Censorship is one of the most hot-button issues in gaming, if not the most controversial subject altogether. In a medium that prides itself on player interaction, weaving it into narrative, mechanics, and characters alike, any elimination of player choice without the input or knowledge of the players feels like a betrayal. Perhaps because of this, the term “censorship” has, at times, extended beyond traditional usage and into a more nebulous zone. Questions arise about the integrity of artistic design, like whether self-censorship is censorship at all.
We won’t be parsing such questions here! Instead, we’ll be going the opposite direction, toward some of the most self-evidently hilarious, cringe-worthy, or just plain dumb examples of censorship out there in the world of video games. Whether due to pressure from foreign governments, internal mishaps, or just plain strange design choices, we’ve cataloged 15 of the dumbest ways games have dealt with the treacherous issue of censorship. So strap in and get ready to question humanity, as we venture through the truly inane, and perhaps even find something just stupid enough to be worthwhile!
If you’d prefer to read about censorship that’s more intentionally obtrusive than simply stupid, make sure to check out our list of 15 Games That Governments FORBID You To Play.
15 For A Few Seconds More...
Each region of the world has its own quirks in what they deem “acceptable” for consumption. Certain countries known for a high degree of nationalism and/or separatism, such as China, usually employ censorship against perceived threats to the sovereignty of their borders. Others simply censor to reflect the mores of their society, such as the United States being relatively amenable to violence but not sexuality.
Generally speaking, Europe has more of an aversion to violence than its American counterpart, demonstrated to laughable effect in the censorship of Beyond: Two Souls. The total amount of time that was censored in an effort to achieve a PEGI 16 rating rather than 18 amounted to between 5 and 10 seconds. The culprit? As seen here, apparently only whether or not you see a rod pierce an attacking character.
14 Oh, Mother Mary!
It’s hard to pinpoint what, exactly, would be the most absurd thing censored in a Final Fantasy game. Whether due to the sheer number of titles, or the awkward difficulties of localization, Final Fantasy has enough censored content that you could make a whole list out of it—and we did! Most of the time, the issues surround different perceptions of sexuality, character design, and even references to alcohol or tobacco present in the games’ interactions. By and large, this is standard fare.
One somewhat peculiar thing, however, is the series’ penchant for hiding overt religious themes in North America. This is a bit easier to track; Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII saw not only the standard aforementioned morality-related changes, but also boasted a very familiar-looking statue of the goddess Minerva... familiar, because she looked very much like the Virgin Mary. This didn’t fly in the more religious-oriented countries, and the statue was therefore subject to a radical redesign. That's made even sillier by the fact that Minerva's actual form, above, clearly looks nothing like her!
13 From China With Paranoia
Speaking of China, Command & Conquer: Generals is a perfect example of the hair trigger that is Chinese censorship. We’ve covered their over-reactive policies before, but rather than actually depicting China as a set of (historically accurate) warring states as Hearts of Iron did—which might potentially be a means of increasing opposition against the Communist Party—Command & Conquer trespassed in much more generic terrain: portraying a nuke going off in the country.
This kind of issue isn’t unique to China; Japan demanded censorship of an atomic explosion shown in Fallout 3 given the in-game associations to the country’s actual nuclear devastation in WWII, and both Iran and the United Arab Emirates campaigned against games portraying their countries being invaded or annihilated (Battlefield 3 and Spec Ops: The Line respectively). Where China differs is simple: they didn’t just censor the scene, they banned the entire series in totality. Talk about knee-jerk!
12 Bone To Pick
An odd omission in World of Warcraft combines elements from the last two entries on our list: China and religion. Religion in China is a complex affair. While it has long been associated with some of the world’s largest and oldest religions, the Communist Party of China is officially atheist and enforces restrictions based on this platform. As such, similar to their stance on national sovereignty, China is quick to assert its authority through censorship.
So how did WOW break this doctrine? If you’re thinking it’s one of the game’s deities or perhaps an ill-designed quest, you’re not esoteric enough. The mere existence of skeletal creatures was enough to send in the censors, who claimed that these depictions promoted superstition, violating the party’s stance on religion.
