Please stop misusing “Freedom of Speech” and “Censorship”

I can’t believe that I’m writing a blog post where the two driving forces at Duck Dynasty and Bravely Default, but here we are.

So some weeks ago, some old dude on some A&E show made some homophobic comments in an interview. Due to Duck Dyantsy’s absurd popularity, this made a whole lot of people on facebook really mad. A common sentiment was “But this is America! What about FREEDOM OF SPEECH!” or whatever. Freedom of Speech, coming up over and over again. I almost feel embarrassed writing about this, because I feel like it should be ridiculously obvious, but it isn’t. I’ve even seen it come up in many intelligent circles, with even one… quite well known game designer and writer who’s forum I used to post on a lot. “We can’t ban people on this forum, this forum supports free speech” (unsurprisingly that did not work out). Needless to say, this is not how freedom of speech works (and this serves as a perfect intro to censorship talk).

Freedom of Speech (in the US at least) protects you from the Government. Protection from other people would infringe on those peoples freedom of speech. If you say something that offends me, it is my right to be offended. If you work for me and hold opinions I find offensive it is my right to not employ you. If this wasn’t the case, we wouldn’t need non-discrimination laws. No where in the idea of Freedom of Speech was the intent that you shouldn’t be judged by society for your shitty opinions. The idea is that you should not fear the Government (a ‘more powerful’ entity) and legal repercussions for saying things. Your friends might disown you, but you won’t end up for prison for saying shit (… well, maybe not so much anymore, but you know what I mean). Where this idea that saying something gave you a magical shield is beyond me. I dunno about you, but I don’t know if I want “Freedom to be a douchebag without any social ramifications” as a basic right. Just sayin’.

So now there is this Bravely Default shit. People are complaining about censorship left and right. Also lets just ignore the whole fact that people are complaining about not getting under aged girls in thongs. Plenty of people are arguing about that and I’ll leave that to them….

So unlike the Freedom of Speech thing — they’re right. It is censorship. The issue is people don’t seem to realize the difference between self inflicted censorship and government enforced censorship. When a smug tumblr 14 year old sends someone a nasty Ask about Bravely Default to someone, declaring “I don’t believe in censorship”, what don’t they believe in? “I read 1984, I know how scary censorship can be!” Even if that has nothing to do with a company modifying it’s own content. Do they not believe that I, the owner and content creator of my own work, shouldn’t change it? Fuck you. You don’t even know all the things that got ‘censored’ before these games were even released. Is that still censorship? Do you still care and not believe in it? What gives you the right? They are treating two hugely different concepts as one and applying the gravitas of government control to a taste choice made by content creators with their own content.

You can COMPLAIN about changes (HELLO STAR WARS), or you can complain about the reasons for the changes if you really want, but to act like they’re doing something inherently bad or immoral by modifying their content is absurd and selfish. In a sense, you’re attempting to ‘censor’ the desires of the creators. You’re not against censorship — you don’t understand what it even is. You’re just against not getting the thing you wanted and are now crying about it.

I’ve actually had friends ask me why I was ‘censoring’ myself with changes I’ve made to unfinished games, which to me raised a lot of questions. Should I not account for taste or my audience at all? Should I always go with my first impulses? Am I never allowed to change my mind? Is making shit sexy or violent a ziptie where I can take clothes off (and limbs) but never put more on? If you accidentally offend some people and want to change something, is changing it to make them feel better somehow bad? How? Shouldn’t it be the content creator’s call?

By complaining about ‘censorship’ in a context like this, you are not taking a moral high ground or defending any sort of noble idea. You are being selfish and demanding and saying “but I want THAT thing over there instead”! Square-enix is not your government. They cannot infringe on your rights. They were not forced to make the changes they made. No ones freedom of expression is being infringed. Perhaps you can argue that somewhere in the company, someone is upset that they have to change away from the old outfits, but there are people on any game design team sad about TONS of changes. That, again, is not censorship. That’s making a project with a team of people.

So please, people, stop saying this type of shit. At best you come off at clueless and at worst, you seem selfish. If you really want to complain, there are a million better ways to go about it. I complain about design decisions in games all the time. It’s not hard.

6 thoughts on “Please stop misusing “Freedom of Speech” and “Censorship”

  1. You’re missing a close-italics tag here.

    Also, not on topic at all but possibly worth noting: said “semi-famous game developer” actually temp-banned people all the time while claiming that he never banned anyone and deleted loads of posts while claiming his forum was a “free-speech forum” or whatever. He just trotted that line out to pacify people who didn’t agree with his moderation decisions.

