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Sony Instates New Standards for Sexual Depictions in Games

Sony Corporation is introducing new global standards for acceptable sexual depictions in games on their platform.

For some time we have been witness to Sony Interactive Entertainment requiring excessive censorship for games on their platform. The examples range from the removal of touch features from games like Conception Plus and Senran Kagura Burst Re:Newal, to the deletion of the optional toggle for bouncing breasts from NEKOPARA Vol.1, all the way to the cancellation of the Western release of Omega Labyrinth Z in spite of the games passing ESRB and PEGI classifications, among many other incidents.

In the recent Wall Street Journal article we discover that the company's behavior is the manifestation of their new in-house standards for sexually explicit content. As explained by an official from Sony's US division, the corporation was worried about becoming a potential target of various social movements.

Sony is concerned the company could become a target of legal and social action.

So far, Sony's new approach to sexualized content seemed to be focused on the Western audiences. However, as suggested by the article, the new policy will affect the Japanese market as well. The company is conscious that their global reputation could be influenced by their actions in singular markets.

Sony officials said executives at the company have grown concerned that its global reputation could take a hit from sexually explicit content sold only in a few markets. One of their biggest concerns is software sold in the company’s home market of Japan, which traditionally has had more tolerance for near-nudity and images of young women who might appear underage.

When discussing their reasons for the change, Sony pointed attention to the recent rise of streaming, which may expose the lewder Japanese games to the world at large, as well as the recent social movement #MeToo, in which women publicized their allegations of sexual harassment on Twitter.

Two factors last year combined to turn that unease into action, these Sony officials say. One was the rise of the #MeToo movement in the U.S., which pointed to the dangers of being associated with content that some might see as demeaning to women. The second was the emergence of channels on sites like YouTube and Amazon Inc.’s Twitch where gamers play in front of a camera and are watched by fans online. That means games meeting Japan’s laxer standards can get world-wide exposure.

These changes in policy prove most troublesome to game developers, who have to account for delays and changes caused by the review process. In March, we saw Senran Kagura's developer Kenichiro Takaki leave Marvelous due to the censorship being misaligned with his artistic interests. However, the issues caused by this can be heavily financial as well. As one of the Japanese developers stated to the paper:

“You don’t know what they will say until you complete the work and submit it for review,” said the chief executive of a small game developer in Japan. “And if they are not happy, even if they allowed the same degree of sexuality a few days before, we need to take it back and ask our staff to make adjustments. That’s very costly.”

According to the Wall Street Journal, when questioned about their position on the matter, Nintendo has stated that they leave the issue of restricting games to the parents, who can rely on rating systems like ESRB and PEGI. We do note the exception to this being Adult Only games, that neither Nintendo nor its competitors host on their platform. As for Microsoft, they gave no comment.

Nintendo said it doesn't regulate sexual content beyond requiring game makers to obtain a rating from national bodies. It said its game systems allow parents to restrict content based on the rating. Microsoft declined to comment.

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