When Game Localization Turns into Censorship

Dec 8, 2016 | 1 Votes by shilpa 8 rate Your vote
When does changes done to a game in the name of "game localization" turns into "censorship"? What's the difference between those two? Let's find out! WWGDB - When Game Localization Turns into Censorship

A huge debate about game localization and censorship erupted earlier this year when one of the most highly anticipated MMORPG from Japan, Blade and Soul, was released. Players who have played the Japanese version of the game complained about the severity of the so-called “localization”, which in their opinion should be called out by its real name - censorship.

This problem was so severe to the point where these players could specifically point out, especially within the heavily “localized” (and completely ruined) storyline, how this localization/ censorship has reduced the overall gaming experience of the game. Let’s not mention how badly the company in charge of localizing the game for the Western regions responded to these complaints, resulting in an all-time high tension between players and the game company over this seemingly unimportant issue.

So, what this hoo-hah is all about? Let’s find out!

Game Localization

Game Localization is the process of translating a foreign language game into the native language. It does not just involve changing the language, all aspects of the game that involve places, time; objects may be changed in game localization. It involves adding new packages and manuals, providing different patches, transforming hardware, recording new audio, changing the game in accordance to the social and cultural sensitivity of the place and many more. Depending on the needs of the immediate gaming population, the localization needs are set forth.

Majority of the games that are localized are Japanese games. Since these games are completely in Japanese, and abide by the norms and cultures of the Japanese population, they have to be localized for the English speaking nations to play them. The process of localization is sometimes undertaken by the mother company (responsible for developing the real game) for increasing their fandom around the world.

Sometimes the localization is undertaken by third-party organizations. For this, they will need to collaborate with the board responsible for making the original Game and with the gaming boards in say U.S or U.K. Thirdly, localization can be carried out by fans. In this scenario, the localization in most cases is poor and faulty.


Censorship is the suppression of free speech, and other forms of information and communication that is deemed objectionable by higher authorities, in most cases which is the government. If something is considered vile or unethical or even vulgar, the government holds the right to ban that particular show or game. Now game localization and censorship are very closely linked. The reason behind this is rather simple.

Considering a Japanese video game that involuntarily talks about a ‘black guy’ will be censored in the U.S. on grounds of racism. The aspect is simple. Every culture has their own set of societal sensitivities. Most of them never go hand in hand. So, it is necessary for the individuals who are undertaking the process of localization to keep these in mind.

Artists hate censorship since it collides with their view of free expression of thought. Whereas pundits who tend to consider the ‘practicalities of the scenario’, would call censorship a necessary evil. We live in a world that is divided through and through. A game is not just a game anymore. It is a way of life. Sometimes the game may contain contents that are not appropriate for a certain section of the society. In such a situation, the game is banned by the government.

Making the Decision

As mentioned earlier the process of game localization can be either carried out by the developers of the original game, a third party or by the fans. In case when the game is localized by the developers themselves, there is very little room for debate as they do so only to increase their fan base in that particular nation.

The chance of the game being censored in such a case is a little higher than the latter. This is because there’s a 90% chance that the developer of the original game is a resident of that particular nation. As a result of this he or she will not be able to analyse the needs and desires of the U.S. commonwealth without facing scrutiny.

In the second case, the localization is carried out by a third party who maybe a resident of the United States or a resident of the nation that created the game. If the third party is a resident of the native country, the process of localization will be smooth and practical as the third party will know about the needs and restrictions of the government and the state. If the third party is a resident of that country itself, they have to be aware of the limitations in localization before launching it in the U.S. market.

Considering all these aspects, it can be safely assumed that in certain cases when the game is deemed inappropriate by the concerned authority, it will be banned. But if the localization process incorporates all the requirements and restrictions of the concerned authority, the chances of it being censored is a lot less likely.

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