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The Stick of Censorship and the howls of knee-jerk nannies

No doubt we've all heard that the upcoming South Park game, Stick of Truth, has been censored in certain regions. As was indicated: "Seven scenes of about 20 seconds each are censored in the EMEA console versions of South Park: The Stick of Truth. The decision to cut this content from the game was made by Ubisoft EMEA.” EMEA stands for Europe, Middle East and Africa, so naturally this decision affects us. 


Perhaps the most insulting aspect is what they did in light of the censored scenes. As David Cook, on VG24/7 points out: "the scenes in question have been replaced with on-screen text that describes what’s happening behind the censorship."


So. South Park. Censored. Because... it's offensive. Because.. it "crosses" a magical line designated by those who probably won't play it. 

I'm not going to tell you why it is stupid to censor adult material, that's for adults, who can make adult choices - like playing or not playing a video game, like having an option to turn "harsh" scenes on or off. 

Instead I want to focus on that still scene, staring at you in its patronising mockery. Like a parent, covering the eyes of his child then later telling her what happened anyway.

Because our imagination is never worse than reality, correct? Instead of showing paper people pushing pathetically pre-rendered things through each other or whatever, we're told - probably in a patronising tone with a pat on the head - what happens. Because everyone is worried that the paper people of South Park are... real? Think of the children!

It's hard to know why anyone would think that a South Park game would be any less harsh than the series; indeed, as a long-time fan of the show, I'd be disappointed if the creators didn't push boundaries of the medium as they do with everything (Team America: World Police, for example, did things with puppets that's also probably "illegal"). 

So the still scenes are insulting but perhaps there's another aspect that is even worse: this only affects console owners. Yes, most PC owners can still get the game as the gods intended, even in same countries the console versions are censored. So, the same countries in which it is censored also has the game as non-censored. 

Why are console versions completely censored but not all PC versions, in the same regions? Well, it's complicated. PC Gamer's Phil Savage speculates:

The censorship seems designed as a pre-emptive measure against territories notorious for refusing classification or requesting cuts. For console, that's led to an inefficient carpet bombing of the entire continent. Thanks to PC's mostly digitally delivered gaming scene, those strikes can be far more targeted.

Thus, Ubisoft is making a marketing decision since it could impact release date, game stability in terms of cutting entire scenes later and in a rush, and so on. They want to be preventative rather than reactionary, since they know the regions better than... well, us. 

Also, we should consider this from a broader perspective: There is nothing special about Stick of Truth's regional censorship. Just consider this WikiPedia list of similarly censored games due to regions. Indeed, Craig Pearson wrote an entire article for IGN on the subject, which includes Fallout 3 and Japan (think about the nuke), Carmageddon and Great Britain, etc. 

So what we should be surprised by is not that South Park would face the stick of censorship or the howls of knee-jerk nannies; what we should be surprised by is how many games we get as they're intended, uncensored and fully-unpacked.

There are ways we can get around Stick of Truth's censorship, such as getting one from non EMEA countries and getting the PC version. We can, indeed, do this for any culturally-censored game. In a world with differing ideals and values, this is bound to happen with all creative things. We shouldn't be silent and accepting, but we should be aware of the wider aspects of what we're tackling. 

In this case, it's not just South Park. Thinking it is only this game does not help the cause of undermining censorship, since we will operate under ignorance fuelled outrage, rather than informed anger. 

So yes, be angry if you are affected and consider yourself an adult. Be annoyed that developers can create the best graphics in the world, but are not allowed to put switches and toggles to let adults decide for themselves whether they want blood, gore, or abortions. We are at least improving our tolerance, but we can always do better.

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