Extra Punctuation

Extra Punctuation
Your Character Could Be Anyone

Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw | 17 Sep 2013 16:00
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In the first game you're a new member of the Third Street Saints, and it was the only game in which your character could not speak. By lacking a voice, you lacked an identity. With the appearance customisation options, you were nobody, and at the same time, everybody. Consciously or not, could this represent how Saints Row as a whole thought of itself? It was entering the sandbox crime game genre while it was still dominated by Grand Theft Auto, a nondescript clamouring voice among a legion of pretenders.

But that changed with Saints Row 2, didn't it? GTA 4 was out by then, and had abandoned its throne as king of the madcap irresponsible freedom crowd to go all brown and realistic on us. Suddenly, there was a niche. And Saints Row awoke from its dormancy to claim it. Appropriately, the game begins with the protagonist waking up from a coma, and immediately discovering that they now possess a voice. Saints Row now had an identity of its own: the one that GTA discarded. Our protagonist is free to take control of their own destiny, first by taking over the Saints, then by becoming the most powerful gang in the city. They build their identity one garment and tattoo at a time, and simultaneously, Saints Row the series is building its new identity, distinct from its cookie-cutter origins.

Saints Row 3 begins after the Saints have achieved their ultimate goal of becoming the most powerful gang in the city, and we see what form the reward took: celebrity super-stardom. And fame of course is the ultimate expression of identity; it is by definition the state of having your existence known of by ever-larger numbers of people. The villains in Saints Row 3 attempt to defeat the Saints by trapping them in a city where they are less well-known, but this backfires, as it only provides the Saints an opportunity to expand their profile ever further.

But the pursuit of fame is an insecure ambition. Remember that at any point in these games the main character can go to a plastic surgeon and completely change their appearance and voice; the identity that you hold so precious is and always has been as fragile as glass. You, frankly, could be anyone. Perhaps this psychotic pursuit of fame, power and violence is not some egotistical rampage but a desperate plea to be remembered? A plea by an individual who could be replaced at any moment by literally any other human being.

This comes to a logical culmination in Saints Row 4 when this person becomes the President of the United States. Every single child born into America is told that perhaps they could grow up to be President, and therefore, President is the ultimate everyman job. A fitting position for a person who is everyone and no-one at the same time, and with the ultimate generic ambition achieved, a fitting conclusion to the arc of the ultimate generic character.

I'm not sure what the aliens mean, in that case. It's possible they just got bored at that point, kind of like I am now with this argument.

Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn't talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.

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