Note: This post is a response to the Bitmob Writing Challenge – January 2012. This post also contains spoilers for Saints Row: The Third.
That is the most extreme form of nihilism: nothingness (the "meaningless") eternally!
Don't let the wealth of colour, vulgarity and fun fool you: Saints Row: The Third is a playground for nihilists. Each gang, law enforcement agency, politician, and paramilitary organisation eventually comes to disregard the laws and institutions of the city of Steelport. The individual player even comes to reject established standards of previous open world action games given enough time with the game itself, and its elaborate arsenal of vehicles, weapons and abilities.
While the killing of civilians in Steelport is technically illegal (read: will illicit a response from police in close proximity), through activities like Mayhem, Tank Mayhem and Trailblazing, violence against public and private property, the police and the city's inhabitants is incentivized. It can be argued that there is a greater reward for shooting inanimate objects instead of people, however, killing civilians is not effectively penalized. I was able to reach target amounts in all but one of these instances by attacking innocent people, gang members and the law; it wasn't until the last instance of Mayhem that I found that destroying fences and barriers was the most effective way of completing that particular activity. Saints Row: The Third's missions are designed in a way that allows players to disregard human life.
I'd say "I'm sorry", but it wouldn't mean shit
The Wavves – "Idiot" from the WDDT CPDG Adult Swim radio station
Where most other games are designed to punish players who harm civilians or friendlies – through either mission failure, or the use of increasingly-belligerent police as per the Grand Theft Auto series - Saints Row: The Third either completely ignores the player's transgression, or offers them ways to cancel the interest of gangs and/or the police that require little effort. Firstly, players can evade all pursuers by entering any stores that they own. Considering how little this valuable real estate costs, and how densely-populated Steelport is by these retail spaces, shaking your would-be captors and assassins is so easy as to defy the consequence of any misdeeds entirely. You can also call "homies" – that the player acquires throughout the adventure – that can either revoke your "wanted" status or allow for law enforcement personnel to intervene in most conflicts on your behalf. Players can also purchase the ability to wipe notoriety with any of the game's three gangs. All misdemeanours performed by the player can be rendered meaningless with a minimum of fuss.
Nihilism has no substance. There is no such thing as nothingness, and zero does not exist. Everything is something. Nothing is nothing. Man lives more by affirmation than by bread.
At the close of the campaign – at least with the choices that I had made – the Saints became immortalized in film, and had been deemed heroes for defusing an explosive situation. Everything that my created avatar had done was for money, fame and power. Not for the greater good of Steelport, not to achieve any form of vigilante justice, just for me (and perhaps Burt Reynolds). I brought death and destruction to Steelport so that it may be covered in my gang's trademark violet hue. Every mission, side mission, collectable, customized vehicle, and weapon was attained so that the Third Street Saints could impose themselves upon another city; to affirm ourselves so that we could have domain over something and everything (well not quite, I'm at 91% completion).
It's my life, don't you forget. It's my life, it never ends.
Talk Talk – "It's My Life" from the 107.77 The Mix radio station
Despite a conclusion that somewhat redeems the player-created lead and the Saints, life after the main saga is meaningless. You could complete the leftover side missions and find those last collectables, but after that, all there is to do is kill. Kill so that you can impose yourself on the people of Steelport once again. To be chased, to evade or to die… and rise again. The various upgrades players can buy only serve to make the final hours all the more pointless: with upgrades to your damage resistance, you can make a close range rocket as painless as a short fall. Saints Row: The Third allows you to do everything and achieve nothing at the same time. It is a nihilistic sandbox in which you must assert yourself, as nothing else matters.
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