Saints Row is over-the-top parody; it is a sandbox action-adventure game with racing elements.

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Sex, Drugs & Rock n’ Roll

Violence:  A variety of weapons and vehicles are used to inflict damage on human beings and the landscape. Though the primary enemies are aliens and gang members, violence against pedestrians (including sex workers) and police is also possible. There is a fair amount of blood, but little-to-no gore.

Sexual Content: Players can wield giant dildos and alien anal probes as weapons. Sex-workers and BDSM practitioners are enemies in co-op mode. References to stripping, sexual sound effects, sex toys laying around, and sexual dialogue and images are abundant. However, there is no explicit sexual content, and most sexual content is played for laughs.

Strong Language: Characters swear frequently. Gendered language is also used (e.g., “c–t” and “p-ssy”).

Substance Use: Characters partake of drugs and alcohol periodically, as well as cigarettes. References to an illegal drug trade and references to hard drugs are made throughout the games.

Crude Humor: These games are filled with crude humor.

Nudity and Costuming: Costumes frequently include low-cut tops on female characters. There is an abundance of cleavage, both bouncing and over sized. There is also a move called “Indecent Exposure”—it is what it sounds like—that players can use to distract enemies. There is no full-scale nudity in the games, though censored nudity does occur.

Player Interaction: Co-op mode is accessible over Xbox Live and Playstation Network.

Savepoints

Players can save at an in-game savepoint or any time via the main menu—however, they will find their character returned to the nearest savepoint if they have used the menu option.

Story & Themes

Saints Row is basically a parody of Grand Theft Auto. It’s a series that aims to reach ever higher levels of absurdity. The first two games focus on the leader of a gang—the 3rd Street Saints—and the third game sees the gang become a media empire. The fourth pushes the boundaries yet further. The gang leader (who is outstandingly customizable, particularly in the fourth installment) has become the President of the United States, and must battle an alien invasion from within a simulation of the same town the earlier games take place in. Saints Row is filled with pop culture references and over-the-top humor. With this in mind, the series’ themes are not for the weak at heart. Excessive swearing, violence, and sexual content give the games their M-Rating.

Themes include humor, absurdity, family (of a kind), and offensiveness. The games do not aim to be politically correct. For instance, one co-op mode has the player battling waves of prostitutes with a giant purple dildo. While it’s clearly over-the-top, it’s perhaps sexually and violently charged to an extent that many people are not comfortable with. Strong caution is warranted.

However, many have praised the series for its outrageous content and fantastic gameplay. While basically all NPC characters are caricatures of reality—and not always positive ones—the main character customization process is extensive. Saints Row IV, for instance, contains options for not only skin, hair, and eye color, body type, weight, facial structure, and age, but also options for adding unearthly skin tones and extras such as horns and tentacles. Although some would hesitate to call this an attempt at diversity, it has been quite freeing for many gamers who are tired of playing different models of the white male protagonist present in so many other games.

The Creators

 Volition, Inc.

Controversies

Saints Row IV was the first game in Australia to be Refused Classification  (RC) under the new Guidelines for the Classification of Computer Games. The game was later accepted with modifications.

Conversation Starters

 There’s certainly a lot to talk about in Saints Row, if you’re willing to go there. Here are a few ideas:

  • The treatment of women, and especially sex workers, is not respectful in the least. Does this make you uncomfortable, and if not, why not?
  • What is the purpose of parody? Saints Row is purposefully irreverent, and is not meant to be taken seriously, but is there a point at which parody has gone too far?
  • Do you think the portrayal of gang rivalry is realistic? How so?
  • Some people consider Saints Row an extreme form of escapism—it’s a dark fantasy that no one (hopefully) would ever enact in real life. What do you get out of playing this game? Does it help you relax, or help you live out these unrealistic fantasies in a safe way? Do you think it’s okay to explore dark fantasies, or do you think it impacts the way you think about things outside of the game?

Keezy Young

Keezy Young

Keezy is a gamer, illustrator, and designer. Her background is in teaching and tutoring kids from ages 9 to 19, and she's led workshops for young women in STEM. She is also holds a certificate in teaching English. Her first memory of gaming is when her dad taught her to play the first Warcraft when she was five. You can find her at Key of Zee and on Twitter @KeezyBees.