Double Agent
Keep 'em coming - March 26, 2002 - Erin Mehlos

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this column are those of the participants and the moderator, and do not necessarily reflect those of the GIA. There is coarse language and potentially offensive material afoot. Well, that's you struck from the will. Don't say we didn't warn you.

Well. It's spring break. What does this mean to you, the reader?

Nothing whatsoever -- tonight's column is typically short, rough, and noisy.

Let's go.

Piety loves company

Some games are okay for release in America because they don't offend a 16th century puritan's view of morality.

Okay, I feel a long-winded rant coming on. And it's only connected to the topic in general sense. Consider yourself warned.

I just think it's time for censorship to die. Pornography and violence don't warp a kid's mind nearly as much as watching their parents fight, or getting teased by their classmates. And the kids have seen this stuff anyways. Is there anyone who learned about sex in health class? Anyone who went, "Oh, now I get it!" No. We all just rolled our eyes and shrugged, because we heard the forbidden secrets from some kid on the playground in fourth grade. The effort to protect kids from sex and violence is wrong-headed, time-consuming, socially degrading, and ultimately futile. It's much like G.W. Bush's missile defense plan in that regard.

And I am so sick of the ridiculous double-standards of censors. Lysistrata is obscene? The Arabian Nights? Leaves of Grass? Ulysses? The Giver? A Wrinkle in Time? Flowers for Algernon? Hamlet? And yet the Bible is upheld as a work of purity - A book which features such questionable scenes as: Jesus getting nails stuck through his palms; Ezekiel's vision of God's penis; and Job being sadistically tortured by Satan. If we can read about Lot's daughters raping him while he sleeps, why can't we read about Lysistrata withholding sex from her husband?

No art, prose, image or knowledge should be banned. Diversity of ideas is the beginning of wisdom, both for individuals and for the human race.


I can only imagine Lysistrata is deigned obscene not because of its protest of war via a sex strike, but its incessant, unvarnished erection jokes. However, given that the Bible is itself littered with "members [that] were like those of donkeys, and whose emission was like that of stallions," I'll have to agree with you, to an extent, that censorship, arbitrary as it often is, is a bad thing in a lot of circumstances. But since its a highly subjective issue with little or nothing to do with the matter at hand, I'm going to spare you my ill-conceived indignations and continue on with the matter at hand....

Censorship may have been a big issue for games in the past, but we're living in a present where mechanical insects nonsensically raping nonchalant lesbian victims is perfectly okay, so I'd have to say adult-oriented content, while it stands to create quite the ruckus upon a game's release, is less a black-and-white universal criterion than the simple discretion of the publisher.

Different strokes for different folks


I think what gets over here is somewhat arbitrary because so many of the factors involved are arbitrary. Different companies have different standards. EA killed Thrill Kill, but I am willing bet a different company (say, Eidos) would have decided to release it. Furthermore, standards within a given company evolve (or deteriorate, depending on how you look at it) with time. Long ago Nintendo prided itself on changing sweat to blood, now they make games featuring blood, profanity and singing crap. Attitudes towards specific genres also change. Sony once was vehemenently anti-rpg, now they are so rpg happy that they are inflicting every rpg Sony of Japan publishes on the American public. Another complication is that a company might decline to port over a game which would probably succeed because they want to kill the hardware it runs on. IMHO thats why Nintendo and Sega declined to port Sin and Punishment and Grandia respectively.

As for why getting in a bloody shootout with the police in GTA3 is okay, but pooping in Animal Leader is not, its due to differences in local tastes (which like all tastes, have little to do with logic). I think it prudent to point out that not everyone thought that GTA3 was acceptable (Lieberman and NOW spring to mind). In conclusion, I think the localization process is utterly confusing and somewhat maddening, but I think in the end it all works out because Tobal 2 and Grandia notwithstanding, 99.5% of the good stuff (and sadly, equal percentages of the bad stuff) seems to find its way to these shores.

- Mark

Not much to say, here. Moving along....

Name game
I'm almost convinced its not about how good the game is that determines if it will see this side of the shore but who makes the game. The only reason we saw games like Rez or JGR was because its made by sega, because sega's brand name and games are well known in The U.S and europe. Also it depends on if theres a interest for it outside of japan, so you'll comonnly see racing and fightins games coming over . However you wont see any train simulated games or dating sims.

- MattD

I don't think your "brand name" theory is quite the ticket, considering behemoths like Nintendo and Square have entire series that have never set foot in North America beyond overpriced Californian import shops, but the rest of your letter ventures into the realm of plausibility.

Prime mover

The answer is always money. It doesn't matter what the question is.

