We’re going to play a little bit of the imagination game here this morning.
So, let say, hypothetically, that you were chosen to be the head of a fairly popular company. Ok? Let’s now imagine that this company that you’ve been ushered in to operate has been under some seriously troubling financial issues and it is now your job to move that company back towards a profitable era. Now, imagine that, as this company head, you had to give an interview about one of your most successful pieces of intellectual property. However, the person interviewing you has now criticized that popular property by calling it embarrassing. What do?
- A) Show weakness and shame in your company by sheepishly agreeing with the interviewer and insulting your team while, at the same time, name dropping two completely different IP’s, from two different companies, that aren’t even remotely similar to your own product in terms of content?
- B) Do you politely remind the interviewer that you were proud of you teams work and, while he may have personally taken issue with your product, that more than four million other people clearly couldn’t disagree with him more?
Well, if you’re Jason Rubin, the newly appointed president at THQ, then you chose option A and completely caused a mini-shit-storm over the weekend. Rubin recently sat down with the omni-tech blog “The Verge” to talk about his vision for the floundering company, and, while Rubin did speak rather accurately about THQ’s failings in the past, his comments on one of the company’s most successful franchises seemed to upset a lot of people. The interview was seemingly going well until at the halfway mark the interviewer, Brian Crecente of Kotaku fame (or infamy maybe?) decided to throw in some comments about the Saints Row franchise. He immediately admitted that he had not actually played the game, something that one would argue is a damn important qualifier to give any kind of opinion, but that didn’t stop Crescente from claiming that the game was too embarrassing to play in front of his wife and kids. Now, I can’t necessarily fault Crescente for saying that he wouldn’t play the game in front of his kids, for the game isn’t designed or meant to be played by children; it carries an M rating for a reason. However, It’s Rubin’s comments that has caused so much ire from fans:
“Why couldn’t that be a Red Dead Redemption or a Skyrim?” he said. “I look at that title and I say, ‘Who cares what it is and why it got to be what it is? From that team we can make something that isn’t embarrassing.”
Rubin quickly took to twitter and followed up with Crescente to state that he was very proud of the Saints Row franchise and Volition, the team who created it, but by that time the damage was already done. Many fans, and fellow colleagues in the development community, expressed their support for the Saints Row franchise and publicly admonished Rubin for his comments. Rubin attempted to deflect the criticisms by claiming that it was Crescente who first used the word embarrassing, but the problem Rubin faces in this situation is that most people understand that words have specific meanings and most of the time people don’t use them by mistake. To believe or agree that Saints Row is somehow found to be “embarrassing” one would have to be embarrassed by it. What does it mean to embarrass someone? Well…
Embarrass: Verb. – To cause (someone) to feel awkward, self-conscious, or ashamed.
Ashamed? Well, what is shame?
Shame: Noun. – A painful feeling of humiliation or distress caused by the consciousness of wrong or foolish behavior.
Wow, that’s a pretty powerful and distressful position to be in. I had no idea that Crescente looked down upon Saints Row: The Third so negatively, and I would have never thought that Rubin would just so casually agree with that testament. Personally, I wouldn’t play Saints Row: The Third in front of my kid, but that has nothing to do with embarrassment or shame, for I am able to discern what is and isn’t appropriate for people of a certain age. It should be easy to recognize that Saints Row: The Third isn’t meant for younger audiences, so one would only need to keep children from experiencing the game. However, it’s odd to me that both Rubin and Crescente would seem to agree that the game is somehow embarrassing. An embarrassing feeling is an entirely personal experience of shame, so do either of them feel shameful for playing the game? Does Rubin feel shame now that he presides over a company that actively advertised something so “embarrassing”? IS Saints Row: The Third embarrassing?
Well, in my opinion, no. The Saints Row franchise has always portrayed itself as something that is so obviously and intentionally shocking. After the rise of the Grand Theft Auto series, numerous other companies attempted to copy Rockstar’s formula to capitalize on the popularity. However, Volition decided to go a slightly different route by opting to use the Saints Row franchise as an exaggerated depiction or parody of the GTA games themselves. Whereas Grand Theft Auto was mis-characterized as a violence simulator where the player was put in to the shoes of a psychopath, Saints Row decided to take all of those criticisms leveled at the GTA series and turn them in to comedic absurdities. Don’t believe me? take a look at the animated gif below:
Depicted above is just a simple take down move that the protagonist of Saints Row: The Third can use on anyone. Hell, the game teaches you how to use these randomly generated attacks by holding down what is aptly named the “Awesome Button”. The camera pose, the hyper-exaggerated violence, it’s all intentionally designed to be viewed as a hilarious jest at the mostly serious atmosphere that Grand Theft Auto attempts to build around itself. If you’ve played GTA for more than an hour then it’s entirely possible that you eventually began to ignore the serious main plot-line in order to just run around and crash cars and blow shit up. Well, Saints Row is a game that took that eventual divergence from a central plot and decided to make it the damn central plot.
This is a game that involves a murderous cat/human hybrid game show host who routinely places citizens of Steelport in his insane obstacle course to fight for their lives. Literally. This is also a game that includes a zombie outbreak, inadvertently caused by the main protagonist, that overtakes a large chuck of the city. Saints Row is a game that was intentionally designed to be nothing more than an indulgence of crazy shit. Volition never attempted to mask this or convince consumers otherwise, and it was absolutely apparent by the ad campaigns and viral marketing that surrounded the game.
“Dafuq did I just watch?” is probably what you’re thinking if you’ve never played Saints Row: The Third or managed to avoid all of the advertising surrounding the game. Well, if that was your response then, congratulations, you’ve given the one desired. All of the purple dildo bat attacking, maniacal game show hosting, zombie outbreaking, and hyper-violence-ing that appears in Saints Row is all intentionally included. Also, it’s only for adults. The game isn’t meant for everyone, and Volition didn’t want it to be. If Crescente or Rubin both find the title to be embarrassing then, guess what, it wasn’t intended for them in the first place. Not every game is required to be “for everyone”, nor should they be. It’s okay to be niche sometimes, and when a game pulls off niche so well that it receives a vast majority of positive praise, It’s difficult to agree with the sentiment that it is embarrassing. Especially when upwards of four million people didn’t seem to be embarrassed in the slightest.
So, for Crescente and Rubin, if they find Saints Row: The Third to be something that they find embarrassing then I guess they shouldn’t play it. It’s clearly not the game for them, but it is the game for many people. Why not just let those who aren’t embarrassed by it enjoy it the way Volition intended? The creators obviously aren’t embarrassed and, honestly, they’re the ones that matter.