    (Also, I’m signing with both of my online handles as part of a recent push to unify my two online names into my older one, “Cynical”.)

  2. (I wish there was a way to edit posts before they were moderated and accepted.)

    Anyways, I’ll also say that I think the case of Bravely Default isn’t as much rage over some chicks being more modestly dressed as it is just pent-up frustration that a lot of jRPG fans have at Nintendo’s general policies of (not) bringing a lot of anticipated jRPGs to the U.S. If you’ve been burned a bunch of times by “we’re not going to bring a big-selling jRPG title to your country because we think our customers in your country aren’t mature enough to handle that kind of game!”, it seems to me that you’d be likely to look for the bad in anything related to imported jRPGs on Nintendo systems, justified or not.

  3. As usual, I agree with everything you wrote, particularly that bit about conflating “freedom of speech” with “freedom from disagreement.”

    There are places in the world where you can be arrested for saying certain things, and one of the founding ideas of the United States was that we were not gonna be one of those places. We’ve managed to carry it off pretty well so far, though the Hayes Code was a bit of a step back — banning you from exhibiting your film in code-compliant theaters if you don’t conform to the code is effectively government-imposed censorship.

    That said, there appear to be circumstances which censorship is arguably necessary. Obligatory example: “We have broken an enemy code.” If we don’t censor this information, the enemy will either stop using their code, or keep using it with malicious intent; either way, they will probably start asking how we managed to break their code in the first place. Though one can argue that we should be avoiding situations that merit coded communications in the first place, no one has been able to pull it off yet. In the meantime, this appears to be at least one situation in which censorship is useful.

    I suppose the trick is defining parameters in which censorship is both useful and acceptable.

    And, as you noted, disagreement is not censorship.

  4. Hayes code is weird as it’s not a government thing at all, but still, as you said, is so all encompassing it might as well be. Of course we still have the FCC which does actually literally censor. Though in both cases I Don’t consider the results ‘silencing’ like they tend to be with government censorship and have become more of an inconvenience if anything in the internet era.

    But yeah, there are definitely some situations where censorship could be important. I mean our freedom of speech is imposed upon by not being allowed to yell fire in a crowded building. That’s also kinda reasonable.

  5. I THINK the point here, (about Bravely Default) is that people are under the impression that it was changed SPECIFICALLY because it was on a Nintendo system, If it was on the PSP, or whatever handheld Sony has now, it probably wouldn’t have been changed…Or at least thats (possibly) the perception that people have, its not the government in this case necessarily.

    This could easily have been fueled by that swapnote incident that happened shortly earlier, (If you don’t know, swapnote is…or rather WAS, basically a messaging system for the 3DS, and was the ONLY way to communicate with specific people) where apparently 2 kids in Japan got attacked by stalkers because of swapnote, at which point, Nintendo shut it down, which, perhaps legally, makes sense, but they didn’t give us any other way to talk with it, and everyone is being punished for those 2 damn kids. (I’m sure I seem vicious, but I hope those stupid kids rot, for ruining something that was fun! It was THEM, and NOT Nintendo that ruined it! Maybe…)

    Nintendo’s refusal to get with the times (regarding censorship and having NORMAL internet features) is probably the root of this problem, and people are starting to get aggravated about it, and are now blaming Nintendo for the stuff in Bravely Default, even if its not actually their fault. (I myself think it MIGHT be though, they are becoming known for taking un-needed steps keeping worthless kids safe)

    It IS censorship, but theres NO WAY they are doing it because they want to, its definitely legal paranoia, but again, Nintendo is probably getting blamed for it.

    That was my take on it anyway.

    I never heard of this duck dynasty thing. -_-

  6. I saw the costume changes as being part of the localisation process – there’s a fair amount in Bravely Default that would fly in Japan but doesn’t translate to a Western audience. One of the main characters, as well as an important secondary character, is lecherous, and it appears the translation has added a bunch of opportunities for the female main characters to respond appropriately. In the West it could easily have been handled as a little rapey, while that doesn’t seem to bother Japanese audiences as much.

    It’s easy for the audience to forget that different cultures have different responses to potentially offensive material; translators are paid to think about this stuff.

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