Most companies are owned by shareholders who are concerned not with pushing the gaming envelope but with money, fat gleaming sacks and hats of money. In deciding whether or not to import games, the determing factor will always be whether or not it will sell, and how cheaply they can make it sell big. Seeing as how nobody can really know in advance what will sell like hotcakes, they probably fall back on rules of thumb in deciding what will greenify the money trees of the American market. For example: "No games that involve poop," or perhaps, "No games that fail to include more violence than necessary." Sure, there've been great games that violated these rules (well, maybe not the one about feces), but those games are the exceptions that prove the rule. More often than not, innovative and odd games are the carrion-eaters of the industry. They survive on the leavings of the sequels and sports franchises.

Which suits me just fine. I'm a fan of too much blood and a pleasant lack of scatological gameplay. If it does bother anyone, the best thing to do is to vote with every nearby wallet. The farming, monster-training and rhythm franchises keep getting new installments because the first installments made money. Luckily, game companies and their shareholders are greedy enough that they want all of our money, not just the stuff we're willing to spend on vicariously slaking our baser thirsts, so it is inevitable that, now and then, the quirkier offerings of the Japanese market will reach our shores.

All it takes to move that magic line is for someone to step across it and for us to reward them with heaps of cash.


I don't really know what makes certain games okay for US release and some not okay... I think the reason is video game culture, and the money that's tied into that... most North American videogame players don't want to play with pooping animals ( although it would be good for a laugh )... they want big guns, fast cars, and lots of violence... there's no point bringing over a game that only a handful of people would buy... although it would make you a pretty great gaming company in the eyes of those gamers, it wouldn't be a very shrewd business move, and probably not very profitable.


I haven't a lot to respond to here, either, since this is more or less a matter-of-fact paraphrasal of the laws of supply and demand. No one -- not even Working Designs with their oft-mentioned dedication to their fans and their principles -- is going to a make/publish/localize a game that no one is going to buy. No matter what kind of saintly bastard you may be, it's physically impossible to undertake the costs without a consumer base to foot the bill.

Conform or die

Erin -

Where do the lines get drawn for us Americans? Who knows, I sure don't. I mean, at first Square said "no FF V for you". Then, they said "okay, you can have it, but since you're so pathetic, we'll label it EXTREME so that only people worthy of it can play it." They then finished with "All right, here it is, a few years behind schedule. Oh, and we forgot to tell you. It kinda sucks."

So what changed? Well, the American consumer has changed a bit, but so has the Japanese producer. I think that with Rez as a kind of groundbreaker, we might see more Vib and Mojib - Ribbonesque titles, but take a step back. In Nich's 2 examples, Rez is a rail shooter, with music and rythm added. The Ribbons are music and rythm, with some very strange elements added. As for GTA3, isn't Rockstar American? Well, even if not, let's face it. Explosions and guns do well in America. I mean, look at the success of Terminator. Cutesy stuff does well for a section of the populace who's parents have to buy them games, and Poke'mon has already raped that market, so Animal Leader would be left high and dry.

It all filters down into 2 factors. First, the Japanese perception of the American market. Games like MGS2, GTA3, and FFX sell very well. So we get games like that. Big name RPGs, action/adventure games, and the like. Whacked out games like Silhouette Mirage and Rez, while they sell, don't do very well. And some games just crash altogether. We, as a consumer base, simply get what we buy.

Secondly, the American market's willingness to take a chance on a Rez or a Fatal Frame that does come over. Once again, we get what we buy. The fact that maybe 4,000 people in America (I think I'm being generous) think that Mojib Ribbon would be, to quote Jackie Chan, the cat's ass, whereas 400,000 want GT3 A-Spec...


Ray Stryker, making a point with a dull hammer...

There's plenty of reasons good games don't make the transcontinental leap. Mountains of text, low returns on predecessors, and the occasional (OK, frequent) Dumb-Ass Decision (We like Kojima, Konami, can we have Policenauts already?) But as often as not I think something else dominates the reasoning behind axing decisions: Image.

Why would squatting teddy bears void Animal Leader's chances in the states? Because once Johnny's mom sees Bambi pooping in the woods, she'll never buy him Nintendo ever again. Note the Big N's refusal to associate themselves with Conker. Why was Vibri turned away at the gate? Solid-black backgrounds and vector-drawn levels do not a 'next-gen' leader represent. Rez, on the other hand, has thumping eurotechno beats and "Synthasia", which sounds cool on MTV. Why will you never see a dating sim over here? Because the company that makes a game on relationships can never shill sex again.

