The unsavoury Case of Tera’s regional Morals

With more and more armor and boob complaints on the female character models in Guild Wars 2 popping up, it struck me how quiet the blogosphere has been in regards to Tera – and what has been going on there in terms of character representation and “censorship” over the last couple of months. I wonder: is it a sign of the more western oriented blogosphere’s disinterest in this MMO, or have players just given up on discussing delicate issues where Asian games are concerned? Well, here’s some background:

Act I) In April 2012, Tera’s publisher announces the removal of ingame blood splatter effects for the EU version to meet the legislated 12+rating requisites of the EU market. The blood effects remain in the Asian and US versions of the game as Tera is rated mature in the USA anyway. Of course, European fans are in uproar after this, petitioning the publisher to remove this evil censorship from hell. Frogster reacts by promising a “gore slider” for a later patch.

Act II) Accompanying the necessary adaption of Tera for the European market, the appearance and armor of the controversial Elin race gets changed to meet “western standards”. These changes are exclusive for the NA and EU market and unlike to the blood censorship case, they are no direct reaction to legal concerns. To cite Frogster’s explanation:

“[It was] not to comply with a demand from any official board, but because those characters in particular could have attracted to the game a population of unsavoury users, and it is part of our responsibility to protect our younger audiences from them,” he explained. 

“All partners involved in the project decided to ask Bluehole Studios for a solution, so they created new textures and designs for Elin wear. We are sure you all agree that this effort for child protection was the right thing to do. We all did, here, at Frogster.”[source]

The rationale behind this official statement is so cringe-worthy that unsurprisingly, the critique following it was as numerous and diverse as can be, burying completely what might be a good and valid concern at the core. But before I get to the different facets of this issue, judge for yourself just how effective the Elin changes are between the NA/EU and Korean version: Youtube documentary

While the more obvious sexual innuendo was toned down where open cleavage (particularly odd as they have no noticeable breasts), belly buttons and mini-panties are concerned, the adapted Elin armor still features many pieces that western society (and I am sure Asian society too) considers sexually alluring: high boots over naked legs, short dresses or skirts showing underwear and our favorite high-heels. While I certainly agree with some of the commenters that the censored armor DOES look better (for various reasons), there are still pieces that make it hard to grasp the systematic behind the armor changes.
Furthermore, taking Frogster by their own words, if you truly mean to remove sexual appeal of game characters, you should also consider secondary attributes such as stance, movement or voice. 

…But that’s not really the point, of course. It is just a half-assed solution of a hard-pressed publisher fearing financial backlash. Whether you agree that the Elin are children/infantilized characters or not, whether you agree or disagree if sexualization is a concern in video games – what bugged me the most about this whole charade is the way it got handled.

Layers of cringe

I’m not going to address the main problematic of this topic which has been discussed to death elsewhere, because I am frankly not up for the usual, derailing discourse we already know so well from female characterization topics. I think nobody wants to explain why “it’s not just a game” or why it’s not just “a matter of artistic integrity”, especially not for a topic as delicate as this one. There are of course thematic differences; we are not talking about social privilege and marginalization (although there are in fact no male Elin) or the differences between sexy/attractive and sexualized characters. What so many like to cloud in heavy semantics is that Tera’s Elin raise the question of sexualized children in the media and pedophilia on the internet. There’s not much room for abstraction and layers in opinion here. The topic is a very legal concern in most countries.

Ironically enough, Frogster acknowledge this themselves: they say that Tera does not wish to “attract unsavoury users” and that it’s a matter of child protection. But oddly, children need only be protected in the western world. The threat is very real, but erm regional!
If the topic at hand wasn’t such a dark one, I’d go ahahahahah at this point. Not just because of the pretentious, baloney explanation but the underlying message that pedophiles only exist in Europe or the USA! Unintentional quintessence maybe, big ouch nonetheless.

So let’s get this straight: Because pedophilia only exists in the USA/Europe and those children should be protected from potential online harassment, the armor of the Elin race in Tera got changed. Slightly. Everyone else in the world is just fine! Also, everyone knows that western society is just overly sensitive (and prude).

That’s me translating Frogster’s statement for you. I wish every publisher did take their self-appointed social responsibility this seriously!

