This week, Nintendo revealed that it was choosing not to publish Dead or Alive: Dimensions in Sweden, Norway and Denmark for a variety of undisclosed reasons. Although the publisher was not forthcoming about cause, it has been traced back to a post on Sweden’s Flashback forum, where a discussion about the country’s child pornography laws, and how it relates to Dimensions, was being held. The short version of the story is this — a guy wanted to challenge the Swedish law against digital “pornographic” representations of minors using Dimensions. Another user filed a genuine complaint with police about the game, but the cops deemed the evidence “inconclusive.” Despite the fact that Nintendo would likely be off the hook, the game has still been kept off shelves.
The problem lies in the fact that three characters — Ayane, Koroke and Kasumi– are all under the age of eighteen, but can be posed and photographed in Dimensions’ “Figure Mode.” While one Flashback member was going to use this to prove a point against Sweden’s law, another user tried to use the law to get the game banned. Hence, Nintendo got the chills and decided to acquiesce to a law that likely didn’t even apply in this scenario.
As I sit and think about a game in which you get to photograph sixteen-year-olds in their lingerie, I have to wonder if the whole situation wouldn’t have gone away if someone had just said she was eighteen, without changing anything else. Even if that person didn’t mean it.
There’s a lot about Japan I respect, but there’s also a lot about its culture that I find disturbing. This obsession with youth — and the inevitable sexualization of it — is one of the more unsettling aspects. For the record, I want to state that I do not believe in laws like Sweden’s, where digital representations of minors are subject to law. I believe in freedom of expression, even for those things that I might find personally disgusting. I find it gross that drawings of kids turn some people on, but if they’re drawings, and have inflicted no harm on a real person, then I do not have a problem with it outside of the fact that I think it’s sleazy and repulsive.
Nevertheless, while I see no legal reason for Japan to change the way it does things, I do have to ask — is it so important to see, in writing, that the girl with gigantic tits is sixteen-years-old? Hell, I still remember Ayane being fourteen in Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2, but having monumental mammaries that could be controlled with the SIXAXIS. It was a selling point in commercials. Buy our game, and manipulate the jugs on this big-eyed lump of grade-A jailbait. I mean … that’s a bit insane, right?
Would it really kill Japanese developers to at least write down someone’s age as “21″ and promise that we’ll say no more about it? Ayane’s still going to look like a creepy, big-breasted infant no matter what fictional age you slap on her. Would it murder the fantasy of the fanbase if the girl was canonically 21, despite still looking like an eleven-year-old hormone pill addict?
Instead, 21-year-olds are designated as “old” women in Japanese games, usually playing a villainous, antagonistic role compared to the sweet, innocent, sexually desirable teenager. Apparently, asking for a believable age group is just too much, so we have sixteen-year-olds saving the world and wearing barely any clothes while they do it. Aside from the fact that it’s disturbing, it just doesn’t make any sense from a narrative point of view.
I can’t be the only one who reacts with shock when they’ve been playing a Japanese role playing game, usually as some combat veteran with a deep, complicated past, and found out that they’re twenty-years-old at the most. What kind of fucking twenty-year-old has lived long enough to have a deep, complicated past? Who under the age of twenty can become a veteran anything? So many JRPG protagonists hover around the sixteen-to-eighteen age bracket, and it actually makes it difficult for me to get into the story once I start thinking about it. No disrespect to any eighteen-year-olds reading this, but I find it very hard to take most of your problems seriously. There’s still an immaturity to the average eighteen-year-old’s personality (nothing wrong with that, just the way our brains work) that would make their ability to rescue a planet from a sorcerous arch-villain (who is usually significantly older, because age is evil) extremely limited. Nothing like the grimly determined heroes of the average JRPG, who think, act and talk like adults, despite being children.
It’s bizarre to consider the mental disconnect needed to have protagonists that young in anything but a game based on Muppet Babies, but it appears that Japanese gamers find it quite easy to do in a cultural sense. I have to admit that I don’t understand the fetishism of youth to the point where only villains in games are allowed to be twenty-five or older. I definitely don’t understand how characters that young can be considered so sexy. I only have to think of them complaining about their high school teacher and it puts me right off.
Some people think it’s unfair to criticize this aspect of Japanese culture because that’s just the way their society is. I disagree. Bull fighting is part of Spanish culture, but it’s still a sadistic, cruel, cowardly past time. It’s part of the culture in some countries for women to be punished for getting raped or bought and sold like meat. That doesn’t stop it being f***ing awful. The obsession with youth may not be quite as horrifying as those examples, but it’s still worthy of examination and people deserve to question the reasoning behind it. Just because something is part of tradition, that does not hold it above criticism. If anything, traditions deserve to be questioned more than anything else.
Of course, I can’t tell another country what to do. I can’t expect one random article on a gaming blog to make hundreds of forty-year-old businessmen suddenly find schoolgirls repellent. Instead, I propose that bumping up the age be part of the localization process, and have videogames characters bump up their ages when they leave Japan and come to Western nations. While only cosmetic, it would at least avoid silly controversies like we’ve seen in Sweden. All you have to do is make an aesthetic alteration to a number in a character bio and everything’s above board. It would have the added benefit of narratives that are far more sensible — having Ayane as an accomplished ninja at sixteen just doesn’t make much sense. Add another ten years to that and we’re at least approaching a reasonable age, even if that’s still too young.
It really is a simple case of changing a number to make everything okay. It seems so … stupid … when you think about it. Such a little thing that could make a significant difference. But if it stops me feeling guilty when I can’t stop looking at the giant pair of gravity-defying, ridiculous boobs that Tecmo Koei keeps shoving in my face, then I think it’s a noble endeavor.
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