50,000 Stellar Blade fans don’t know what censorship is

Stellar Blade launched at the end of last week, and it seems like there’s been more discussion over the minor changes made in its launch day update than over whether the game is any good (it is, by the way.)

On 26 April, the game’s launch day, a Stellar Blade fan called Mark Kern started a petition on Change.org called Free Stellar Blade. Under the heading “Why this petition matters,” Kern claims that Stellar Blade has been censored and that the game is now “a cultural beacon for freedom of expression.”

Free Stellar Blade has, in a matter of days, already broken its target of 50,000 signatures. Many of those signatories have left comments, and the vast majority accuse Sony of censorship and false advertising, with many even going so far as to imply, as Kern does, that the sacred right to freedom of expression is at stake here.

The Show Us More Skin petition

Eve and the drone
Even when Eve’s neck and shoulders are covered, her chest is still roaming free. Screenshot by Dot Esports

So, what did Sony actually do to trigger such outrage?

Well, a few of Eve’s outfits in Stellar Blade are ever-so-slightly less revealing than they were in the game’s pre-release trailers, and indeed than in version 1.00, which is what’s written to the disc of all physical copies. Seriously, you’d have to be watching the trailers frame-by-frame to notice all the differences, and it seems that some fans were doing just that.

I’ll get the accusations of false advertising out of the way first. Certainly, there is a debate to be had about where the line should be drawn in a world where game content can change radically during development and even after launch. But no reasonable person would claim that minor costume changes are anywhere near that line, even in a game where titillating costumes are apparently such a big selling point. If you want to see what false advertising looks like, see The Day Before. The changes made to Stellar Blade are trivial by comparison.

But I’m not really bothered about people crying over “false advertising.” What really gets up my nose is all this talk of “censorship” and “freedom of expression.” Wow! Some folk really do exist in a comfy, entitled, spoiled little bubble, don’t they?

You are free to express your ideas, no matter how stupid

The Altess Levoire guard
Yes, this is the game that some are claiming is bowing to a woke feminist agenda. Screenshot by Dot Esports

Strictly speaking, censorship is when an authority, usually a government, limits the expression of certain ideas. For example, right now in Russia, you can get jailed for 15 years if caught referring to the invasion of Ukraine as a “war.” That is censorship.

A much looser definition of censorship might include actions taken by regulatory bodies such as North America’s ESRB, Europe’s PEGI, and Japan’s CERO. These organizations were all set up by the games industries of their respective regions and don’t wield any governmental power. But seeing as all major game distributors, retailers, and platforms have agreed not to handle products that aren’t certified by these regulators, you could argue that they have the power to impose censorship.

But that’s not what happened with Stellar Blade. If any regulatory body had deemed Eve’s outfits unsuitable for public consumption, then the physical copies of the game would not bear their respective stamps of approval. Can I be 100% sure that Sony didn’t reach some kind of compromise with a regulator whereby they promised to patch the game on day one? I suppose not, but it seems extremely unlikely. And even the Free Stellar Blade petition doesn’t seem to be claiming that this is what happened.

Exercising the freedom to make last-minute changes

Eve in the bunny suit
That flimsy strip of black lace across Eve’s cleavage is one of the offending changes. Screenshot by Dot Esports

The general belief among the signatories seems to be that Sony censored itself. Now, self-censorship is an even softer form of censorship. But I’ll take it seriously if it refers to a situation in which a person or organization limits the expression of its own ideas because it believes it’ll be censored or punished by an outside authority if it doesn’t.

For example, Blizzard removes all skeletons from the Chinese versions of its games just in case China’s notoriously inconsistent regulator, the NPAA, decides that skeletons breach a vague set of rules forbidding occult content. That is self-censorship.

But I don’t think that’s what happened to Stellar Blade, either. To me, it looks a lot more like various stakeholders within Sony and Shift Up had differing opinions on what kind of character Eve should be and how she should be presented and that these minor last-minute changes were a compromise that no one was happy with. It’s more a case of poor cross-cultural communication and clumsy PR than censorship. Crying “Censorship!” just because you can’t see quite as much skin as you want trivializes the plight of the millions of people worldwide who really do not have freedom of speech. So, you know what: Shut the [censored] up.

We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Cheats Little Alchemy