Saints Row’s Character Creator Needs To Be Backed Up By A Transgender World

Few things in gaming have annoyed me more than Cyberpunk 2077's character creator. It puffed its chest ahead of launch and confidently strutted through column inches, hailing itself as groundbreaking and progressive, highlighting that it was a transgender character creator where, no matter what the rest of your body looked like, you could slap a big ol' dick on there and feel seen. This was hand in hand with marketing that reduced trans women down to sexualised, objectified bulges and, desperate not to lose its edgy status and be labelled progressive, constantly mocked its own creation with jokes about not pre-ordering FIFA 78 unless it comes with customisable vaginas. Then the character creator came out and it was just a bit naff.

For the transgender part, it's true that you could have a feminine body and a penis or a masculine body and a vagina, but even that wasn't done right. Romance scenes with Judy heavily imply you have a vagina, while the scenes with Pam show you jackhammering away as if you have a penis, even though the whole point of the character creator is to separate your gendered appearance from your genitals. Then there's the fact that the vagina option and the 'no genitals' option were largely identical, with no real care given besides a vague grey shadow, even as penises came in several sizes and cuts. It also tied pronouns to voice and offered no they/them option, both of which are pretty huge dingers for a character creator that was supposed to let you be trans. It was also oddly detailed in some ways – with several choices for teeth, fingernails, and eyeballs – yet strangely restrictive in others, not allowing masculine bodies to rock long hair (even as central character Johnny Silverhand does), giving few fixed tattoo options with no room for tailoring, and never letting you change anything once the game begins.

In short, it's pretty bad. While I understand what CDPR means in calling Cyberpunk 2077 the first transgender character creator, I resent the implication that we need to see a character’s genitals (and have them not match their secondary sex characteristics) for them to be transgender. My Commander Shepard can be trans if I say so. She's my character in my RPG, and it's not like we ever take a peek inside her N7 armour. It also gives away that your references for trans women are Bailey Jay, Natalie Mars, and Sarina Valentina when what you picture are hyperfemme women with big fat cocks. It doesn't help that despite us having a trans character in the game (Claire), the entire world is incredibly binary, to the point where an underground sex club in a cyberpunk dystopia considers being bisexual as extremely exotic. There are literally male and female gender signs all over the world, underlining how fixed gender is in Night City.

This brings me on to Saints Row. The series has always been woke, despite the criticisms some have thrown at the reboot, and has quietly been reaffirming trans people for a long time now, separating gender from your voice and letting you give your pants however big a bulge you want. The latest customisation trailer doubles down on this, giving more options than ever before. Muscle definition, veins, nipples, body shape, voice, make-up, and stickers over your junk can all be tweaked to make you you. Several prosthetic options are available too, as Saints Row seeks to be the most representative character creator ever conceived of.

Here's the next hurdle. Being better at trans representation than Cyberpunk 2077 isn't hard. Forza Horizon 5 managed it, and that's a game where your character spends the entire time behind the wheel. I have full confidence that Saints Row will be better too, mainly because Saints Row: The Third and Saints Row 4 already were. The question now is will the world match? If our character is trans, does the world acknowledge that? Does it at least acknowledge that trans people exist? Is the world fixed and binary, are trans people given agency and sexuality without being sexualised and objectified? These are tough questions for any form of media to answer, and games, with the most corporate oversight and the most ferociously critical and vocally 'anti-woke' fanbase, struggles more than most. But Saints Row is putting its neck on the line and I hope it can tackle these questions carefully.

Saints Row could still spring a huge surprise this year a la Guardians of the Galaxy in 2021, and modernising its satire to reflect our current world is going to be a major part of whether or not it sticks the landing.

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