11 Console-Exclusive Censorship
There’s a lot of objectionable content in Grand Theft Auto V. Even if you’re on the anti-censorship side, as most gamers are, it’s not hard to see the logic in some of the changes countries have made. Getting rid of overt nudity and editing out the torture scene (spoilers!) might seem draconian in the West, but it’s not surprising at all in Japan, where it occurred.
Even if some of the changes are pretty bizarre—for example, replacing a mission where you’d normally try to catch a young star doing it dirty with one where her awful secret is smoking—there’s a basic idea behind it… that is completely subverted by the PC release. That’s right: the censorship is easily skirted simply by getting a different version. Could the Japanese government just not be bothered? And what does that say about these regulations?
10 A Laughably Shocking Torture Scene
Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker faced a similar scenario to Grand Theft Auto V: how do you handle a scenario as highly sensitive as a torture scene? Clearly, in both cases, some countries were simply not going to allow it, and the similarities don’t even stop there; both include electrocution as a method of extracting information from a character, albeit now the player is on the receiving end.
We know that GTA:V determined it best to simply cut the content, so how did the notoriously unpredictable MGS series handle it? Why, by turning the shocks into laughter of course! Snake is quite literally being tickled to death in the Japanese version, using a mechanism that incited laughter rather than the deadly shocks other countries’ versions portrayed.
9 The Trouble With Spazzing Out
One of the biggest issues in the tricky crossroads between identity politics and video games is politically correct culture. Whichever side you find yourself on, the argument is pretty clear: certain culturally loaded language, concepts, and actions are intrinsically linked to the identity of those making and receiving them.
Usually, this is the domain of edgy, gritty, realistic games, but occasionally it does trend toward the unexpected. It couldn’t get much more unexpected than when activists came out against Mario Party 8. How could such a seemingly harmless game garner such vitriolic denunciations? The specific use of the word “spastic” in the UK. While to many around the world, “spastic” only enters one’s lexicon in the doctor’s office or as a harmless descriptor, its usage in the UK is purportedly more charged against those with disabilities. While few endorse hatred or ableism, this case shows something at the heart of this issue: context matters.
8 Disney Censors Itself
Many argue that video games are held to a double standard comparative to other forms of media. Where hundreds can die in a film and receive a PG-13, or hardcore sex can be shown on platforms such as HBO while retaining relative commercial and cultural relevance, similar conditions in video games often get a game slapped with a country’s equivalent of “not suitable for sale/advertisement.”
If you need an example, look no further than Kingdom Hearts 2. In a truly questionable move, many of the scenes in KH2 meant to replicate moments from the Disney films incorporated are edited further to tone down the more somber or bloody elements. While a little of this may make sense to match the tone, many of the changes simply followed the regulations most video games go through—differing from those in the films.
7 Heavy Petting
There are quite a few ways to gauge how controversial your game is going to be—ESRB/PEGI rating, fan comments, critiques—and Fire Emblem Fates got one of the more obvious ones: not only did its release spur a litany of think-pieces on its perceived faults, even its update got a good deal of attention. To start, the game was simultaneously lauded for its willingness to openly (or at least, most openly to date) address characters as homosexual and criticized for a poorly-translated scene which some construed as constituting gay conversion therapy. The intention clearly seems harmless, but you can judge for yourself.
Eventually, this was altered, but they didn’t stop at just a bad translation. It was additionally decided that the game would take out any content that Western audiences might find problematic. This includes a “petting” feature that allowed characters to become physically intimate with their chosen love interest... even including their adoptive siblings.
6 A Synthetic Precedent
Many, many games have taken a very particular route when trying to dodge censors. These sort of games want to keep in the violence and mayhem without having to give up a specific desired rating in a country touchy to violent content (usually, Germany). So what do you do in that scenario? Make the enemies robots!
