NeoGaf has been handing out indiscriminate temporary bans for people openly disagreeing with an article from USGamer’s Jeremy Parish about the way sex and nudity are handled in video games… specifically sex and nudity in Japanese video games.
Kotaku in Action archived the thread on NeoGaf that discusses the upcoming PS Vita dungeon crawler from D3Publisher called Omega Labyrinth. The article covers how the game titillates and tantalizes without going too far, and how it handles sex and nudity in a “juvenile” way – aimed at adolescent boys, no less. It decries the game’s lack of simply going all the way, as opposed to nipping at the boundaries with teases and taunts of sexual activity that never quite crosses into pornographic territory.
The article sparked a lot of rebuttals on NeoGaf, and as pointed out on the Kotaku in Action thread, the censorship banhammer comes down hot and heavy on the thread. 10 bans on the first page. Why? Because some of them disagreed that games handle sex and nudity in juvenile ways — especially when “juvenile” is being used to compare the cultural sensibilities of Japan with American expectations.
Giuseppe Nelva, a writer at Dual Shockers and a member of NeoGaf who goes by the handle of “Abriael”, wrote…
“Took long enough for the first article whining about Omega Labyrinth to come out. About 10 hours.
“Maybe gaming journalists trying to impose their standards on the whole industry so that every single developer out there appeases exactly the same demographics (them), and does exactly the same thing, should do the growing up instead.
“We already get DOAX 3 not coming to the west or coming maimed. All we need is more fearmongering.”
“Abriael” was promptly banned for the comment above. I asked him on Twitter if that really was the case, and he responded with the following…
@WilliamUsherGB Indeed, temporarily. Not the first time on this topic, actually. Zero fucks are given 😀
— Giuseppe Nelva (@Abriael) August 21, 2015
Others lamenting the article’s approach to the subject matter were also promptly, and temporarily, banned.
NeoGaf user Tohsaka decries the article’s bully mentality of targeting Omega Labyrinth, writing…
“Youkai Watch, Monster Hunter, etc. Most of the big-selling games in Japan are family-friendly. Niche otaku games like the article complains about don’t actually sell very well at all; they just have small, dedicated audiences.”
Many of these games labeled as “niche otaku games” – titles made with a lot of fan-service in mind to attract a specific demographic – usually sell consistently within that demographic. They have small marketing budgets and usually are highly praised within that demographic, such as Akiba’s Trip or Onechanbara.
NeoGaf user Suzushiiro managed to escape a ban and made an interesting comment, stating…
“[…] this is pretty much the free market at work. People generally don’t want games that treat sex in “mature” ways, they either want no sex at all or cheap fanservice. That’s just the fucked-up way our society (as well as Japanese society) is with sex right now.”
Suzushiiro isn’t wrong. Games that do handle sex and nudity in “mature” ways are oftentimes overlooked. If it’s not for cheap thrills or fan-service they’re oftentimes even more niche than the niche otaku titles.
With all the blatant nudity in the game The Void from Russian developers Ice-Pick Lodge, how much did it actually sell given its heavy themes around psycho-phenomenology and fringe philosophies? According to Steamspy The Void only managed to sell 151,000 copies on Steam.
Or how about Anuman’s Post Mortem spin-offs from the Still Life series? They do more than dip their toe into the topic of strong sexual content, but the games seem to be practically ignored by media and gamers alike. Once again, according to Steamspy the game has only managed to sell 79,000 copies.
What about Catherine? A game that takes the subject matter of sex and sexuality down a corridor of mature discussions that delve deep into the psyche of the character participating in said discussions – how can we ignore a game like this? Maybe because it didn’t move and sway the market as much as some outlets may have hoped.
A game about “mature” sexual subject matter was no more or less niche than a game that is supposedly depicting “juvenile” sexual subject matter. Catherine, according to Gamespot, sold 500,000 copies. The more tongue-in-cheek Lollipop Chainsaw – a visual and sexual grindhouse romp – managed to move a million copies, according to a report by Siliconera.
They’re both niche Japanese games, but one tosses in comedic violence along with the sexual innuendo while the other is more like a lucid, narrative dream. Interesting that the one labeled as being more “mature” didn’t make it sell to a more “mature” audience.
There seems to be this misconception that just because a game deals with mature subject matter in an inventive, clever or intelligent way it will automatically make it sell to an audience that perceives itself as the upper echelon of cultural intelligentsia. But the numbers don’t fit the narrative.
Even some of the commenters on the USGamer article seem to understand that mature subject matter is touchy material for most big AAA publishers, with user gigantor21 writing…
“I think the biggest problem is that there isn’t a proven market for handling sex or relationships in honest ways. Indie games can afford to explore such things more deeply, but a big AAA game? As much as I’d love to see it more often I’m not getting my hopes up.”
The USGamer article actually contains more dissent in the comment section than the NeoGaf thread discussing the article. It’s strange that one of the largest gaming discussion forums on the web doesn’t actually allow for honest discussion.
Another user, going by the handle of mikespit1200 also managed to get banned on NeoGaf for making the following comment…
“It’s fine if the art style makes him feel icky. I think he’s a squeamish nancy for feeling that, but that’s his right. As stated there’s plenty of games that provide what he’s asking for. He wants to label a bunch of stuff he doesn’t like as immature but stops well short of calling for censorship. It’s just another bullshit “think piece” that spends 1500 words really not saying anything at all.”
According to mikespit over on Twitter, he attempted to reach out to the NeoGaf staff to get un-banned but didn’t have any luck in doing so since they have him blocked on Twitter.
I attempted to reach out to the owner of NeoGaf, Tyler Malka, about the strict thought-policing that goes on at the site when dealing with topics such as this, but Malka has me blocked on Twitter.
Omega Labyrinth is due for release on the PS Vita this fall over in Japan. You can learn more about the chest expansion feature and other gameplay details by checking out a very detailed article over on Gematsu.
[Update: Added the testimony from mikespit1]