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The Stellar Blade 'Censorship' Circus Explained

Stellar Blade is a PlayStation 5 sci-fi action exclusive about fighting monsters and saving humanity in a stylish post-apocalyptic world. So why are thousands of its self-identified fans signing a petition to “Free Stellar Blade” from censorship? The answer is surprisingly complicated and kind of sad.

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Former Blizzard developer turned online angry gamer grifter, Mark Kern, recently posted a petition calling for altered content from a previous version of Stellar Blade to be restored by developer Shift Up. “The content has been censored from the original trailer version posted by Sony,” the petition reads. “We, as gamers, want this content back. We relied on it, we made the game the #1 pre-order worldwide because of it, and this is the true game we want.”

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Oddly, the petition never explicitly says what the alleged censorship is: sexy outfits that were nerfed in a pre-release update. Stellar Blade’s main protagonist Eve has big boobs and a bigger butt, but some of her most revealing costumes received minor alterations from what’s on the unpatched disc version of the game (graffiti creating an unintentional n-word reference was also removed).

The main accusations of censorship revolve around things like a bunny swimsuit, where a layer of lace was added to cover up some of Eve’s cleavage and the cut of the fabric was changed to cover up more of her hips. “It’s not about inches of fabric, it’s about fighting the double standard and getting Stellar Blade customers what was advertised,” Kern tweeted over the weekend.

In a launch day interview, Stellar Blade director Kim Hyung-tae was asked point blank about the “censorship” issue and if the development team would consider rolling that part of the update back. “We are aware of the issue and we would like to address that the final product we intended was outfits for [a] certain age group. I do know my answer could make everyone happy and we can’t promise you anything right now, but we are discussing the issue internally.”

The fact that the changes were apparently a voluntary creative choice doesn’t appear to have stopped Stellar Blade truthers from moving forward with the conspiracy, however. “[Shift Up] made some bad marketing choices, and either shipped outfits they liked better, or were silently censored by Sony,” Kern wrote in an update to the petition trying to rationalize the “free Stellar Blade” fight in the face of the director’s own dienals. “In the end, that is less important than the overall win that we are getting here in this long term battle. They are fighting to the best of their ability, and they also make mistakes.”

Sweet Baby Inc and the new gamergate

To understand how a certain contingent of prospective Stellar Blade fans decided to make her outfits their cause de jour, it’s important to understand the low-key gamergate 2.0 revival Kern and others have been attempting in recent months. In March, narrative consultancy firm Sweet Baby, Inc. became the target of an anti-DEI crusade over made up associations between their work on recent blockbusters and the things in them some people didn’t like.

Ever since, various social media posters and content creators who seem to think there are too many Black characters in games and not enough half-naked female avatars running around have attempted to gin up a new war on “wokeness” in gaming that mirrors conservative backlash movements in other parts of the culture. Many latched onto Stellar Blade as an example of a game free of top-down “forced” diversity, fueled in-part by Shift Up’s promise that the game would remain “uncensored” in all regions.

But the aggressive enthusiasm for Stellar Blade seemingly had less to do with anything its creators had said than the fact its anime-influenced world building and hyper-sexualized hero happened to align more with these players’ personal preferences. Putting the lie to the idea that any of this was primarily about creative empowerment, the same anti-woke crusaders tried to launch a boycott of the Metroidvania Tales Of Kenzera: Zau inspired by the director’s personal grief.

What’s made the “Free Stellar Blade” petition turn from absurdity to cringe are the personal videos some of its signatories have been uploading in support of it. “[Inaudible] cause it appeals to the male gaze, they really gotta stop using that, Sony you made to make Shift Up cook,” said one player. “Please Shift Up, please, release uncensored Stellar Blade,” said another. From a third, “Abby from The Last of Us, Cyberpunk, Baldur’s Gate—full frontal nudity, full jiggle physics, full hardcore sex scenes, not an ounce of it censored. Stellar Blade? 17 outfits censored.”

Many of the people in the videos appear calm and sincere. One guy (they’re almost all men) says he’s excited to play even though his copy of Stellar Blade won’t arrive until Wednesday. Some of the testimonials are so awkward they seem like a high-level caricature of the entire manufactured controversy, one Mega64 parodied years ago. Unfortunately, each one of them also seems to now believe they are on the frontlines of a fight for free expression rather than just being pawns in Kern’s latest clout-chasing campaign.

Anyone who purchased the disc version of Stellar Blade can still play with the unaltered costumes by not installing any of the newer patches. When I jokingly tweeted that I had the uncensored copy of the game, some users non-jokingly told me to stay offline and do exactly that. Of course, playing that way also means not getting the recently updated fixes for input lag and the parry window in combat. A new game plus mode is also locked behind a day-one update. It turns out the “Free Stellar Blade” crowd aren’t just shadow boxing against phantoms, they’re also convincing one another to play by many accounts a worse version of the game.

A few players are trying to refund the game entirely, a move Kern has tried to prevent. Instead he’s shared an elaborate list of actions for them to take including canceling PlayStation Plus and printing out letters and mailing them directly to Shift Up. That’s too much work for some. “Man, I appreciate what you’re trying to do, but it’s not up to us gamers to jump through a hundred hoops to keep a company accountable for what they promised,” one user responded. They seemed content to just not buy the game and move on with their life.

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