Reception, Perception

As mentioned before, there were plenty of negative reactions to the Elin changes; some justified in my eyes, others not so much. Misguided fandom gets particularly bizarre when design features such as bare midriffs or high-heels suddenly become the epitome of one’s personal freedom and how DARE YOU take my panties away from the Elin!!! Miraculously players surface as spokesmen of artistic freedom who never before cared much about what the Elin wore prior to the changes. But then, the internet has always been an overly tolerant home to stupid. I wish there were spaces where one could discuss such matters in peace, with calm rationale but yeah nevermind.

Personally, I don’t care much for the hairsplitting that is being done for the Elin’s obvious childlike appearance and their “alien-ness” (you know – they look, walk and sound like kids but they are not!). If you play the escapism card, then vote for characters that do not copy real-world stereotypes. If I glue a tail and furry ears on a child and say it’s not a child it still looks like a child. If I go on and dress that alien in sexy outfits, it still looks like a child with furry ears and tail in a sexy outfit. Do I think MMOs are flooded with pedophiles? – No. That doesn’t change that it still looks like a child with furry ears and tail in a sexy outfit.

I think it’s important to highlight a few things in general and in regards to this article:
– This is not a question of whether you believe the Elin in Tera are (like) children
– This is not a question of whether you believe the Elin armor is/was sexy or not
– This is not a question of whether you believe sexy children are part of artistic integrity / escapism
– This is not a question of whether you believe pedophiles in MMOs to be an issue
– This is not a question of whether you believe that video games have moral obligations
– This is not a question of whether you believe all censorship is from hell

…..these are questions too, some of them very good ones, leading deep into the realm of social and cultural values and morals. Topics for another time and place.

What drove me to this article was the way Tera’s publisher handled a serious issue. Their statement was clumsy, their reasoning flawed with double standards. If you go and acknowledge the issue of pedophilia as a game publisher, you don’t present it as a “cultural difference”. If it’s about your morality, then that morality should be absolute (why design the Elin that way in the first place?). But hey, I get it – it’s hard to wiggle your way out of this one: that you’re in deep shit for trying to market an Asian style MMO with a sexy, childlike race on top of the usual upskirt action. Convincing the silly west to embrace the naked ladies is one thing, but when it comes to children they’re not up for joking around. Much. We could of course now engage in a discussion on why the Elin raise no same debate in Asian countries – or whether a fantasy MMO really needs to feature a blatantly sexualized race of kids with bunny ears?

You dwell on that.

15 comments

  1. The official position on the Elin reminds me of when someone tells me that they’re not a racist because humanity is all one race. Obviously, they’re trying to play on the SFF fields having different sentient races, but it still rings hollow. It’s an avoidance of the real issue.

    1. It’s half-assed all around. I get it to some extent, the publisher is not the developer – but if you intend to market games worldwide you should think about such things earlier. most of all, not come up with statements like that later.
      even though I personally condemn such characters full stop, doesn’t matter for what ‘culture’, they would’ve been better off just making it a case of regional reception, rather than talking about child protection. just admit that you fear the west finds such child characters more problematic than Asia.

  2. In my own case the reason I never talk about Tera is that I took one look at the screenshots and saw characters that I thought were both drawn to look like children and highly sexualised. It’s possibly the closest legal thing to child porn you can put on your computer.

    I’m not surprised it’s got them in a mess.

    I imagine in general that those bloggers who are bothered by the look of the game (like me) never talk about it because it’s just not on our radar. And people who are interested in it simply don’t see the problem, have a selective blindness to sexualised game avatars.

    1. Yeah it’s the same for me, I was never interested when I saw the characters. I understand why many bloggers simply overlook the game as a whole and won’t review what they don’t play.
      the Castanic’s look and armor did receive few reactions though, along with GW2’s armors, so I felt bringing up the the Elin (which is a new level of disturbing) was overdue in the bigger armor and sexualization context.

    1. I watched about 2 minutes of that and find it more disturbing that Elin would be no matter how they dressed.

      As for TERA, I agree that there’s little Frogster could do with the fact the original game did have Elin who looked the way they did. It’s hard to say whether the game raised a debate in Korea or Japan as I don’t speak either of these languages but it seems that even if it did, it wasn’t enough to censor them.

    2. The whole ‘pageant culture’ in the US has always creeped me out, for many reasons. if you’re looking to teach your child how to define self-worth and image over looks, performance and popularity, why not start as early as possible, huh?

