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Censorship in Video Games

by: James Mainier

Photo Courtesy of Game Informer

Video game censorship varies in its effects and intensity and is relative in its meaning and function as it can be looked at differently by different people. 

One of the first game consoles to be involved in video game censorship was the Nintendo (1985), which was mostly aimed at children ages 5 and up. The censorship was done by the Nintendo company in games that were originally released in Japan and then “altered” for the United States version.  

Games like “Punch-Out!!” featured a fictitious boxer named Vodka Drunkenski, who was later changed to Soda Popinski. Another example for the original Nintendo is in “Contra.” However, it was the European version which was altered. It was named “Probotector” in Europe. And some of the enemies in that game were changed to robots to make it less violent.    

It was in 1992 when people really put their foot down about game content. Mortal Kombat was a fun arcade game that had two martial arts combatants against each other.  It was very popular. There was blood spewed during combat and, at the end of a match, the victor got to do a “fatality” and would grotesquely finish off the enemy with a heart-rip, spinal tear, uppercut head removal, electrocution head removal, etc. 

 It wasn’t the children who played this who said it’s too much, it was their parents. This game got people concerned about what their son or daughter was playing. For more insight on this topic, The Insider reached out to Jessica Ghilani, Ph.D., associate professor of communication with Pitt Greensburg. 

“As a parent of young kids,” Ghilani said, “I am involved in the process of determining what media content is acceptable for my children. This includes but is not limited to video games. I think parents should be involved in understanding the media interests and habits of their children.”

Not long after Mortal Kombat released in the arcades, the issue of video game censorship started being dealt with. The Entertainment Software Rating (ESRB) was founded in 1994 by the Interactive Digital Software Association (which was renamed Entertainment Software Association in 2004). There are 5 ratings that go on a video game product: “Early Childhood,” Kids to Adults,” “Teen,” “Mature,” and “Adults Only.”  

Also, there is a description now which offers game content on each product. For example, Call of Duty Modern Warfare (2019) for the Xbox One has a rating of “Mature 17+” and a description of “Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Drugs.” 

What does this mean? Games are still being made with grotesqueness, sex, language, use of alcohol, and all kinds of violence. However, you can at least be warned about it before you play them, but not necessarily have the content restricted or censored. 

“Parents are gatekeepers of their children’s media consumption, so they will need to know about what is in a game before spending the money on it. But mature or problematic content in some games doesn’t mean that an entire medium is bad or harmful,” Ghilani said. “It just means that people need to be aware when and if content is not suitable for every age range of video game users.”

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  1. Editorial: Censorship Will Harm Students Everywhere – The Insider

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