A recent job listing for Square Enix has revealed details about their infamous ethics department, including how its members work to remove offensive content from the publisher’s games.
These details were recently brought to the public’s eye courtesy of Twitter user @dragonmaster_x, who on March 26th highlighted a staff interview from Mari Tanabe found on a Japanese Square Enix recruitment page, wherein the 2016 hire noted that she works the company’s “quality control department” (“品質管理部”) and takes pride in how “The result of my work is that users can play to the end without any discomfort.”
FF7R Tifa's boobs toned down because of ethics department?
Found a piece on what it's like to bowdlerize content from the very early development stage.
— dragonmasterx (@dragonmaster_x) March 27, 2022
A machine translation of the interview as provided by DeepL confirms, as proposed by @dragonmaster_x’s translation – that Tanabe works specifically for the Square Enix “ethics department.”
Tanabe explains that after starting out as an online games developer, she eventually became a member of the Quailty Control Department’s Ethics Team, where her job reportedly entails checking “all games developed by the company for ethical expression.”
“Specifically,” she elaborates, “I check all game expressions, including scenarios, illustrations, designs, and effects, to ensure that they do not contain expressions that are discriminatory, prejudicial, or offensive, and that they are in compliance with the game rating.”
“In addition to the large number of games we are involved in, the length of time we are involved in a single game is also a feature of our work,” Tanabe further discloses. “We are involved in the game from the planning stage and continuously check the game as it progresses through development, which gives us a great sense of accomplishment when the game is successfully launched.”
She continued, “The Ethics Team’s job is to make corrections to what the developers have seriously created. Therefore, you are expected to take full responsibility for your decisions. The difficulty in confirming the expression of entertainment is that it is not enough to serve only to make a ‘mark or a cross’ decision.”
“For example, if a certain expression is not acceptable, you need to be able to come up with alternatives, such as ‘this kind of expression would be acceptable,'” Tanabe adds.
Describing “The Best Part of the Job”, Tanabe then said, “What I try to keep in mind in this job is that my work is not ‘memorable’ to the user, in a positive sense. For example, if there is a typo in the scenario of an emotional scene in the game, or if there is an expression that makes the user feel uncomfortable, it will spoil the experience of the game.”
“The fact that my work went unnoticed by the user after the game was released also means that I did my job correctly,” Tanabe warmly illustrates. “Although I work behind the scenes, when a game I was involved in is released and is highly acclaimed, I feel as if my work is being praised, which makes me happy.”
Tanabe then provides interested parties with a “sample daily schedule” of a Square Enix ethics department member, which include regular meetings to “Review and share project status within the ethics team. Cases reported at this meeting may be shared with other projects,” a “Review of materials requested by each project” wherein the team makes “careful decisions on whether or not to use expressions, referring to internal guidelines, the latest news, and materials on the subject,” and preparation for the department’s annual “ethics seminar for the entire company” where “in preparation for the workshop, we collect and organize case studies.”
Towards the end of the day, the ethics department is also involved in quality assurance.
“In the case of consumer games,” Tanabe explains, “we check the game on the screen that users actually see, so we sometimes check the game by playing it on actual equipment.”
Drawing her interview to a close, Tanabe states, “Few game companies have a dedicated ethics team like ours, making this a uniquely attractive environment for those who wish to delve deeply into the expression of entertainment.”
“Unlike other positions, we also have the advantage of being able to work with a large number of games,” she concluded. “Many people don’t know about our ethics team, but we want more people to know about this job. If you like games, like to research, and are willing to take on responsibility, we encourage you to take on this challenge.”
The listing for the quality control job itself states “this function is responsible for designing, planning, and executing tests in cooperation with the development team.”
“The Quality Assurance Department also includes the Ethics Team, which checks for ethical issues in game expression, and the Game User Research Team, which evaluates game content, such as fun and ease of understanding, through monitoring tests,” it reaffirms.
The listing continues, “In some cases, QA and user research teams are transferred to the development side after gaining a certain level of experience. Both teams have many opportunities to interact with internal and external parties, so communication skills and team leadership are important.”
“In test design,” it insists, “it is necessary to design test cases with no omissions, and those who can see things in detail are suitable for this position.”
Tanabe’s claim that only few know about the ethics department’s existence and role couldn’t be more wrong, as the outrage over it pre-dates the release of Final Fantasy VII Remake, beginning in June 2019 with director revealed in an interview that Tifa’s chest was “tightened” compared to her original PlayStation 1 appearance due to Square Enix’ “ethics department.”
With Tifa being one of, if not the poster girl for sexy female video game characters alongside such characters as Lara Croft and Mai Shiranu, gamers were quickly outraged at both what they perceived as Square Enix kowtowing to outrage from game journalists, and their classification of sexy characters as “unethical.”
Square Enix attempted damage control soon after, as though Nomura had justified the change by reasoning that Tifa’s large chest “doesn’t look unnatural during all the intense fighting”, a Square Enix representative later stated that the ethics department was “actually a group within the company that evaluates game content to make sure it is aligned with the anticipated age ratings standards across the globe.”
“In this case,” they added, “We want a new generation of gamers to experience Final Fantasy VII Remake and are working very closely with the company’s internal experts to make sure all of the game’s content is appropriate.”
Ultimately, the game would receive a T for Teen rating from the North American Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) – a rating which only further highlighted the developer’s arguments, as other games with female characters in “skimpy, low-cut costumes that display large amounts of cleavage,” such as Soul Calibur VI,” received a similar appraisal.
In June 2021, FF7R co-director Motomu Toriyama revealed that the game’s Honey Bee Inn scene was changed for “modern sensibilities,” as ” fans these days expect stories and dialogue in games to go beyond stereotypical depictions of gender.”
This potentially presents a contradiction to Tanabe’s interview because, as noted above, she stated that these changes were rather done to avoid making a player “uncomfortable.”
Of course, it’s also possible that this could mean ensuring players are exposed only to content within their recommended age rating.
Nonetheless, there is sure to be doubt over whether the Square Enix ethics department are more concerned with meeting age ratings or avoiding outcry.
Further still, when asked about an alleged policy censoring sexual content in games with anime art styles during a PlayStation event in December 2018, he replied “About the censorship, we tried to meet global standards.”
He followed-up, “Regarding the balance of the freedom of expression and safety for children, it’s a tough problem to deal with.”
Whether the ethics departments’ guidelines focus on player comfort or age ratings, how do you think they can avoid falling foul of wide or inconsistent demands? Let us know on social media and in the comments below.