Are critics holding up eastern games to western standards?

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By Neil H. Howard – 23rd April 2015
Are critics holding up eastern games to western standards?

Standards, according to the Oxford dictionary standards are principles of conduct informed by notions of honour and decency. It defines honour as the quality of knowing and doing what is morally right. And defines decency as behaviour that conforms to accepted standards of morality or respectability. Immediately and only three sentences in we have a problem: If we accept standards as defined by all that is above then personal standards go right out the window because people are different, never mind industries and nations. I’m meat eater, so my standards of diet are different from a vegetarians; we might share the same standards of animal welfare, but there is a line I’ve crossed that they see as abhorrent and immoral based on their own standards. However the most criticism I’ve met on being a beef eating British person is sly witty tease, that turns into an interesting conversation, I’m yet to be splashed with cows blood Carrie style.

Growing up, I played Doom, Quake, Alien Vs. Predator Classic 2000, and watch the likes of Predator, Alien, Aliens, and The Terminator. All these seem tame by today, but during the 90’s I very much doubt that my parents didn’t get at-least some flak for allowing me and my younger sibling to explore this violent media. “We ensured you knew it wasn’t real, and that the behaviour you get away with in a video-game is criminal if you do it in reality!” – These were the words of my parents when I asked them 14 years after the turn of the millennium. It’s rather difficult to state whether they were morally right in this practice, but then again who is to say it is correct. The ESRB has its standards for content rating, America has the MPAA, Britain the BBFC and OFCOM. It may surprise you to know that OFCOM’s most commonly censored action is headbutting. The American cut of The Matrix is literally 2 seconds longer because the British cut removed all scenes involving headbutting.

The American rating system shows more leniency toward violence than sexual content, and the Europe it is the reverse. The standards of acceptable material are completely subjective to the society in which the ratings were born in to. Not completely sold on that? Watch as much European Art Cinema as you can handle and ask yourself how much would make it into an American cut. Do the reverse with American action flicks and see how much would fly in Europe.

When it comes to video-games the market is pretty much cut in half by one detail, is the game from Asia or from America. Western developed and Eastern developed. The big boom of Japanese games coming to the west was with the rise of Nintendo after the gaming crash of 83. Mario and Link became household names, and for a short time, the Eastern taste in content seemed to match the West. But then the JRPG arrived at the American and European censorship committees. The images of scantily clad goddess and female characters of a questionably age became a hot bed of potential outrage in the respective importing countries.

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Now when talking from today’s standards people go even further from saying “its just a bum!” to flat-out crying in bemusement “it’s 50 pixels!” (I tried counting them, but became very aware of what I was spending my time doing.) But in the late 80’s early 90’s this was considered to be against the standards of the West, “Think of the Children!” we imagine the outcry sounding like; sounding like Helen Lovejoy from The Simpsons, of-course back then, Gaming was considered a Children’s craze that would come and go like so many others. It was never given much thought that a large part though still not the greatest would be young adult men, with a still large but very much overshadowed young female audience. Given even less thought however was the audience within the country of origin; Japan.

It is, or in my opinion should be considered; alarming that so many Western consumers of Japanese media; primarily games, tattoos of Japanese characters on their bodies with often no real assurance that they say what they think they say, and tropes of storytelling and mythology such as the Ring which borrows a lot the from Japanese tale Banchō Sarayashiki. We see a lot of criticism against Western male gamers for playing Bayonetta: Which is a Japanese game, designed by a female Japanese game designer. Sexual politics in the Eastern world are different from ours, and our standards make us look at it with disgust, a disgust that is born like so many, out of in inability to recognize different standards. Whenever a Western documentary crew goes over to Japan or China, they are often bewildered by the presence of sexual themed restaurants for men and women, night clubs in which women spend money to have a model pretend to be their boyfriend for the night, and hyper-sexualised media output. Why I hear you ask in my head. Well it’s because unlike the West, the 9-5 work schtick is a dream, the working hours and environments leave the people with very little time to indulge in long-term relationships. As much as conservatives love to argue this point with any credible biologists, human beings need the following, food, sleep, and sex. The majority of younger Japanese workers don’t have time for all three. So something has to have a substitute. Where the West arguably substituted food with the new quick, efficient, and stigmatized fast food industry, Japan in a way, created fast-sex.

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Is Bayonetta demeaning to women? Well by whose standard are you judging this from? In the West this may be so, but the objectification of women in Western culture has always come in two forms, the satirical, and the clumsy failure to deliver said satire; games like Duke Nukem Forever come to mind. Failing that you have sloppy writing that thinks that a woman’s defining characteristic is that she is a woman, or you have the mentality that gender is incidental to the events unfolding before the player. People may think that Lara Croft’s male alter-ego is Nathan Drake, but really if you were to swap one of Lara’s X chromosomes out for a Y I doubt the game would have changed at all. Half life? Look at the expansion pack Half Life: Decay, female silent protagonists play just like Gordan freeman. Bayonetta’s clothing and body form are what get critical objection these days, Western critics come down on her like a ton of bricks that quite honestly forget that the West isn’t the primary target audience for this game. You guessed it, it’s Japan. Particularly male Japan, Bayonetta is fast-sex to them as Grand Theft Auto is fast-violent escape for the West. Critics aren’t so quick on their guns to attack the Japanese audience for their tastes and needs and supply situation, as they are to attack Western Gamers for indulging in a game from a different culture.

