Monday, 20 January 2014

Player Character Customization

Having never played any of the Saints Row games before, I decided to check out the fourth installment last weekend when it was freely available on Steam. Having hours go by as if they were mere minutes I decided  a one weekend access wasn't enough for me and I bought the franchise pack. While playing I had some thoughts on a subject I would have liked to delve into earlier.

Also I would have talked about how much I enjoyed Remember Me but The Males of Games has me covered on that one and all I would have left to add would be spoilers on how much I enjoyed the story.  

What I'll be talking about here won't be how awesome I think Saints Row is, but about how I think it's a masterclass in customization which other game developers could take notes from and my thoughts on how customization relates to sexism. 

Player Character Customization
In Which I Fawn Over Saints Row & Defend Boobs

On Player Customization

One of the main reasons why I thought buying Saints Row The Third after instantly loving Saints Row IV was a no brainer was when I learned the customization menu was, with only minor differences, the same thing. Meaning I could play as exactly the same character I had grown attached to over those first few hours. Not only does playing as a character you designed yourself increase how much fun it is to play said character, it could also make the player overlook flaws that might otherwise be a deal breaker (or in my case buy the game without knowing anything else about it at all).

Also the fact that I didn't have to pick a name means I didn't spend the first 3 hours of the game thinking of one.

My version of the Boss / the President

What is especially praiseworthy in the customization is that you not only get to pick the Boss' race or gender, but also the Boss' personality (which is essentially extra options which allows for different voice actors). This means that different personalities will react differently to certain situations. This in itself massively lengthens replayability just to see all of the different Boss' reactions.

I would have liked to see something like that implemented in Star Wars: The Force Unleashed. I thought it was very grating that we could pick as our character model practically every male character from the Star Wars universe, but somehow even 1 female skin would break immersion (likely because the voice actor was male). If you went out of the way to make all those extra models, why not go the extra mile and make the NPC dialogue more gender neutral and record a female voice actor as an option?

Heck, with games involving romance you'd have a lesbian couple for extra progressive points (or homosexual when we get there).

Small selection of available suits and outfits

A few months back we had people outrage over how Grand Theft Auto V doesn't have a female protagonist. While I think those outrages are often hyperbolic and unnecessary, the fact that GTA V doesn't have a female protagonists is a big reason why I'm currently not interested in getting the game (not that I hold it against the game, it just lacks one of my preferences). The last GTA game I played was San Andreas (and currently still am playing now that I own it on Steam), but I don't see how the stories of the GTA III games would be in any way harmed if they gave more options of playing a more customized character.

A side effect of having the same game for both genders also means we accidentally stumble on the philosophy writers/directors such as James Cameron have picked up, in which for a good female character you simply write a male character and change the pronouns (you know, because women happen to also be human).
A certain colorful character would probably label this problematic as "a man with boobs" even though she just got done criticizing gender specific signifiers but whatever, let's not bring unreasonable people into this when we don't have to.

On Sexism and Boob Backlash

Saints Row IV is one of the few recent major game releases that, to my knowledge, has avoided the often ridiculous outrage from the now infamous social justice crowd. As such I'm not sure it's a wise move on my part to use it as an example, but here we go.

Here's a comparison of a female Boss with a default body type (0% in skinny, fat and strength), with the sex appeal slider at different intervals (the slider also exists for the male Boss and it controls the size of his bulge).

Now yes, in the last image the Boss' breasts are hilariously oversized and they jiggle around in a way that would make Dead or Alive Xtreme blush (not in the least bit because DOAX' jiggle physics have yet to meet our friend gravity and it actually looks okay here). A lot of the people complaining about sexism in video games would undoubtedly classify that image as sexist, even with other options available.
No, I haven't heard their specific opinions on Saints Row, but I think it is a reasonable assumption they would make that argument given their concern about what's up on the walls in your private bedroom in "how to be an ally to women" lists, the uproar about optional bikini packs or the fact that they all know well enough what Dead or Alive is about but still can't figure out they don't have to buy those games.

My thoughts? If you object to it being in the game at all or to people wanting to play as that kind of character, you aren't being progressive, you are being a bully and you are shaming people for their sexuality. I will back you completely for the inclusion of things such as sliders to reduce breast sizes, certain options that reduce content which might make you uncomfortable or entire games featuring what you want, but I cannot possibly back you just because some people like what you don't. Your offense does not take away their right to enjoy it no matter how many statistics you think you can cough up.

Fact: some people like sexualized content. If they didn't, all those nude patches and half the content over at nexusmods wouldn't exist.

You don't? That's fine. If there isn't right now, there should definitely be enough stuff you can enjoy. However you can campaign for it without shaming other people for what they like. It's not entitlement to women's bodies, they aren't even women's bodies, they are sprites and polygons on a screen. By definition the thing objectified is an object and not a person. Forcing that set of polygons into a highly sexual outfit is just as much forced on it as it is to put them in absolutely any other situation.

The player controlling that set of polygons however is a real person with feelings, opinions and preferences. I do not see any road that leads to meaningful progress that excludes the feelings, opinions and preferences of a large part of the population in favor of those of fictional characters. Excluding this portion just because you think they've had majority input for long enough isn't progress, it's being terrible from a different angle.
This is why I think customization is an essential key to solving our current social justice crisis in a more meaningful way than the random outbursts against things we don't like we've been having so far. Customization  is one of the advantages video games bring to the table over other forms of media and it gives everyone the option of creating who they want to play as, just so long as the different sides are willing to put up with the mere options being in the game. Censorship and social shaming for stuff you don't personally like just makes you into a bully.

Oh look, I found the bondage shop!
And now I'm going to continue taking over the city / destroy the alien empire.


  1. "If you object to it being in the game at all or to people wanting to play as that kind of character, you aren't being progressive, you are being a bully and you are shaming people for their sexuality."

    I can't add anything more to that. I can't, because it's perfect the way it is, and it hits on my issue with Social Justice Warriors on the internet. They don't care about justice, they don't care about progress, all they care about is getting rid of things they don't like, or things that offend their own delicate sensibilities, because censorship is the only chance they have of being able to spread their ideas and viewpoints.

    1. Yeah, it's so stupid. I really want to see more and better female protagonists as well, however I can't back these people because I simply cannot support their vitriol over what other people like.

      I liked playing as Nilin in Remember Me, I would like to see more of that sort of character with personal story lines. Doesn't mean I can't equally enjoy giving my Saints Row boss massive boobs and have her running around in bondage gear for a while.

    2. Same here. What I'd like to see is different female protagonists, but I can't back them because it seems like they don't want that. They want a different, somehow "better" set of cliches and stereotypes. I, for one, would quit playing video games if every female character was suddenly a Katiniss Everdeen clone (I could not get into The Hunger Games, since I couldn't buy Katiniss as a character, let alone a hero).

      But of course, according to the Social Justice Warriors, you can't enjoy both things, because the existence of the latter would, in their minds, negate that of the former.

      Like I said, they don't want variety, they want a different set of stereotypes. This fact, along with their cries for censorship, makes me not back the more prominent people calling for more, better-written female protagonists, because I think that they're approaching it the wrong way, and I doubt that they have any faith in their own ideas. If they did, they wouldn't call for Dead or Alive to not exist simply because it offends them or because it's not their preference.