More Video Game Art Is Being Sanitized, Likely To Appease China

Mere days ago, we were talking about Activision’s decision to do a delete and replace for the trailer for the latest Call of Duty game worldwide due to pressure from the Chinese government. That pressure came about over 1 second’s worth of footage in the trailer that showed an image from pro-democracy protests in 1989. While only a trailer for an un-released game, the point I attempted to make is that this was a terrible precedent to set. It’s one thing to sanitize games, a form of art, for distribution within China. We could spend hours arguing over just how willing companies should be in bowing to the thin-skin of the Chinese government when it comes to art in favor of making huge sums of money, but that’s at least understandable. It makes far less sense to apply those changes to the larger world, where China’s pearl-clutching sensibilities aren’t a thing.

And now we’re seeing this continue to occur. Kotaku has a quick write up for several changes made to a handful of re-released retro games and this appears to be more of the same. We’ll start with the re-release of Baseball Stars 2, a Neo Geo classic.

Baseball Stars 2 was released on the Neo Geo in 1992 (one year after the greatest baseball game ever made, with which it has a lot in common), and for the last 28 years has been just fine with teams like the “Tokyo Ninjas” and “Spanish Galleons”. The “Taipei Hawks”, however, have just been removed from a console version of the game following an update earlier this week. As noted on this Reddit post and this Twitter thread by users, an update for the PS4, Xbox One and Switch version released in 2019 had removed the team names (and country flags) for both the “Taipei Hawks” and the “Taiwan Dragons”, while leaving all the other names like the “Seoul Dragons” in place.

This 2019 console version of the game was ported by Japanese studio Hamster Corporation, but the rights to the game are held by publisher SNK, which in 2015 was purchased by Chinese company 37Games.

Again, while these are small changes, we now have a trend. That trend consists of changes made to appease the Chinese government in video games being applied to worldwide releases. And this isn’t merely some workload thing, where game companies don’t want to make changes to regional distributions of games. The Steam version of the game, for instance, is even more different, with teams not having real-world locales, instead only the mascot nicknames.

Why is an American, a Russian, or a South American gamer having to feel the effects of Chinese censorship?

This isn’t the only retro game in which this occurred, in fact. Art of Fighting 2 was recently re-released on the PC. In that game, the Japanese “rising sun” flag, which still serves as the Japanese Navy’s flag, was removed from the game and replaced with a banner that just says “karate”.

At the same time, it appears that another SNK-published title, Art of Fighting 2 on the PC, received a similar update this week, where a depiction of the controversial “Rising Sun” Japanese flag was replaced with a white flag that says “KARATE”:

This one is harder to pin on China. After all, most complaints about this flag, which occasionally shows up in real-world sporting events, come from South Korea. During plans for the 2020 Olympics, in fact, South Korea requested the flag be banned from the games entirely due to the sordid history of the Japanese Navy during Japanese occupation of South Korea. But South Korea wasn’t the only country occupied and terrorized under that flag.

Based on a historical experience of Japanese invasion, China’s reaction to the rising sun flag at the Olympics could be similar to South Korea’s. After the Japanese military took the Chinese city of Nanjing in 1937, Japanese troops embarked on a months-long campaign of murder, rape and looting in what became one of the worst massacres of the war.

According to Chinese estimates, around 300,000 people were killed, many of them women and children, and around 20,000 women raped. Yet there’s little protest from China about the flag.

So which country was this change made to appease: China or South Korea? We don’t know, but neither answer is good. If it’s China, this is now at least the third instance of the trend of appeasing that country’s government in a way that effects art worldwide. If South Korea, then it indicates that the trend instead might be for other countries that want to engage in the same kind of censorship jumping on the bandwagon.

We’re still at the “video game art and trailers” level of all of this, so it’s understandable for some not to care all the much. But how much further does this have to go before people will care?