Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Saints Row Boss Factory: A Review from a Queer and Trans perspective

One of the bigger surprises from the recent onslaught of summer games showcases was the demo release for the new Saints Row Boss Factory character creation tool. Trailers claimed that the tool would be one of the most expressive to date, allowing players to “become anyone.” Many marginalized folks were initially a bit leery of these claims, as character creators in games often let us down, be it through gender-locked choices or poorly rendered Black hairstyles. So how does Boss Factory actually stack up?

At least in these early days, it seems like Saints Row Boss Factory is actually getting pretty close to realizing its lofty claims, something that queer and trans players might be happy to hear. While there aren’t currently any options for wheelchairs or other mobility devices in Boss Factory, players can equip their bosses with arm and leg prosthetics, in addition to the ability to equip them with metallic skin, demon eyes, and more.

Screenshot of the Saints Row Boss Factory character creator's prosthetics screen

Excitingly for queer and trans folks, none of the Saints Row Boss Factory body types, facial hair, or clothing options are gated, or even sorted by gender. While creating your own boss, you use a pyramid-style slider to determine how thin, fat, or muscular you want your body to be. There are separate sliders for the size of your character’s chest and their groin, leaving those entirely at your discretion. These menus never even mention gender, instead allowing the player to customize their virtual body however they see fit without ascribing any labels to the choices.

This continues as you dress that body. All available clothing items are simply listed in their respective menus based on what kind of clothes they actually are. There’s no mention of if the items are cut in a “men’s” or “women’s” fashion. If you want your tiddies out or to be wearing a sick suit, you can do that, regardless of how you designed your boss’ body.

The Saints Row Boss Factory shirts screen. The character is wearing a leather corset

My current boss project, for example, is currently rocking a crop top, electric blue floral blazer, custom high-top sneakers, and a Swole Hole Gym baseball cap. All of the colours on these are customizable, and it appears that there will be alternative options for clothing materials as well in the full-release version. So whether you’re trans, or just a keen fashionista, there’s something in Boss Factory for you.

That said, it’s still not quite a perfect system. I already mentioned the lack of wheelchairs and mobility devices, but there are other representative wishlist items that are missing as well. Primary among those, for me, is the ability to add top surgery scars to a character’s chest.

While being able to manipulate your chest size is great, if I want to roleplay as a trans person, I should be able to add signifiers of that experience (you know, if the metal skin isn’t active, since that nullifies any other skin effects). As it currently is, there’s no way to depict a body that has been through or is currently experiencing a surgical transition in Boss Factory. This is especially odd when you consider the game does have options for body scarring. They’re mostly all-over body prints or varying textures, but regardless, the option exists. You can also toggle whether or not you want nipples to be visible when the character’s shirt is off, and can customize your nipple size. But no top surgery scars. Rather than allowing for multiple avenues of depicting actual trans experience, this creator is kind of just allowing us to build perfect bodies that were always that way.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, and I’m certainly excited for more folks to be able to play a AAA title with a character free from normative gender gating, but until visibly trans bodies are allowed to exist within the game, it’s not going to fully include us. Trans people aren’t born, we shape ourselves into the people we want to be, whether that’s through surgery, hormones, or simply realizing you’re not what the world has told you you are. By failing to include an option for visible markers of that, of transition itself, some of its impact gets erased for those looking to feel seen.

So what’s the verdict? Well, this is honestly the most inclusive character creator I’ve ever seen when it comes to the way bodies can be shaped. It’s great that there’s no gender-gating when it comes to clothing, hair, or body type, and I think players will have a lot of fun finding different ways to express themselves with all the options at their disposal. But, Saints Row seems to have taken the “transition” part of being trans somewhat for granted.

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