicles X. As the news broke overnight on January 22, 2016, an individual Nintendo of America employee was even singled out by some fans on social media as the person to “blame” for the changes, leading to a new round of even angrier posts and petitions. In a followup statement, Nintendo has maintained:
“Making changes is not unusual when we localize games, and we have indeed made changes in these games. When we localize a game we do so in order to make it appropriate for that particular territory. All our choices were made from that point of view.”
Fire Emblem: Fates is due to launch in the U.S. on February 19, 2016 for Nintendo 3DS.