Gender and Character Creation in Saints Row 2

Saints Row 2 is essentially the stereotypical video game. By that, I mean that when I talk to non-gamers about video games, they all imagine every video game is essentially one long romp of extreme violence and explicit sex with no discernible plot or mitigating feature. Saints Row 2 is that video game and more.

Anna Anthropy also argues that the game makes some interesting choices in how it handles the gender of the main character the user plays:

There are tons of gendered accessories for the player’s character – she’s surrounded by urban gang culture, or some facsimile thereof – but the game gives the player the choice of how to use those accessories (or not) to present her gender. Play as a burly man in a dress and heels, a woman with a beard, someone totally androgynous – I played through the game as a fat woman, and I can’t remember the last time a game, mainstream or otherwise, gave me that choice. You can present as a wide variety of genders because, for all the game’s scripted scenes and recorded dialogue, no one ever gives you a gender.

 

All of the dialogue has been written to explicitly avoid giving the protagonist a gender, in fact. Your gang minions address you as “Boss,” and refer to you in third person either as “the Boss” or “the leader of the Saints.” No one ever gives you a pronoun. There’s a scene early in the game where one of the Saints’ lieutenants is planning a raid on a casino by moving bobble heads of the gang members through a scale model of the place: the player’s character is represented by a featureless, genderless chess pawn. The player is given the room to internalize her character how she pleases. At the start of Saint’s Row 2, a fellow Saint who knows the protagonist from the first Saint’s Row says, “You look different. You do something with your hair?” That’s the game’s tacit acceptance of however you’ve decided to present your character. And who’s going to question it? Who would fuck with the boss of the Saints?

Couldn’t agree more, and I wish more games would give you this range of choices.

For the life of me, for example, I cannot understand why Madden NFL will not allow me to create a female character for its Superstar mode. The common argument I seen online is that this wouldn’t be “realistic”. Really? Well, it is not very realistic when I run for 1,000 yards in a game on the Rookie setting either.

This is what games do best after all — allow players to make all sorts of different choices in simulated worlds and see what happens. A video game where gang leaders and starting linebackers can only be one gender is beyond dull.

Battle Vs. Chess Killed Off by Trademark Lawsuit

So I’m probably one of four people in the world who cared, but last Fall promotional material started appearing for an XBox 360 game produced by SouthPeak Games called “Battle vs. Chess.” In fact, Official XBox Magazine actually published a review of the game in their Holiday 2010 issue, saying,

The game’s core chess experience is outstanding, but where it really takes off is in its variations, many of which makes chess feel brand-new. One mode couples fog of war with random piece placement . .

Then the game’s release date kept being pushed back, and finally Gamestop and other retailers were saying it had been canceled. Finding information on why the game was canceled or delayed has not been easy, but apparently Interplay filed a complaint that the game’s title was too similar to its Battle Chess trademark.

On October 26, 2010, Interplay filed the following report with the SEC,

Item 8.01

OTHER EVENTS

INTERPLAY ENTERTAINMENT CORP. FILES TRADEMARK INFRINGEMENT LAWSUITAND OBTAINS PRELIMINARY INJUNCTION TO PROTECT ITS BATTLE CHESS MARK
The Company filed a lawsuit against TopWare Interactive, Inc. to enjoin infringement of the Company’s federally registered Battle Chess trademark and to recover damages.  On October 21, 2010, the United States District Court, Central District of California, determined preliminarily that TopWare’s use of “Battle vs. Chess” in conjunction with a chess video game is confusingly similar to Battle Chess.  The Court issued a preliminary injunction prohibiting use of “Battle vs. Chess” by TopWare, its officers, directors, affiliated companies, and those acting in concert with the foregoing.  “Battle vs. Chess” was to be co-published and distributed in the U.S. by SouthPeak Interactive Corporation.  Following the ruling, the Company will continue to protect  its intellectual property rights in the Battle Chess trademark against TopWare and others who are or may be contributing to the alleged infringement.

On the one hand, this is ridiculous. Interplay has not published a game with the Battle Chess name since 1994. On the other hand, how did SouthPeak Games and publisher TopWare not do even a minimal Google search on “Battle vs. Chess” which would have revealed the very similar name of the Interplay game before they got to the point where the game was actually finished?

The only thing certain in the high stakes world of video game development is the preponderance of poor business decisions.