Censorship in TERA
by Jessica "Allahweh" Brown, March 5 2012
HAS CENSORSHIP CRIPPLED ‘TERA ONLINE’ BEFORE IT HAS LAUNCHED?
Censorship in the video game industry certainly isn’t something new. In fact, when home gaming began to really take flight in the 8-bit era many games that were coming directly from Japan received makeovers and retranslations. Sometimes it was a simple matter of removing religious icons used in a negative light or scaling back blood seen in games, but in other cases suggestive dialogue or images were outright removed from games. Drug and alcohol references were removed almost entirely from games in the 1980s and early-1990s, but as the 16 and 32-bit eras took flight a lot of these things were relaxed a bit.
In today’s world most of the censorship seen in games coming from outside the U.S. is due to perceived (or real) cultural differences. Jokes that would make almost no sense to those not from Japan, for example, are seen as irrelevant to the game and generally removed. Yet, cultural differences can refer to things like views on sexuality. In fact, it is this latter difference which has sparked a change to one of the races in Tera Online – an MMORPG developed by En Masse Entertainment due to release on May 1, 2012.
At first glance, an outsider might think the change made to Tera is a rather minor and transparent one. After all, it simply involves altering the outfits used for one of the game’s races. Yet, when these changes came to light in September of 2011 at an En Masse open house and were later confirmed the fan outrage was quite prolific. Like many MMORPGs of Asian origin, Tera had a much more adult feel to it. This is quite evident when viewing screenshots from the Asian version of the game that feature nipple textures in the chest pieces of a majority of the female characters and NPCs. The issue, however, lies primarily with the Elin race – a race of cat-like people who appear childlike in their age.
En Masse, after supposedly careful consideration, believed that the clothing style from the Asian release of the game overly-sexualized a race of beings that looked like children. It is easy to see where they are coming from. After all, you have cute feline people that look like they are under 10-years-old that are wearing clothing bordering on that which you might find on the average prostitute, right down to fishnet stockings. Some will undoubtedly find this rather off-putting, yet those who are familiar with Asian MMORPGs and their playfulness (even in regards to lewd dress styles) should not be surprised by the style of Tera. What’s more, while some mild censoring happens in other games that make their way to Western markets, usually these days the censorship isn’t quite as extreme as that seen in Tera. This could simply be due to the fact that those in the West who play Asian titles usually do so because they enjoy them on all levels, including their more "open" art style.
When all of this came to light on the Tera official forums, several threads appeared that had hundreds of pages worth of replies. As a result, many of these threads were closed, either due to the extreme volatility of the posters over the issue or the sheer fact that posting limits were reached and it was necessary to simply create additional threads to continue. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that several polls were created by fans on the forum asking other fans and readers what they thought of the censorship – whether it was necessary, should have remained unchanged, or if the Elin characters should have been made to look older than they were. Not surprisingly, one of the main polls returned a result of 83.39% of readers believing the changes were unnecessary and that the models should have been left alone.
This entire situation begs the question as to who in En Masse believed these changes were necessary. It almost seems as if the person or people who advocated these changes were unaware of how most Asian MMORPGs were and the types of play styles they cater to. When a game has some adult themes in it like Age of Conan or Lineage II, rather than censor these themes it might make more sense to simply give the game a 17 or 18+ rating. After all, a majority of MMORPG players are over the age of 18 anyway. Using a system like this seems to work for Age of Conan and ultimately there is no reason of why a system like that couldn’t work for Tera should the ESRB believe it necessary.
It is also important to keep in mind that these games are fantasies. Just because a character in a game looks cute or is dressed in a provocative manner doesn’t mean that the players who are enjoying the game are thinking about them in some sort of erotic manner. Even if they were doing so, that has nothing to do with the intent of the game developers. Some argue that the style of artwork for the Elin represents a perversion on the part of the original game designers, but there is ultimately nothing to really support that. What’s more, the Elin seem to be comparable to the Kokiri and while they may appear child-like in their looks they are most certainly adults. Almost all of the character races in Tera were originally sexualized in some way. Most female characters have nipple textures on their outfits and even fairly realistic physics when it comes to character movement and breasts. Initially, when this controversy arose, those later things were going to remain in the game while the outfits for the Elin were going to be changed, yet since then (and perhaps because of the controversy and those complaining that En Masse was simply picking and choosing what they were censoring) even these things are candidates for removal from the final game.
While Tera is a game that many have been excited in the past year or two to see localized, public opinion has drastically changed. One fan who went by the name "End_Break_Fomar" wrote an article late last year summing up their thoughts by saying "I’m thinking this game is going to be a skip for me. Legalized RMT/gold-selling…, obviously the censorship in the year 2011, the delay of the game to 2012…" and his list goes on and on. End’s comment brings to light an issue that could be the subject of yet another negative article about this game, but to sum that up the company’s Chief Operations Officer formally stated that "There’s no way for En Masse alone to win the war against the gold farmers and real-money traders." It was because of this that they will allow these things to take place in the Westernized version of the game. Essentially, they have given up on the in-game economy before the game has even taken flight.
Tera is a good example of a game that had a lot of potential but was destroyed internally long before its eventual release. The issues that the fans (or former fans) had with the game are all things that could have easily been fixed by the game’s developers and company executives, but these individuals seem quite adamant about these matters. Perhaps things will change a bit after release when the company realizes how badly their sales and subscription rates might be affected by these choices. After all, the game requires the purchase of the game client (or boxed copy) as well as a monthly subscription, so En Masse has a lot of positive PR they need to do to get this game back into a good light.