There is a large, complicated conversation in video games happening right now around the subject of diversity and representation. For too long, video games — much like every other area of media — have been the bastion of straight, white males. If you want to know why representation matters in games, look no further than the new video game from developer Volition, called Agents of Mayhem.
Volition made a name for itself when it took its not-quite Grand Theft Auto game, Saints Row: The Third, to insane heights. It included laser-firing jets, and turf wars duked out with nothing but dildos the size of baseball bats. Volition literally took the idea of an open-world crime game and gave it the reverence it deserves — which is to say, none at all.
Now the developers are back at E3 2016 with a new game called Agents of Mayhem. Set in the same basic universe as Saints Row, the game utilizes Volition’s so-called “Special Sauce” of irreverent humor, take-no-prisoner attitude, and superhero-inspired characters. Switching genres from a third-person action game to a third-person shooter (of which the differences are largely negligible), Agents of Mayhem allows players to create a team of three super-powered secret agents as they try to save the world, only for them to destroy half of it in the process. The players can switch between a cast of eclectic agents. We got to try out four, but Volition promises at least 10 different characters to choose from.
The game seems fairly early into development. The shooting mechanic, while entertaining, is not quite as revolutionary as beating up enemies with a huge dildo. Perhaps future characters will bring the same level of over-the-top mayhem as the developer’s previous games.
But while the gameplay is perfectly fine in its own right, it’s the demo’s setting that had me particularly thrilled. Volition introduced the journalists gathered at their private demo to a re-imagined Seoul, South Korea. This Seoul had been destroyed by some cataclysmic event, and was in the process of being rebuilt as the city of the future. I was personally thrilled when I began playing the demo and found the developer’s attention to detail for the city I was raised in.
While the sci-fi aspects of the city are of course fiction, the little Burroughs populated by rustic Korean signs in the middle of crowded commuters instantly brought back memories of the city to flood back. There was something about playing a video game by a major game developer and hearing natural Korean dialogue occur without context or subtitles that made me realize that identifying with a game on some personal level like this really enhances the experience.
Of course it wouldn’t be South Korea with K-Pop, and the demo involved a mission in which the Agents were to track down a virtual K-Pop star named Ayesha. Even this put a smile on my face, as the team at Volition approached the strangeness of pop-idol culture in only ways they could, by turning the K-Pop singer into an all-powerful A.I. program.