Censorship and You, or Learning to Live Without Skulls

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Ubisoft has taken a lot of hits over the years, to its market and reputation both. Most of them have been well-deserved, to say the least, while occasionally they do get judged unfairly. A gaming crowd that’s put up with a lot of their business practices over the years gets fed up and maybe overreacts. This is not one of those times. On November 2, as part of the Chinese launch of Rainbow 6 Siege, Ubisoft announced some… changes to the game. Aesthetic ones only, nothing to be worried about.

Effective as of the expansion into unnamed “Asian territories”, Ubisoft stated they would be removing all instances of pretty much anything violent in the game. Everything from skull designs to blood on the walls, to knife symbols. Everything that is, except the actual violence that is core to the Rainbow 6 experience. Also gone, crumpled up and thrown out like garbage, would be any use of skulls–including on character equipment, in the environment, or in any icon for a character’s skills. Gone are even vaguely sexualized environmental designs, gone are the game’s ‘violent’ animation indicators, and gone are the game’s in-game slot machines… I mean the physically modelled ones they placed in the world, not the game’s loot boxes, which are still absolutely in the game and are still being pushed to the game’s audience.

This is a big deal for pretty much one reason; Ubisoft decided not to work on two different versions of the game, despite the extreme precedent cited by dozens and dozens of other games, the size of the Siege team, and the iterative nature of R6’s in-game content, which requires more work on balancing than actually making the small tweaks that would be required to keep global separate. Meaning that pressure from the Chinese market–or rather, the potential money Ubisoft would be making from the Chinese market–has made this censorship central to the only Rainbow 6 experience. To play the game now, you have to adjust, you have to lose out because Ubisoft wants to bow down to the whims of a censorship-heavy regime and make money. But hey, what’s wrong with changing the nature of a product millions of players have bought and supported for three years?

The problem doesn’t end there, however. There’s this growing culture of stifling the parts of video games that you–or this hypothetical third party, rather–don’t want to see. With Rainbow 6, it’s become a sudden major problem overnight impacting the core game, but sometimes it’s not the game itself that suffers. We’ve recently discussed the outcry against Diablo Immortal, for instance. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you’ve got a field of gaming journalists calling Diablo fans entitled crybabies or even misogynists for their disappointment, taking things to an illogical extreme to try and silence the opposition or at least undermine their thoughts and views. To what end, no one really knows; while Diablo Immortal is a game, and many will undoubtedly enjoy it, the problem isn’t that the game isn’t what fans wanted. It’s the actual reasons behind the game’s creation, but that gets lost in the translation somewhere when both sides of the argument end up bickering.

Worse still, YouTube recently censored the content of a man playing Red Dead Redemption 2 due to one of his videos. The video in question featured him attacking a suffragette in game, under the label of attacking a feminist character. RDR2 is an open and expansive game, with hundreds of characters you can freely interact with–from punching them, to shooting them, to giving them friendly greetings as you pass or even destroying them with dynamite. To the degree where you can actually lasso and tie a victim and let them get run over by a train in classic cartoon style. The game itself doesn’t dictate these interactions as a rule, beyond those in the story, and leaves you free to make your own decisions elsewhere. Shirrako made several videos about dealing brutal death and torment to the virtual suffragette, and several days ago the videos were removed–more, Shirrako’s channel was actually closed by YouTube, and the creator himself banned from the content network.

The decision was based on an outcry on social media against the acts–many of which falsely tied to the behavior to the game itself, removing agency and freedom from the equation. But, regardless, while some laugh at Shirrako’s antics and others simply shake their heads or type angry rebuttals, the point of the matter is the freedom to post and react to this content. Thousands of videos of Red Dead 2 gameplay have been uploaded to YouTube and other websites since its monumental release, and many of these showcase the exact same kinds of behavior–torture, burning, killing, and even feeding victims to alligators. But all those videos targeting male NPCs or other generic characters managed to avoid the backlash. The removal of the videos alone bears the heavy hand of censorship, but closing Shirrako’s channel down for the same reason was a mistake. It’s nothing more than digital tyranny made on the behalf of a single vocal group due to the lack of general integrity in the matter.

Since the remove, YouTube has gone back on their stance here and reinstated Shirrako as well as many of his videos. While they gave believable reasons accounting to the nature of YouTube’s guidelines and the original assignments of those in charge of the event, their original statements on the matter conflict with this. The final recall of the decision is believed to have been a business move, especially after several major YouTubers and news outlets showed Shirrako’s story and the public began to notice the disparity in this ban and the rest of the “safe” RDR2 content for themselves.

It’s hard to believe that after thirty years of trouble from the media video gaming as an entertainment medium and form of art and expression cab still be under such heavy fire. But, as long as the gaming public is at least outraged by grievous censorship, there’s hope that games can enjoy the full acceptance of other mainstream outlets like film in due time. Will Ubisoft be among those who consider this censorship a mistake, and learn from it? Only time will tell.

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