  3. I think for me the ignorance of TERA came because in some ways I had dismissed it as a lost cause…the devs have made it abundantly clear from the start through their actions that they KNOW their game is cheesecake and fully accept that. Not to mention the other games in TERA’s league…Lineage 2, etc.

    I think because GW2 is an American developer and has lately been looked at as the next “major” game coming out…and because they had made some steps in the right direction (having some armor that isn’t chainmail bikinis) that when the issues DID come out they made a bigger splash.

    It’s like…to compare it to American Politics (stick with the metaphor)….TERA is Bill Clinton, if he does something inappropriate everyone just laughs it off, while GW2 is that family-values politician that ends up having an affair (sort of an extreme I know). We jump on it because it “should know better”.

    1. I agree – which makes me uncomfortable to some extent, because it shows that we tolerate or downplay issues because “you know it’s from Asia”. I’ve seen that argument come up plenty of times where characters in MMOs are concerned, there’s basically the resignation that Asian games look that way. which is understandable too, but resignation breeds acceptance. if more and more Asian developers start aiming at the western market, they should have to deal with negative feedback.

      This is of course difficult if many western players won’t play and look at their games in the first place (as I usually do). in the end money talks; maybe there’s something positive about Tera’s case, no matter how unsatisfactory, but at least they had to do SOMETHING and engage in such a discussion in the first place.

  4. I wish I had something to add to this conversation, but I obviously don’t. The art is jaw-droppingly bad. I understand that Tera is going to get released by someone, so I’d rather someone tried to mitigate the disaster.

    Actually, forget that. It’s all terrible and the game should be burned to the ground. Why are we putting up with the trash at all?

  5. Totally off the topic of the OP…

    … but I suppose the crusade after this one should be the banning of anime in western countries. Heaven forbid if people play this game, or watch anime, for entertainment and don’t get happy in the pants every time a cartoon character is dressed in that stereotypical cartoonish Asian style. I would like to hear from a convicted paedophile to find out if the art presented in this game gets his juices flowing. Naturally, guilt by association means that anyone who chooses the Elin as their race is a paedo, or if you play Tera you are supporting paedophiles.

    The gaming industry comes out in force and says WoW and MW didn’t have any impact on Breivik doing what he did, yet now the self righteous come out of their holes and say Elin will turn everyone into paedo’s and/or draw them to this game like a moth to a flame. Hypocrisy is a fun game that everyone can play.

    Last but not least there’s the “if you don’t like it don’t play it card to played. (I won’t be playing this game because it doesn’t suit my style, GW2 is my next MMO).

  6. I think TERA is mostly flying under the radar as far as MMO blogs discussing the over-sexualization of females go because one look at the game was enough to turn plenty of people completely off the game altogether.

    I saw one video last year, of an Elin, and deemed this game unacceptable. No matter how great the gameplay, I won’t play something like that. I know folks like Spinks have the same opinion. Guild Wars 2 however is a western MMO and considered the next big thing ever. Which is why there is going to be a lot more coverage in general.

    Frogster’s explanation of toning down the Elin for the western market is as cringeworthy as the blog post over at We Fly Spitfires, in regards to why over-sexualization in games is happening.

    1. It’s the same for me; after I read Kiasa’s post on Tera the other day, I asked myself where I draw the line personally with MMOs. I definitely draw it at pantsu games. Big western titles have some issues of their own, but playing Tera would feel like going 50 steps backwards to me. also, I don’t see the same responsiveness and progress in the Asian game industry when it comes to such topics. the feedback needs to come first and foremost from their own target audiences, I think…
      in any case, Tera is the type of MMO I do boycot, no matter how nice the world looks. I define what kind of world I would like by the way I am spending my money.

  7. Toddlers in Tiara is much more disgusting than an typical asian-styled cartoon character from Korea in moe culture.

    I can tolerate a fictional character in a video-game where blood, weapon smashing, and leveling is. Because video-games are suppose to be a place of fiction. When I game, “morality” goes out the door. It makes no sense to have “morals” in a game when it’s acceptable go around and kill NPC’s or other players blindlessly or women walking around in thongs. Screw morals in video-games.

    But I cannot tolerate shows like Toddlers in Tiara or Dance groups staring actual 7-year olds in “All The Single Ladies” or titles like “My Boyfriend’s Back”



    I find it disgusting how people can compare the elins to real-life people, yet at the same time the U.S. practically gets away at dressing REAL kids like they do in these pageant shows!

    Why aren’t these shows being protested or censored off the airs?

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