So recently in the video game industry there's been a lot of hubbub about what is and isn't censorship. Games like Fire Emblem: Fates, Overwatch, and Bravely Second have sparked numerous heated conversations on the term, namely concerned on who applies the censorship and to what extent in the creative process the term can be applied to.

Some lament the term 'censorship' is being thrown around carelessly, eroding its significance, while others continue to use the word because of the importance behind it. So what I'm asking is:

1) For the entity that censors, how large of a group or organization does it have to be? One person, ten people, etc.?

1b) Is self-censoring considered censorship? Is this different than filtering what you chose to say?

2) Is it the intent or the actual suppression that defines censorship? E.g. Can the choices made by a localization team be considered censorship?

3) Can the choices made during an iterative design process be considered censorship?

3b) Does it matter who makes the final call? E.g. You design X and after receiving feedback that it causes offense, you remove it versus a superior tells you to remove it.

  • 2
    Please include the research you've done, or consider if your question suits our English Language Learners site better. Questions that can be answered using commonly-available references are off-topic. – Hot Licks Mar 30 '16 at 21:22
  • 4
    This is off-topic here as not specific to English. You would have the exact same questions if we were speaking German, Japanese, French, or Russian. You are asking about a general abstract concept. I suggest you take this to our sister site on Philosophy. – RegDwigнt Mar 30 '16 at 21:29
  • 1
    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is asking for legal rather than (or in addition to) general usage. – Edwin Ashworth Mar 30 '16 at 21:56
  • 1
    @EdwinAshworth It not only doesn't mention law, it specifically asks about the connotation of the word with regard to its meaning in public, private, and personal situations. Please stop trying to close questions like this. It makes the Baby Jesus cry. – deadrat Mar 30 '16 at 23:23
  • 1
    Hi @Robert Lee can you please confirm whether you are asking about censorship in relation to multimedia/video games, or as a general concept. Thank you. – Julie Carter Mar 30 '16 at 23:57

1) It can be a single person, such as when you father locks you up and censors some sentences from a letter you receive from your secret lover, before handing it to you.

1b) Technically, self-censorship is probably not censorship, I would say. It should be someone else who suppresses your information, because censorship typically occurs against the will of the author of the information (or at least it wasn't his idea to suppress the information). But this is debatable.

2) There needs to be intentional suppression of information. If the localisation team leaves out words because they feel those words might be too sensitive or whatnot, that is censorship. If they leave out words merely because they wouldn't fit in a box, then it's not censorship.

3) Yes, but this question is odd.

3b) The feedback may be a weak kind of censorship ("you shouldn't publish this information" v. "you may not"), if any kind of pressure is felt. Even the slighted hint of disapproval may be considered a kind of pressure. Your removing the information after feedback would be self-censorship, or coöperating with censors; as in 1b, it is debatable whether this is really censorship. At least it isn't typical censorship.

| improve this answer | |
  • 2) For localization I was thinking more like people arguing 'it's not censorship, it's localization' when it comes to certain material that's questionable in one locale, but not in another (such as Japan vs US with sexuality of minors) 3) I think your answer in 3b better resolves this, but yes, in situations where you're co developing an idea and someone rejects it on grounds of causing offense. Or in other words if that 'pressure' is enough to call it censorship or not, or if that distinction is even appropriate in the first place. – Robert Lee Mar 31 '16 at 0:10

The word censor comes from a Roman office of the same name, and so censorship has long had the meaning of official suppression of expression. This is particularly true in the US, where the First Amendment prohibits the state from exercising its power to block expression. The question arises about whether official power must mean official government power, and the answer is no. It has also come to include private, monopolistic economic power. For instance, in 1993, Wal-Mart instituted a policy of not carrying "objectionable" material, and given the company's market clout, when they refused to carry the original album In Utero by Nirvana, the band changed its cover art (no fetuses) and a song title (Rape Me became Waif Me). The policy has been widely decried as censorship, based on Wal-Mart's economic power and the resulting "artistic" suppression (scare quotes here because this is, after all, Nirvana).

It is a matter of opinion where to draw the line for applying the word censoship. There's no agreed-upon measure of power or size (in the case of organizations) at which private action becomes censorship.

The term self-censorship goes back to at least 1845, where we find this from Dashes at Life with a Free Pencil by Nathaniel Parker Willis

One year of such united self-censorship would so purify the public habit of news-reading, that an offence against propriety would at least startle and alarm the public sense;

The subject is the (ostensibly free) press ostracizing an individual on its own accord. This is still suppression by a collective. The OED credits Freud (Collected Papers, Volume IV, 1925) with identifying a personal censor

Dream-formation takes place under the sway of a censorship which compels distortion of the dream-thoughts.

Of course, Freud's censor is unconscious, while now we include deliberate censorship through fear of the consequences of free expression. Consider this from Queer Judgments: Homosexuality, Expression, and the Courts in Canada by Bruce MacDougall:

Self-censorship flows from that other constraint of expression, censoriousness. Censoriousness is one of the tools used to try to accomplish censorship, often self-censorship, by others. It can take the form of direct criticism but it might instead occur in the form of ridicule, disparagement, or trivialization.

Note that the derived word censorious has always held the meaning of severely-critical fault finding, independent of official sources.

| improve this answer | |

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.