In responses to the recent media hysteria over “rape simulator” adult games, the main industry and ratings body in Japan has opted to completely ban the making and sale of titles featuring rape and sexual violence.
Estimates are that games affected could be “10-20%” of the market, meaning 20% of eroge could end up being banned, with themes such as BDSM and similar becoming completely off bounds.
The situation is not however as simple as it appears at first glance to the mass media, though perhaps this is intended.
The organisation issuing the ban, the “Ethics Organization of Computer Software” (EOCS, or Sofurin in Japanese), is the eroge industry’s largest classification body, with some 200 member companies, and is responsible for the ratings used on visual novels.
The character of the EOCS is demonstrated by the fact that it banned loli eroge a decade ago, which led to a complex and typically Japanese situation in which loli games continued to be released, but with references to ages and school years removed, similar to how brothels are technically illegal in Japan but in fact operate openly. A similar situation may be in the making for “rape” eroge.
However, EOCS membership is “voluntary” and it is a “self regulating” body rather than one with any particular legal powers beyond expelling members and refusing classification; there is a competing ratings body, the “Contents Soft Association“, which is much less stringent in its standards, largely allowing loli games, and it has no regulations against violence. Its membership will likely be getting a boost unless it follows suit.
This is not to say that the organisations are toothless and companies are free to do as they will; ratings are generally needed for sale, and the organisations themselves have connections to the relevant government ministries, effectively having government charters, which can of course be revoked if they displease the ministry.
Thus, they are in the power of the government to an uncertain extent, and their main purpose is to prevent disturbances to sales rather than to defend the free speech of members.
The move likely comes in response to recent calls by both feminist politicians (in response to criticism an American feminist group), both opposition (DPJ) and government (LDP), to ban the games lest they turn Japan into a nation of wicked child rapists like the USA or Canada, which incidentally strongly pursue laws against drawn and game pornography, whilst promoting the freedom of publishers to make games involving extreme violence.
Since the measures are likely easily circumventable, it appears the response may simply be a sop to politicians to show the industry as being responsible and is self-regulating, thus obviating the need for legislation. The worst case may involve publishing digitally or along the same lines as the entirely unregulated doujin soft market.
However, the spineless response so typical of such companies in Japan will do little to actually tackle the allegations levelled against it, and only serves to highlight how temptingly weak a target the industry makes to pro-censorship groups.
If anything, failing to object to demands for censorship serves as a tacit acknowledgement that there is something reprehensible about the games.
For an industry entirely dependent on freedom of expression to establish the precedent that it will roll over in the face of political demands (ones originating from overseas at that), and admit that its products are somehow tied to criminal behaviour, seems a remarkably risky thing to do; it may be in a difficult position to resist from should further demands for censorship be made of it…