Lewd rhythm game Massage Freaks has met with a backlash online, with players claiming it denigrates women and that it is reminiscent of real-life sexual crimes occurring in Japanese massage parlors. The backlash has prompted developer Qureate to consider making changes to the game.
What's the Massage Freaks backlash all about?
More often than not, gaming backlashes are about value for the consumer, as was the case with Team17's climbdown on NFTs or the Steam release of Hitman 3. One game, however, is garnering a very different kind of controversy right now: risque massage game Massage Freaks, developed by Japanese studio Qureate and announced for Nintendo Switch earlier this week. As reported by Automaton Media, Massage Freaks met with controversy as soon as it was announced, with players claiming it's sexually exploitative, degrading towards women, and reminiscent of disturbing real-life sexual crimes committed in Japanese massage parlors recently.
Massage Freaks was originally announced on July 14th. It garnered particular attention for its provocative screenshots and presentation, as well as the way in which the recipients of the player's massage progressively lose clothes as the songs progress. Eventually, once a certain threshold is crossed, the game enters "NTR Mode", which technically stands for "Nice! Totally Relaxed" but which is also a covert reference to the Japanese phenomenon of "netorare", or losing a partner to another man. NTR Mode sees the women in the game "baring their hearts, which is mentally manifested in physical nudity". Supposedly, the women aren't actually nude in the context of the game's story, but that hardly matters given that they will be nude within the game itself. It's also worth noting that naturally, any full-frontal nudity will be censored, in this case by Momiji the cat, who will appear in front of Massage Freaks' massage recipients to stop them from revealing themselves too much.
In light of this, the fact that the game has met with backlash might not be particularly surprising. According to Automaton Media, players have expressed some surprise that the game will be launching for Nintendo Switch due to Nintendo's historically family-friendly attitude (although the company has been branching out somewhat with slightly more risque games like Bayonetta 3). Other players have criticized Nintendo for allowing the game onto the eShop, and still others have drawn attention to Massage Freaks' rather surprising PEGI:12 and ESRB:13+ ratings in the UK and US, respectively, especially with reference to the nudity it contains.
How has Qureate responded to the Massage Freaks backlash?
Pretty much as soon as the Massage Freaks backlash began, developer Qureate responded to it on Twitter. Initially, the developer asked players for feedback (note: tweet is in Japanese and we're using machine translation) regarding what they wanted to see in the game. Qureate says it is willing to "[adjust] expressions and names as much as possible" in order to ensure the game is fun for all players. This is likely a reference to a controversy that sprang up surrounding certain characters in Massage Freaks who supposedly bear a resemblance to (and are named after) the Japanese idol group Hinatazaka46, although the content Qureate is willing to change certainly doesn't seem limited to these characters.
Following this request for feedback, Qureate tweeted that it will read and respond to feedback customers provide, and that despite gamers' reservations, many players appear to have already thrown their support behind the game. Indeed, as you might expect, some Twitter users are calling for Qureate to leave the game unchanged, describing the proposed changes as tantamount to censorship. We'll have to wait and see what becomes of Massage Freaks, but we'd be surprised if the game is released without any changes to its planned content whatsoever. Watch this space for more info.