Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What Monster Monpiece's Censorship Says About the Global Videogame Market

Recently it was announced that Compile Heart's Monster Monpiece (Monmon), a card-game for the Playstation Vita, is coming to both American and European shores. It was a shocking announcement because, as was recently the case with the localization of Senran Kagura for the 3DS, Monmon is a title drenched in suggestive and sexual imagery as each card is a mythological monster personified as a young and sexy girl with little to zero clothing (naughty bits are not shown though).
This is an announcement that would normally inspire calamitous cheers from the growing otaku and Japanese-game aficionado crowd, although the celebration quit as soon as it had begun. Following the localization announcement, Idea Factory, the western publisher for Monmon, stated that several of the game's cards, particularly those which reflect younger women, had to be removed for the localized edition, an announcement that immediately severed Monmon's already limited western audience.
There are those who are "just happy that the game is getting localized," and those who find the censorship "total bullsh*t, and I'm not buying this gimped product."  Each side has valid arguments, but what is most important here is what this censorship proves about the western videogame market, and how it exemplifies the secondary tier videogames still remain in as both an entertainment media, and artistic expression.

For those wondering, the cards cut from the western editions include these below.
Mostly "Loli" types have been Removed
In relation to Monmon solely as a game, this censorship may not be that great of a deal. The core game of Monmon is still there, and, as found in my review of Monmon, the game is simply excellent and a lot of fun, suggestive content or not. Be that as it may, what this censorship does reveal is how videogames have yet to reach a platform with equivalent freedom, and artistic acceptance, as other commercial fields.
In comparison to other media, such as the novel The Lovely Bones, which has a detailed scene involving rape of a pre-pubescent girl, or the clothing line, Boobs and Bloomers, which proudly models pre-pubescent girls in lingerie, it is videogames, and videogames alone, that are still suspect to extreme scrutiny and censorship especially in relation to sex and the portrayal of women. As literature and art are accepted as "honest portrayals," and modeling and film as "representative reality," why is it that videogames are still being pummeled by the undefined mandates of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) and assumed consumer's response?
You're Still Getting This. Mostly.
The answer is rather clear: videogames are still not viewed as an independent form of artistic expression. In one way, it's very easy to see the rationality of this: videogames are not a simple product, and regularly cost upwards of a million dollars to make. Most games need to see a profit, as otherwise dozens of jobs may immediately be lost, an unfortunately common occurrence for game developers. If profit has to come by the crippling or removal of crucial elements from a game--- well, so be it.
On the other hand though, there is much love for unique game design, and increasingly so is the creativity of developers being admired by gamers, consistently taking precedence over judgement of the actual game. With the rise of games being less about gameplay and "fun" (particularly on the PC scene), but instead context and expression, where modern gaming stands is increasingly towards that of the artistic and independent, and not the commercial and base.
And yet, here we are: an eastern-sensibilities product, a product that already has a limited audience, and an audience that is both aware and admiring of the sexual imagery that models it, is being censored to validate the commercial and cultural-conservativism that models foreign territories. It's an action that neglects both its own team, the very people who drew and created the artwork that plays so significant a portion in Monmon, as well as its consumers, the people who are drawn to Monmon particularly because of it representing distinctly foreign sensibilities and showcasing artwork wholly unique from their own culture. What this represents isn't so much the fallacy of niche-based products, but the self-destruction of cultural boundaries in a market that is globally based. By having products representative of distinctly cultural items, the result of such a decision, as seen here with Monmon being censored following entry of foreign territories, is crisp and clear: damned if you do, and damned if you don't. 
Best of Luck to You, Girls
It's a shame, but what else can be said? Videogames are (usually) not the work of one person created on their own time and bill, but are a commercial product responsible for the livelihood of many talented persons, a product that is dependent more so on its success than its expression. As there is no trigger to consumer's heads, companies carrying culturally-sensitive titles to foreign and opposed territories are going to continue to feel compelled to morph their own products in hopes of achieving greatest statistical commercial potential, simultaneously alienating their own audiences while butchering their own products. It's a gloomy, without-answer scenario, but what other method is there?

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