Multiple titles from Turok to Team Fortress 2 have employed this method of retaining their mechanical elements at the cost of their aesthetic, and sometimes narrative design. It’s not a coincidence either; it all stems from the seminal Contra, whose European release saw enemies take on a synthetic visage at the behest of the censors. While the Contra series itself would later abandon this practice, the metallic allure of mindless automaton enemies continues to this day.
5 An Old Man & His Irish Cream
We’ve beat up on Europe a lot in the last few entries—because, let’s face it, their governments are often among the more touchy—but, weirdly for a game so universally beloved, the odd censorship in Pokémon Red & Blue affected pretty much everywhere except Japan. Your first reaction might be to wonder what crazy thing must’ve been altered in the game for virtually every other country to get rid of it, but the design decision is actually perplexingly mundane.
In the first area of the game, an old man blocks your path until you complete what is essentially the tutorial. To most audiences, the reason given is he’s too tired because he hasn’t had his morning cup of coffee, but in Japan, the reason is much funnier: he’s passed out drunk in the middle of the road. Maybe grandpa likes to drink his coffee with a little something extra?
4 A Change of Race
In one of the most wrongheaded and confusing alterations on the list, Revelations: Persona underwent a rather presumptive change when it came to America. Often, in such cases, the point of localization is not to translate directly, but rather to impart meaning. Therefore, it’s not uncommon to see some radically different terminology, and occasionally even changes to character design or story arcs. Revelations had all of these things, but it was one particular change that had people scratching their heads. One of the game’s characters was made black.
The logic behind this really is a conundrum. If the goal was to try to introduce a more multicultural cast for its own sake, why not include the character as black in all versions? And if it was truly to pander to American audiences, how exactly is arbitrarily changing an already-developed character’s skin tone supposed to do that? At best, the changes were unintentionally offensive, and at worst, it’s a blatant attempt to utilize race to sell a product.
3 Rocker in the West, Foodie in the East
Some people know that Akira Toriyama, the artist behind the instantly-recognizable style of Dragonball and Chrono Trigger, often creates characters with foods in mind. Many of the most famous Dragonball Z characters were created using this weird naming convention, which should actually be pretty obvious on second thought (Raditz/Radish, anyone?). In itself, it’s a idiosyncrasy that only furthers Toriyama’s unique style and name recognition, so of course, game developers have to try to get in on that action.
In yet another poor attempt to sell characters to Western audiences, rather than simply use Toriyama’s naming scheme, or simply normal names, Chrono Trigger instead chose three important enemies to be named after Western rock stars. By all means, Chrono Trigger is an excellent game, but considering that they already had food-related names, it seems like a totally bizarre, if harmless change.
2 Protesting With Nazi Zombies
Few games have the wherewithal to address censorship headlong, and even fewer cut directly at the tropes certain nations have established for themselves. Leave it to South Park, of course, to do exactly that; rather than simply lie down and accept that, for example, they can’t show Nazis in the German version of The Stick of Truth—even the undead kind—they took the opportunity to take potshots at censors the world over.
The main point of the diatribe is simple: it’s ridiculous that clearly anti-Nazi media should be censored simply because it shows Nazi imagery, especially since it’s used in a satirical way. And like most things South Park, it’s a crude, but effective message. Ultimately, it is really, really stupid that such a thing is even necessary, and speaks volumes about the lack of context inherent in the censorship that takes place in many video games, and media in general.
1 Double-Booty Body Slam
To many people, Street Fighter is serious. Dead serious. You can probably guess why: being one of the most prominent e-sports competitive titles, to some it’s more than just a game—it’s also a profession. Even to those who don’t make a living off it, the integrity of Street Fighter as a consistent marker for fighting-game talent has persisted through multiple iterations.
And then there are those who want R. Mika to body slam them with her butt.
They’re also dead serious, perhaps more so than their competitive compatriots. So, naturally, it was a grave mistake for the developer to change a final in-game animation. The change in question involves the camerawork, which puts a slap to Mika's posterior just out of view... before she then proceeds with her signature double-booty body slam. As you might imagine, that kind of defeats the point, and fans let their voices be heard. Very, very loudly.