Representing the Row
Cliff Bleszinski made a few comments about the Saints Row franchise a couple of days ago; some that didn’t sit well with me. One was that if the game was something that would be embarrassing to have your wife see you play, then it was bad for the game. The second comment was that the immaturity of the game was holding it back even if it was technically a better game than Grand Theft Auto. Third, and this is the one that bothered me the most, was that it wasn’t helping industry perceptions. I can’t take this seriously after hearing it from a guy who included curb stomping in his game, but on top of that these accusations are just ridiculous.
The only reason I play Saints Row games at all is because of their absurdities. The nature of the open world crime game is ridiculous in and of itself, anyway. Let’s be honest with ourselves: how many of us played any of the Grand Theft Auto games because of their sweeping narrative or due to character development? How about due to how well the game controlled and played? The series has seen some growth with its story and controls, but for the most part people pick up those games to cause a little mayhem and see what sort of dumb things the game will let you do. My most vivid memory of Grand Theft Auto comes from San Andreas where I took off my characters pants, dressing up his upper body in the silliest outfit I could find, and then knifing anyone who looked at me. The rest of the games were a blur of driving missions with too little time, bad aiming controls and targeting, and having to repeat whole missions because I screwed up one turn.
Saints Row started off as a clone of that sort of game, and it was pretty bleh. With Saints Row 2, we got a whole new style of game, one that was built on all of the parts that I liked about Grand Theft Auto but none of the chaff. They fixed the bad targeting, gave much more time in driving missions, and put in generous amounts of checkpoints. Most importantly, it embraced just how stupid and weird open world crime games were. The developers threw in missions where I had to spray sewage on city walls, blow up as much property as possible, and where I got to throw myself into traffic as hard as I could. They took every stupid diversion that I could think of and made it worth money and experience points, creating a game that was literally just like a playground filled with interactive toys. It may be some of the most fun I’ve ever had with a video game.
Saints Row The Third did all of that and more, poking around to find new ways to make the game even crazier. It just fully embraced its silliness, throwing out anything that might have put the game in danger of being taken seriously. For those who doubted its craziness, the dildo bat was created. This floppy dynamo took out many a passerby who flipped me off as I ran through the game, and it was magical. So was making the fattest man I possibly could, giving him a tiny Hercule Poirot moustache, pink hair in curlers, a blue teddy bear backpack, and a zombie voice. I don’t think the smile ever moved from my face the whole time I played it.
But what about the time I had to free the pimp from that S&M club, the one where we escaped in little carts that said pimp had to pull? How did my girlfriend react to that when she saw it? Well, since she has a sense of humor, she kind of laughed and asked me what I was playing. Beyond that, I don’t think I could find a single person who didn’t find that scene, or most of the other insane ones, funny. Yes, it’s immature, but there comes a point in your average person’s life where fart jokes get funny all over again. It’s childish and stupid, but there are huge portions of the population who still giggle to themselves when they hear a fart sound. What do you want?
Yes, there is another portion of society that doesn’t, too; although I can’t imagine that many of these people are the ones playing games as an adult. Playing video games is still kind of a childish activity in these people’s eyes, isn’t it? Aren’t we all still just playing pretend space men or soldiers? Isn’t your average online shooter just a massive, worldwide game of tag? Isn’t this all our way of escaping the real world and living out a silly fantasy for fun? Doesn’t that sound, for lack of a better word, immature? Shouldn’t we all just be concerning ourselves with our jobs and buying houses and planning our retirements? If you’re the type of person who doesn’t find a little absurd escape to be much fun, aren’t you also the kind of person who is going to think playing a silly little game is just a waste of time?
Without going to that extreme, I know there are players out there who wouldn’t appreciate a game as silly as Saints Row The Third. They like to keep things serious, with their games being as close to real life as possible. Thing is they’re already playing a game, something that’s far beyond a serious activity. Also, if being silly holds this series back from being as acclaimed as Grand Theft Auto, then what are these people doing while playing Grand Theft Auto? They must have been different missions than the ones I was playing, the ones where I had to hit golf balls at a man attached to a golf cart, or where I had to shoot out every window in a mall and then escape from the cops. This stuff is absurd, even if the storyline tries to play things straight. It’s still a goofy game, and while it may not be as obviously extreme as any Saints Row game, it’s still pretty silly.
Industry perceptions, though? That’s really what you’re worried about? When you make games where you can punch someone until his head explodes, where the violence is explosive and messy, you really don’t get to say that you’re worried about what people think of the game industry any more. I really don’t think being able to hit someone with a giant plastic penis is the worst thing I’ve ever seen from this industry; not by a long shot. Even if it were, does it really matter what one game is going to do? Sure, there are people out there who look at a game like Rapelay and think that this is what the industry is all about, but how can we change that. If someone bases their opinion of the entirety of cinema on The Human Centipede, is that really the film industry’s problem? Is that really something we should be worried about?
I’m not trying to trivialize what he said, but it does seem silly to be worried about how we affect the industry’s image with one silly game. It’s even sillier if that becomes the main concern of game developers. The main job of a developer should be to make the most creative thing possible. To stick with a unique vision for a game and strive to see it become a reality. I write fantasy short stories when I’m not working for this site, and I can tell you that my first concern isn’t whether what I write has an adverse effect on the publishing industry; that’s something that has never even crossed my mind. The only thing I’m interested in is telling the story that’s bouncing around my head and doing the best job I can of making it entertaining and well-written. That’s all I think about when I work on something, and I think anyone with any interest in creative endeavors does as well.
So, when Bleszinski says that the Saints Row crew needs to worry more about how their work is affecting the perception of the game industry, he’s wasting everyone’s time. This isn’t something that should be anyone’s concern as no one game or project will change anyone’s perception of the industry. Even if it does, too bad for those people. The industry should be more worried about bringing in studios and people with strong visions no matter what they might be. For good or bad, it’s these people who will help this industry continue to grow and move forward, and these people who will make the games that I want to play or talk about. These are the people who are going to make games that push the boundaries of what we can call a game and fight against the homogenization this industry seems to be going through.
Yes, I am this passionate about a game with a dildo bat. I can agree that it’s stupid and it’s immature, but it’s also unique. I have never played a game that has dared to do something like that, and never thought I ever would. As dumb as it might sound, we need more people with weird ideas who are brave enough to put them out there for people to play. They don’t need to be worrying about how the industry is being perceived by anyone but gamers, as they’re the ones who’ll be paying to keep these studios in business.
So I’ll swing my dildo bat and hurl my fart in a jar with some pride knowing that, as dumb as this game can be, at least it exists. At least someone didn’t sit down and worry about how all the political pundits would take such a thing, or whether their prudish significant other might not approve that they’d created such a thing. It may be a silly vision for a game, but at least the people who made the Saints Row games held to that vision rather than making alterations to appease people who don’t even matter. All they did was worry about whether the game was going to be fun for its audience, and they sure succeeded.
Except for holding some levels back to be sold as DLC. I guess not everyone’s perfect.
Images courtesy of gamefaqs.com, flickr.com, modulopfer.de, gankalicious.blogspot.com.