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Content policies in games and censorship

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#1 lawnjelly   Members   

Posted 05 December 2012 - 12:46 PM

I'm currently writing a little indie cartoony 2d adventure game, and have come upon some interesting questions about censorship... The game is currently set based on exploration in victorian africa.

If I were making a movie on this basis, I'd feel covering subjects such as racism, slavery and violence would not be considered out of the ordinary, but part of representing the time period and part of the 'art' of the movie.

However for games there are 'content guidelines' for selling your games via certain outlets. If you include certain elements, certain outlets won't touch the product. I know for consoles you can get the more mature ratings and be allowed a reasonable amount of leeway, presumably with the idea that a 'shop owner' would be responsible for not selling to younger customers.

But for mobile games, there seems to be a bit of a 'disney child friendly' thing going on, where stores won't touch your game if it is at all risque. Posted Image I'd guess this was particularly true for iOS, but I just had a look at the google play guidelines, and they say:

Sexually Explicit Material: We don't allow content that contains nudity, graphic sex acts, or sexually explicit material. Google has a zero-tolerance policy against child pornography. If we become aware of content with child pornography, we will report it to the appropriate authorities and delete the Google Accounts of those involved with the distribution.

Violence and Bullying: Depictions of gratuitous violence are not allowed. Applications should not contain materials that threaten, harass or bully other users.

Hate Speech: We don't allow the promotion of hatred toward groups of people based on their race or ethnic origin, religion, disability, gender, age, veteran status, or sexual orientation/gender identity.

So basically that seems to rule out gratuitous decapitation, cannibalism, racism and beast action.Posted Image

In a movie for instance, it is regarded as ok to have, for example an obnoxious racist character. Usually this will be reinforced because they'll get their commeuppance in the movie. But is this kind of subject too far to even broach in a game? This is what characters are all about, some you will root for, but some might be unpleasant characters. Just because a character does some action, it doesn't mean the movie condones that action. But is this even allowed in games?

I know the big publishers won't risk things if they aren't sure it will be allowed, but as an indie you have more freedom.

Anyway what do you guys think of this situation, any views / experience? I'm currently considering hedging my bets with 2 sets of content for conversations for example.

Where do you think the line should be drawn?Posted Image

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#2 MarkS   Members   

Posted 06 December 2012 - 11:24 AM

It isn't censorship, it is the content provider making rules as to the content that they want to host and have their name attached to. Using your movie analogy, theaters are the content providers, not the studios. There is not a major theater chain in the United States that will show porn. Many object to gratuitous simulated sex and violence in movies and routinely ban certain movies from their theaters. The headline changes from "such and such movie has gratuitous sex/violence" to "Such and such theater is showing movies with gratuitous sex and violence next to Disney and Pixar movies." It is about what kind of press are they willing to get and which of their customers do they not want back.

As far as games go, they are far different than a movie detailing atrocities from the past. In a game, you can COMMIT the atrocities. It changes the dynamic.

Edited by MarkS, 06 December 2012 - 11:25 AM.

#3 lawnjelly   Members   

Posted 06 December 2012 - 12:43 PM

Yes, that is a good point about being able to commit acts in a game, rather than seeing a character acting in a movie.

As an aside, I myself do find it a bit over the top how violent / bloody certain games are, so I'm certainly not interested in unsavoury 'shock factor'. I'm just a fan of the kind of south park / politically incorrect sense of humour, and I'm just wondering whether the 'rules' in place make this impossible in games, unless you are very subtle. I guess I feel almost an obligation given the subject matter to show that racism or slavery is not right, and to ridicule any characters that might show it.

After talking with a few friends about this, it is clear some of these things are very much taboo subjects, and very open to misinterpretation and I'll probably end up just avoiding / glossing over them.

One movie I had in mind that did deal with the racism theme was 'planet of the apes' from 1968, but I guess that kind of thing would not be allowed in games. And perhaps that same movie would not be allowed to be made in current times, because of changes in attitudes.

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#4 Bubsy   Members   


Posted 06 December 2012 - 03:18 PM

Keep in mind that these days people find the South Park's style of humor more offensive than opening some people's skull with a baseball bat Posted Image

#5 mdwh   Members   

Posted 07 December 2012 - 08:19 AM

I'd say you're fine - if it's part of the game, it's not "gratuitous". I mean, most shoot em ups are violent by definition.

Similarly for racism, I'd say depiction is different from promotion. (And actually, I'd say that when TV highlights examples of racism, this is often sending very much an anti-racism message, by educating people about the problems that people face.)

That's not to say there aren't reasons to be concerned, and this is one of the problems if online software distribution ends up being locked down to just a few places - particularly with Apple and MS wanting to have complete control on their tablet/phone platforms. We have seen real examples of how this works out, although so far the problematic issues appear to be things that are deemed to be competing (alternative browsers, anything that lets you run code like an emulator) rather than moral censorship AFAIK.

On a related note, it still amuses me how here in the UK, the mobile networks by default censor any site deemed "adult", which ends up including things like a pub website (even though it's clearly legal for an under-18 person to *read* about alcohol - by that logic, they should ban car websites too) (the censorship can be disabled, though it's on by default until you request it).

http://erebusrpg.sourceforge.net/ - Erebus, Open Source RPG for Windows/Linux/Android
http://conquests.sourceforge.net/ - Conquests, Open Source Civ-like Game for Windows/Linux

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