“Respect others, respect other cultures, and respect other ideals.” This is what we teach our children, with the dime-store morality and good common-sense, yet it cannot be denied that we get to an age of naiveté and inflated ego and we fail to act upon this childhood advice and start acting like children all over again. “Game’s instill us with values of realism.” It’s hard to take that statement seriously about Bayonetta as the character fights a twenty-story Dragon. “it’s demeaning!” says the American who considers herself a humanist yet fails to recognize the need for the trope in a nation that needs a substitute for sexuality in everyday life. It must be said it takes a level of mastery of deception to hide ones contempt for a nations values without sounding sheltered, idealist, or racist. Yes, it could be argued that if Bayonetta was born in a Western studio, a level of justification would be asked of them. We hold our native studios and creative teams accountable for their actions, but do we have policy of Eastern developers. No. For the simple reasons that our standards do not perfectly fit with theirs.

Do the needs of a nation like Japan match the needs of a Western individual? Well, if you look at the clichés of definitions of a male Gamer then; yes. How many young men these days find the prospect of socialization or meeting women a difficult, scary task? How many are willing to take a substitute? Does the liberal nature of Eastern sexuality appeal to the current young Male demographic of Western gamers? I think there maybe some truth to that, Eastern games such as Bayonetta or Lolipop Chainsaw may very well fill a void in these young men’s life. But to seek such substitution gains them infamy and criticism for attempting to get gratification from arguably a form of wish-fulfillment. Women are easy in games because if they were realistic you’d have to deal with everything normal social experience that comes with talking to a real, thinking person. Not everyone shares your like of games, beef eating, or tongue in cheek cynical comparisons to show how silly the situation really is. At best it undersells the complexity of human relationships, both social and sexual. But that is the point, like fast-food undersells cooking. The last thing these people want after they come home from work is to engage in “proper” social interactions whether real or digital. So why should their substitute act that a real thinking person? There is definitely a conversation to be had about the pros and cons of substitution, but to outright attack these people under the guise of standards is simply wrong.

So are Western Gamers being penalized by Western Critics for playing Eastern imports? Should our standards be firm in face of other people’s standards? Do we show leniency to some ideas whilst blocking out others? Are we simply afraid that the ideals of another nation might change our own? When being critical of art, one must be informed of the arts origins. I do personally question some critics and their knowledge of the origins of some of these games.

But what do you think? Do you think that imports should be censored and adapted to our own standards, or do you leave the import as it arrived and let people play the game as it was designed?

  • Patrick Toworfe

    Great article. This is something I’ve always noticed; the gap between Japan’s standards and the rest of the world. It’s why so many images, even box art covers, are changed to suit the US and UK, when in Japan it’s perfectly acceptable. People don’t understand this but they go on to criticize japanese games based on their regions’ standards. I wish more people will understand that the norms they hold so closely are only dependent on what part of the world they live in, and their subjective standards SHOULD NOT be applied to everyone else.

  • Fact Checker

    Also, the notes about “Eastern sexuality” are retarded. Check “herbivore men” and Japan’s population growth issues. “Otaku” in particular are simply seen as a non-option for marriage. I know because the guys who love games here either don’t get married or, when/if they do, they understand their wife will trash their collection and make them give it up to become a wage slave (because, again, the woman is expected by HER company to give up her job). Obviously there are exceptions, but this is the norm. The ACTUAL culture. From someone who lived in the country.

    Really, do some fact checking or get an actual asian to write these.

    • Neil H. Howard

      In hindsight it’s probably that I over-generalized Eastern culture a little too much as I over-generalized European culture. So point taken, as for the research I can only suggest that if it is in error then it’s outdated information and would welcome newer respected information to make amendments.

      Quick question, you started with also, is there a comment I’m missing?

      • Fact Checker

        Yeah, it was awaiting moderation. Short story: the “woman” who “designed” Bayonetta was just a concept artist, not the actual character creator. The actual character and game designers were men, as per the game’s credits, meaning she only created what she was told to make.

  • Reptile

    Europe bans violence, America bans sexualization, and then there is Australia, which bans both.

  • Neil H. Howard

    Readers! I still stand behind the message I want to promote conversation about, but I must take some accountability on some outdated information and unintentional omissions in factors of Asian culture. I feel like I’ve over generalized the continent and not gone into enough depth with individual countries. This also includes Europe as German censorship bans particular imagery and themes that the rest of Europe does not. So please treat this article with healthy skepticism and make sure your facts are more up to date. My apologies for any confusion or bereavement.

  • Mr0303

    I don’t think this is limited just to culture. The discussion should be about artistic expression and how free minded the criticism of the said art it. Some of the literary greats come from very different cultures – Shakespeare, Umberto Eco, Leo Tolstoy and Erich Maria Remarque.
    This has been a recent problems with game reviews – they’ve become way too political and do not represent the true value of the game.

  • makyurax

    Discussing cultural differences is not a simply task and will take a lot of time so except for the fact that I cannot accept the reason of USA (that consider life less valuable than a health insurance contract and where even a kid can have firearms while they can drink alcohol only at 21) for censoring sexuality; the only thing I will say is that sexuality and violence are welcome in a videogame but they had to have a reason to be and not just to sell more.