Few can argue that the ‘Saints Row’ series has ventured off into “Parody Land,” and the industry seemed to be a better place for it. With such a strong effort on censoring violence, nudity and language in video-games it was nice to know that someone was just making fun of the entire debate, showing the world doesn’t end when adults play a game with strippers in it.
Saints Row 2 and 3 was completely over the top, in every aspect that you can imagine, but the developers were smart about it. For every stripper they had, they had an option to make your character the complete opposite of standard lead-character designs. You could be the most acrobatic, obese, ridiculous character that has ever been available in a video-game. For every instance that outsiders could say the developers were objectifying women or promoting sexual biases, there was an instance that pushed the bar in the opposite direction.
Although the game was violent (and rated M for Mature) it purposefully exaggerated it, to the point that none of the game was realistic. The shooting, looting and stealing that was done in Saints Row 2 and 3 was just as possible in the real-world as flying and using laser-beam powers.
So what happens when the parody becomes marketable? That’s the problem the series is dealing with now. While Saints Row 2 and 3 developers were parodying the porn-industry, strippers and how entertainment as a whole is objectifying women, the marketing teams were using sexual stereotypes to sell the game to a male-oriented demographic.
It was Volition’s associate producer Kate Nelson that spoke out publicly to Edge about the “porn star” marketing technique. “I think it’s important in marketing games to make sure that the essence of the game is what’s being marketed, and I think the porn star angle didn’t really fit in with what Saints Row is at heart, which is a parody. We like to poke fun.” Nelson had some strong (though completely accurate), words for the marketing team that hired Tera Patrick in previous installments, “Saying that someone who had no industry experience was in a role that is sexualised as a producer of our project, or saying the penthouse girls are our QA staff – I just…I can see the humour in that angle of promotion but for me that’s the line where it gets into reality.”
Saints Row IV offers many of the same choices as Saints Row 3 explains Nelson, “You can be large woman, a small woman – you can be blue. You can be who you want to be in the game and you have powerful female characters written into the narrative.”
That’s all well and good, but is that the message that comes across in Saints Row’s marketing? Saying that you are a champion of powerful-female characters, and never showing anything but woman in short-skirts, cleavage and assault weapons, isn’t exactly the same thing.
With all the talk of the character customization, and the ability to have unique “not typical” leads, those never seem to make it the posters. Players may understand the parody and defend it against media that uses the game to speak-ill of such titles but can you blame them? If porn-stars, sexualized-posters and ultra-violent trailers are the only thing that the marketing team is putting out, what is the message? A parody only works once, you can’t have your cake and eat it as well. While the developers are doing a terrific job illustrating the faults in sexual-marketing and game-violence, the marketing team is actually using them. One of them knows what a parody is, the other does not.