The Ayayo games are a series of erotic adventure games made for the PC-98 in Japan in the early ‘90s. Despite their wild storylines and complex meta references to popular anime and manga, their legacy is mostly overlooked or forgotten. Video essayist Noelle Aman tried to fix that in a recent 50-minute deep dive, but now YouTube has removed the video for violating its rules on sexual content. It’s a decision Noelle rejects, and one she accuses YouTube of making without even properly reviewing her content.
YouTube didn’t seem to have an issue with the video, originally uploaded June 9, until months later when it removed it on August 8. Titled “The Weird, Wonderful, and Influential World of Ayayo-san,” it had garnered 16,000 views by the time Noelle realized it was missing. The video delved into the details of each game in the Ayayo series, as well as its relationship to the history and censorship around the broader genre of erotic games in Japan called eroge.
“I filed the appeal when I woke up, and the appeal was rejected in about 5 minutes of sending it,” she told Kotaku. “Their response was the generic ‘it violates our community guidelines’ with no explanation. They also didn’t explain what in the video violated guidelines.”
YouTube has tried to clarify its rules around sexual content over the years. Specifically, it allows nudity and other content that might be construed as sexual when it’s for educational purposes rather than “sexual gratification.” For example, nudity in a video about works of art is fine. A sizzle reel of sex scenes in movies is not. Even YouTube admits, however, that there’s a huge gray area in-between these two cases.
It’s hard to see how Noelle’s video doesn’t fall firmly in the educational category. The presentation is highly polished and dense with research and analysis, on par with other high quality video essays and the kind her Patreon subscribers pay to gain early access to. Even the screenshots and gameplay are censored to cover up genitals and any explicit sexual acts (here are two examples). A less censored version of the gameplay, meanwhile, has remained up on YouTube for over two years on the publisher’s channel.
“I think what’s most frustrating about this is that it’s clear YouTube’s decision was made without watching the video,” Noelle said. “It is no worse than content that’s garnered millions of views on their platform or been on for ages, and if they had watched the video they would have seen that it is ultimately about documenting a series of games important to Japanese games history, and how it ties into said history.”
However, YouTube has stood by its initial assessment. The company said it would take an apparent third look at the video after Noelle’s Twitter threads about the takedown started making the rounds on social media. “Update: we have removed the vid per our Adult Content policies as it depicts sexual acts, genitals, or fetishes for the purpose of sexual gratification w/ lack of educational purposes,” it tweeted on August 11. But the company still hasn’t said which precise parts of the nearly hour-long video are the issue. A representative for YouTube didn’t immediately respond to a request by Kotaku for comment.
Sexually explict games, like other erotic media, have faced a long history of censorship. Even now, some games are banned from storefronts like Steam while others remain, without any clear indication for how the judgements are made.
In Noelle’s case, the lack of clarity from YouTube, as well as the fact that the video had already survived for months with no issue, has left her to speculate about whether the takedown was initiated by mass reporting or other trollish behavior, especially since this wasn’t an issue when her channel was less popular.
“It could have been mass flagging for any reason,” she said. “People who didn’t like the person that shouted me out recently, Super Eyepatch Wolf, it could have been transphobes, it could have been people who are outright anti-sex. It’s impossible to know.”
In any case, Noelle now feels like she has no other option than to be overly vigilant in her editing in the future. “I’ll continue on working on content regardless and be more careful in the future, maybe to a silly extent,” she wrote in a recent Patreon post. “I am not dying until the world allows me and everyone else to discuss eroge freely. This is non-negotiable.”