Lollipop Chainsaw looks set to upset some with its gory kills and sexualized protagonist. But is it just offensive fluff or is it crucial test of our boundaries?
It’s a decades-old inquiry: Is there anything that’s off limits when it comes to profanity in games? Come June, gamers might hear this question again when a certain 18-year-old cheerleader named Juliet Starling debuts on the scene. Step into Ms Starling’s shoes and you’ll be able to prance around half-naked and deflect cuss words, all while cutting your high-school classmates in half with a chainsaw. Couple that with Juliet’s charming yet decapitated boyfriend and some overtly sexual writing that would make even Jenna Jameson blush, and you’ve got Grasshopper Manufacture’s Lollipop Chainsaw.
So, Lollipop may get some parents’ panties in a bunch, but is that a bad thing? Not by a long shot. Much like Juliet, video games are in their late adolescence. As they grow up and attempt to tackle mature themes in new ways, it paves the way for future games to handle the same mature themes in, well, more mature ways.
In a roundtable interview with Press2Reset, Grasshoper Manufacture founder Goichi Suda and the game’s lead writer James Gunn confirmed that, yes, Lollipop pushes boundaries. However, the original goal was never to be shocking, offensive, or even sexual in nature. Suda, speaking through a translator, described simply and rather humorously how the idea came about.
“I had an idea about making a zombie game, and also a school panic idea, and also a school cheerleader girl with a chainsaw,” he said. “And one day they all just came together. Probably while I was in a bathroom somewhere.”
When asked directly about Lollipop’s profane nature, Suda said that stemmed not from the idea, but from his desire to constantly break new ground creatively.
“We are always pushing boundaries, so that sort of came naturally,” he said. “But we wanted to be fun and funny, and that’s what we all intended [the game] to be.”
So, how does a developer go about creating a game that is funny but also hits a nerve? Grasshopper Manufacture and Warner Brothers decided to hire James Gunn, who has penned multiple screenplays including the script for the 2004 remake of George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. Not a bad fit for a zombie hack and slash, right?
As for the naughty undertones, Gunn also wrote an episodic parody of the entire porn industry back in the late 2000s. It should also come as no surprise that when it comes to video games, he specifically admires Rockstar’s past efforts.
“There are some games that are really well written like Red Dead Redemption or, you know, the last Grand Theft Auto,” he said. “I like those games and the way they are written. I think they have cool characters.”
When Grand Theft Auto III was released, it was one of the most profane games to date. But without the developers behind GTA who weren’t afraid to take a mainstream videogame into purely adult territory, would we ever have seen the meaningful sex scene between Ethan Mars and Madison Paige in Heavy Rain? Who knows, but the fact remains that unapologetic profanity, as will be seen in Lollipop Chainsaw, can tread new ground whether people like it or not.
That’s why it’s great to hear that Grasshopper Manufacture had the guts to give Gunn so many creative liberties.
“It’s crazy what they let me get away with,” said Gunn. “I didn’t stop myself from making too many jokes.”
But it was not done thoughtlessly. Gunn said that he actually got to know the characters before he took some of the larger risks with his writing.
“The first thing I wrote were the cutscenes,” he said. “and then I went back to write the in-game play. And by that time I had really gotten to who these characters are, you know, taking bigger risks with the humor, with the moments that happen.”
Rather than look at whether these risks will offend anybody, it might be more relevant to look at which people might be offended, particularly when it comes to female gamers. Surely, lots of men will like Juliet, but it’s not unreasonable to think some women might find her character to be exploitative.
When asked how women might respond to Juliet, Suda said quite simply and almost mysteriously that he hopes for something far different.
“I’d like them to feel sympathy with Juliet,” he said without elaborating further.
Even so, not all players will think so deeply about her character. Many gamers, male and female, just want Lollipop to be fun. But another developer, 2K games writer Walt Williams, doesn’t think it’s that simple. Last week he said that profanity in games, specifically violence, must affect gamers in certain ways, and that it’s up to the industry to take responsibility.
“The last thing we want to be is exploitative,” he said, “because then what you’re doing just becomes childish. You’re just being shocking for shock’s sake.”
Is Lollipop Chainsaw is shocking for shock’s sake? That remains to be seen. But based on Suda’s past efforts such as No More Heroes and Flower, Sun and Rain, it’s hard to imagine such a respected creator taking a reckless path. For anybody who’s seen Lollipop Chainsaw in action, it already looks like a work of art. With such a daring script, it would be a victory for gaming as a whole if it ends up being received as such.