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:
“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!
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.