Starting in 1990, the Fire Emblem videogame series has grown from an exclusive Japanese tactical RPG franchise to a globally recognizable one. As the games are distributed from Japan to international markets, they undergo localization efforts which change aspects of the games to match the respective countries’ game ratings and social standards. For Fire Emblem’s Western distribution from 2016 onwards, some fans located in the West felt certain games’ localized changes were censoring the series. The anti-localization critics took issue with the Western release of Fire Emblem Fates’ (2016) removal of the “skinship” character petting mini-game, Tokyo Mirage Sessions’ (2016 & 2020) covering of female characters' cleavage and erasure of ‘pubic bones,’ and Fire Emblem Engage’ (2023) supposed restructuring of a romantic interaction with a 10-year-old girl to a platonic one. These post-Gamergate discussions around Fire Emblem’s edits of female characters and social interactions highlight some gamers’ misogynistic thinking and orientalist views of Japan.
The framing of these arguments on perceived censorship evokes a sense of lost power over virtual women’s autonomy. In their eyes, these gamers lose their ability to control women’s interactions with them and how personally attractive a woman’s appearance is. Thus, they strike out at localization teams who supposedly stripped those rights. For example, some gamers labeled Nintendo Treehouse as “feminist SJW cucks” for their treatment of Fire Emblem Fates’ (AmericanBuizel, 2017). Gamers take these criticisms further by flooding forums, such as the legacy GamerGate subreddit r/KotakuInAction, to mention that the original Japanese releases of Fire Emblem and other videogames let them do as they please with their waifus (virtual wives or favorite female characters) (Noisekeeper, 2016). This results in audiences personifying Japan as a country free of ‘woke censorship’ with women they can freely prey on.
From these controversies surrounding Fire Emblem, we also see Mathieu Bourbonnière’s idea of ‘social censorship’ in play. Bourbonnière defines social censorship as, “Where perception of censorship by members of the gamer public is structured and structuring, increasingly enabled and facilitated through social media technologies in a socialized sphere that is culturally and historically rooted” (Bourbonnière, 2019, p. 81-82). What Bourbonnière means is that these gamers perceive localization efforts as censorship of their ideas which have been propagated in online spaces like social media. Bourbonnière further writes that social censorship in gaming comments on inconsequential game elements. The petting in Fates, the clothing in Tokyo Mirage Sessions, and the romances in Engage do not affect the tactical gameplay or story of the series. Many of these items and interactions are in-game cosmetic changes or optional conversations.
As the controversies around Fire Emblem show, post-GamerGate discussions of localization and censorship often detract from meaningful critiques about the games because they focus on inconsequential elements. Those who comment on localization often state that they believe ‘censorship’ is insulting and infantilizing gamers (Mondblut, 2023). Ironically, it is their opinions on women and Japan that are insulting and infantilizing towards people. Videogame localizations are not without fault and deserve critique, but, those conversations should not be held by those who uphold the legacy of GamerGate.
AmericanBuizel. 2017. “Localization and Censorship?” Serenes Forest Forums. March 7, 2017. https://forums.serenesforest.net/index.php?/topic/69909-localization-and-censorship/.
Bourbonnière, Mathieu. 2019. “Playing With Culture: Reframing Video Game Localization Discourse and Issues of Censorship.” Concordia University.
Gafsucksalot2. 2016. “[Censorship] Nintendo Axes More Content from North American Release of Fire Emblem Fates. This Time the ‘Petting’ Mini-Game Is Totally Scrapped to Make the Game More ‘Appropriate for That Particular Territory.’” Reddit Post. R/KotakuInAction. www.reddit.com/r/KotakuInAction/comments/42svl7/censorship_nintendo_axes_more_content_from_north/.
Mondblut [@Mondblut1984]. 2023. “@MonsoonMayhem 1. It’s Fiction, All I See Is a Cute Loli.” Tweet. Twitter. https://twitter.com/Mondblut1984/status/1615203981071982592.