Don’t dance for me, Kinzie Kensington. Get up off the floor.
Saint’s Row IV is a drunk bet of a game, a game with a design document that must have had “WHY THE FUCK NOT?” written on the top of it in crayon. I love it. It’s an exercise in wish fulfilment. You are a superhero. You are President of the United States of America. You are fighting to avenge the deaths of every single member of the human race bar a handful of space-borne survivors.
One of those survivors is Kinzie Kensington; she’s your hacker assistant, the voice in your ear. She is loyal and furious and a genius and not socially adept and, as a player, I like her. I like listening to her. There’s a romance option in the game, a mockery of Mass Effect and Dragon Age’s relationship webs, where you ask if she wants to fuck (quoting verbatim, there) and she punches you hard in the jaw before leaping on you for a bout of implied, but terrifyingly rough, sex.
She’s a complicated woman, is our Kinzie.
And yet; the game starts to undo her. In the level The Girl Who Hates the 50’s, she’s trapped in a white-picket fence, sepia-toned computer-generated version of reality that – coincidentally – you were trapped in, too, several days before, as though they were re-using art assets wholesale. She’s being oppressed by Cyrus Temple, the bad guy from Saint’s Row III, who has no real reason to be there.
She wears an old-fashioned outfit with a rabbit on the skirt and she hates it so much that she attacks you when you mention it again.
It’s not like we’ve had a long-running storyline setting her up as someone who hates the 50’s. That’s just a thing. A thing that’s true now. She appears as a dull housewife doing the gardening and apologises and says that she can’t talk now, but her husband will be home later, and she’s upset about the skirt? It all feels so tacked together, so shallow, and it’s a shallow, tacked-together game at the best of times but the rough, have-a-go charm of the whole thing helps it hang together. Not so, here.
But, whatever. I can live with that. You pull her out of the simulation and into another simulation and there, where you have slightly more control, you help her unlock superpowers akin to your own with a loyalty mission.
Superpowers come with an appropriately daft costume change; Johnny Gat’s looks like purple spec ops gear. Pierce dresses up in a wide-brimmed straw hat and a silk east-Asian getup. Matt Miller, English nerd and cyberwarrior, cosplays as his favourite fictional character. Kinzie dresses as a bondage nun.
And Kinzie’s into kink, for sure. We’ve heard her mention her safeword and seen her sex toys and BDSM kit in previous games. But she punches another version of Cyrus Temple to death and gains superpowers and the costume in a revenge-fuelled moment of apotheosis, just like everyone else does, and she rolls off his limp corpse and the game doesn’t bother animating her face; she looks exhausted, glassy-eyed, spent, trussed up in her new clothes.
It came as a disappointment. I don’t know who made the costume choice, why they made it, and why she wasn’t – say – dressed like a sci-fi warrior, because that would have made sense for her character. But, hey, par for the course. I can forgive that.
SEXES IT UP
And the game carries on, and it ends soon after, and there’s a patently ridiculous ending sequence where everyone takes turns dancing in a club to This Is How We Do It in a manner similar to the ending in Hitch, or, to be honest, similar to something that I’m not culturally keyed into. I found this video of people doing it for the longest time in what appears to be some sort of film. Maybe it’s from that. There was a Vodafone ad where they mocked up one from the Royal Wedding? Anyway. You know what I mean.
And eventually Kinzie rocks up, and she looks a little uncertain about dancing which is fine and you expect her to either totally kill it or just be completely useless and then she just sexes up the place, right into the camera, and it’s not the self-assured sexuality that Shaundi or Asha delivered moments earlier, it’s that same glassy-eyed stare. She grinds her latex bodysuit (complete with cleavage hole) along the dancefloor with the blank look of a Tuesday-afternoon stripper. At one point I believe – I believe – she twerks.
At the end, she shakes her head and wanders away as though she doesn’t know what came over her. Me neither, Kinzie.
She dances at the camera, for the viewer’s benefit, and she is suddenly and redundantly and thoughtlessly fetishised. Volition spent so long building her up to tear her down and make me realise, perhaps, how low I am in their estimations.
So get up, Kinzie. Don’t dance for me, please.
ADDENDUM TO MAKE THINGS CLEAR IN CASE YOU FEEL LIKE COMMENTING TO TELL ME I’M WRONG TO CARE ABOUT THIS BECAUSE, FUCK, IT’S SAINT’S ROW MAN IT’S SUPPOSED TO BE OFFENSIVE:
Here is a list of things I am okay with:
Sexy Women (big fan)
Sexy Women in sexy outfits
Fucking stupid videogames where you are a superhero President
Sexy women in sexy outfits in fucking stupid violent videogames where you are a superhero President
Here is a list of things I am not okay with:
Degrading solid characters for the purpose of my supposed pleasure after I’ve been interacting with them for two fucking 20-hour games