Even when companies bend and unleash the occasional bizarre title, it's either sanitized (insert any of several heavily-debated instances here) or fits in some way into what sells for the company. Open a magazine for a print ad featuring Fresh Games' upcoming Mister Mosquito (and if you can, repress the anal-retentive part of the human psyche that's shouting about how only female mosquitoes suck blood). Looking at those screenshots, can you infer anything about how the actual play works, or just aware that there's a naked woman in a bathtub? Suddenly, Eidos' interest in the title becomes clear...

The Bottom Line: Quirkiness is good, but only it fits in with the norm.


I think "fitting in with the norm" is important, here, but what that norm is differs from one month to the next. American pop culture is a highly dynamic entity, and rarely synched with its Japanese counterpart. Withholding games if and when the climate isn't right seems only logical....

Different like everybody else


Ah, the age-old question: What phenomenon is responsible for Japan shipping us Quest 64 while keeping most of the Mother (EarthBound) series locked up on the Eastern side of the Atlantic? Of course there's multiple factors, but I'm far too lazy to sit here and list all of them. So, like a true bastard, I'm going to just talk about the one reason that really pisses me off: Japanese Perception of Americans or JPA.

JPA is quite possibly the most common reason why good video games just never make it to the United States while ones that are better used as coasters somehow make it to our shores. First of all, the Japanese don't believe Americans are that intelligent. That's the reason Americans were given a child's version of Final Fantasy IV and the pathetic excuse of an RPG known as Quest 64. To this day Final Fantasy III, believed to be one of the most difficult RPGs in existence, still has not been brought over to the United States.

One of gauges Japanese companies use to decide if a game should be translated to American audiences is the current state of our pop culture. It's little surprise that Space Channel 5 was released during the popularity peak of the pop princesses (go alliteration!) like Britney Spears. While Space Channel 5 is an innovative game with a cool twist, it seems those weren't the reasons the game was sent here in the first place.

Thankfully though, there are a few perceptive individuals who realize that there are American gamers who enjoy an innovative, different game. Enix has sent a plethora of unique games to the United States including ActRaiser, Legend of Gaea, and Valkyrie Profile. All of these games are still enjoyable years (a decade in the case of ActRaiser) after their original release. These exceptions are the games that have defined the American gaming environment. Hopefully more Japanese companies will wake up and realize that Americans are more deserving of their hidden gaming treasures than they realize. I'm not saying all Japanese games are gold (I have no desire to play a Hamster Sim game), but there are still plenty of good games Americans are being robbed of.

Jealous Bastard

SC5 Part 2 should be renamed "Space Channel 5 Part 2: A Nation Masturbates Again"

You can't begrudge publishers being somewhat leery of American trends. Were grunge still in its heyday and the popularity of Britney Spears' bubblegum still exclusively relegated to (forgive the sweeping generalization that you know I don't really mean) non-gaming third grade girls, the likes of SC5 might very well not go over as well as it has.

Let me break it down this way: on September 10th of last year an action/adventure title casting the player in the role of a terrorist out to wreak havoc on a super-power-scale government might have done decent sales here. A day later...? Whatever label had published it could kiss their sales -- and in all likelihood, their ass -- goodbye.


You'd think with all the bottom-rate crap this country consumes--nay, produces--our distant neighbors in the Land of the Rising Sun would have no problem test marketing an out-of-whack title or two on a consistent schedule. I mean, what's one more bad game/movie/CD? And if it is good, it'll make some money, right?

But you've got to think of what those guys in Japan see over here in the U.S. I mean, our state capital is composed of anti-everythingists. If an item is pro-something, it gets banned by one group, and if it's anti-the same thing, it gets banned by another. Who's to know what will and what won't be blindly axed by some advocate of something?

Then, of course, marketers and the comapnies who have to license these games turn their nose up at anything that doesn't fit in with their Formula for Success, whatever that may be. Often it will be good old Sex 'n' Violence, which sometimes ends up being the sole content of a game.

Finally, the general resistence to things foreign in this country. How many people do you know who honestly enjoy a good, subtitled foreign film? And no, I am not counting anime or Hong Kong action flicks. I mean movies from France, Poland, India, Germany, Italy, Denmark? Thought provoking non-sex comedies or truly diferent kinds of love stories (instead of just the same love stories but with more raunch and about teenagers)?

The resistence is incredible. Do you think the Japanese don't know it? Do you think they believe it doesn't apply to them? The bottom line, I guess, is that if it's anyone's fault, it's America's for not being as receptive as it could be.

---Anthony James Larrea

Regardless of your premises, your conclusion is sound. Rock on.

Closing Comments:

I love when news of interest presents itself just minutes before I complete the column. Tomorrow, let's have your thoughts on the Phantasy Star Collection. End of story.

- Erin Mehlos

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