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Saints Row Crossed The Line And Got Weird

Like many other gamers, I recently picked up Saints Row: The Third for PC in the THQ Humble Bundle. THQ put a bunch of great PC games on a pay-what-you-want sale with the proceeds going to them and charity. I couldn't resist getting Saints Row and Metro 2033 cheaply.

So far, Saints Row: The Third has been immensely amusing. The game provides great over-the-top action. Where Grand Theft Auto IV was serious and gritty and realistic, Saints Row is silly and bombastic and absurd. It's like if Michael Bay had a sense of humor. One scene at a BDSM club left me in tears of laughter.

However... Saints Row: The Third started to get creepy. Not just weird, but downright unnerving. And not in a good way like in Dead Space.

The weirdness started when I picked up a new homie for my crew named Zimos. He's a pimp who uses an autotune synthesizer for a voice. So far, so funny, right?

Then you go on a mission with Zimos to intercept a shipment of prostitutes being shipped to a rival gang, the Morningstar. Stealing these hookers robs the Syndicate of income and (more importantly) gives you the chance to blow up helicopters on a boat. So far, so fun, right?

Skip to about 2.38 for the start of the mission. WARNING: ADULT LANGUAGE, NOT SAFE FOR WORK

The creepy part was when I went around the boat freeing the hookers. My character would tell the ladies to go to Zimos, who took care of them while I killed bad guys. As my character sent him newly freed prostitutes, I could hear him talking to them. He would say he'd take care of them and make unsubtle requests to sleep with them. He also referred to the prostitutes by unflattering terms which are unpublishable on Game Informer Online.

That mission crossed the line for me. Blowing up cars and stuff was fine. I enjoyed shooting bad guys and destroying buildings. Even the BDSM club was funny. But the mission with the hookers got uncomfortable. Your character was rescuing those girls so he could send them right back into prostitution... just with a new owner. Zimos stopped looking funny and started looking like a lecherous weirdo.

I know this sounds silly. Saints Row is a parody. It's not serious. The hookers aren't real. The Saints are criminals, not saints. It wouldn't fit with the story if the Saints released the girls. It was necessary to provide some income for Zimos. There are plenty of reasons why that mission was written the way it was.

And yet...

Despite all that, it was just enough to make me feel uncomfortable in a way that few other games do. Zimos is meant to be humorous. He's got an autotune synthesizer for a voice. That's as silly as it gets. But all I can hear is his voice telling the "rescued" hookers that he'd like to spend some quality time with them later.

It was weird.

Most video games don't disgust me. At this point, violence is normal. Chainsawing a dude in half in Gears of War is a regular Tuesday. Swearing is no big deal. I hear worse on South Park. Even balloon-breasted Barbie-doll female characters in gaming fail to elicit anything other than annoyance at the lazy writing and misogyny.

The Saints Row incident was unique because it wasn't OK. It made me wonder: What makes you uncomfortable in a game? What crosses the line from crude to offensive? Swearing? Violence? Sexualization? How much is too much?

It's a serious question that developers need to consider as games mature. Not everyone is okay with the same level of questionable content. Saints Row showed me exactly where my personal boundaries lie. Parody or not, the game crossed the line into lechery. That's not OK.

So what about you? What makes you uncomfortable? I'm curious to know if I'm the only one who feels this way.

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