Gears, Krogan, and Women-as-Incubators

Art from the Gears of War comic. Alex Brand, a red-haired woman, and Marcus Fenix, a tall, black-haired man, stand back-to-back, both wearing bulky armor, wielding chainsaw guns, and fighting aliens.

Art from the Gears of War comic. Alex Brand, a red-haired woman, and Marcus Fenix, a tall, black-haired man, stand back-to-back, both wearing bulky armor, wielding chainsaw guns, and fighting aliens.

Here at The Border House, we have mocked and derided the latest round of excuses from game developers about why we can’t play as women in their games. While most of the reasons are disappointing or sometimes laughably stupid, there is one excuse that has been implemented in the fiction of two high-profile games and has incredibly disturbing implications: all the women are busy having babies.

It sounds stupid, I know. When I encountered this little world-building tidbit the first time, with Mass Effect‘s Krogan, I dismissed it as a convenient excuse for why there aren’t female Krogans in ME–which is what it is, since there are no female Krogan to be seen in either ME or ME2, despite Shepard having to travel to the Krogan’s own homeworld in ME2 (where all the women are supposed to be!)–but it is also so much more. It just took reading this excellent post by Maddy Myers about the Gears of War comic to realize what a nightmare Epic and BioWare are so casually evoking.

 

Gears of War apparently uses the same excuse for why there aren’t any women on the battlefield (yet) as Mass Effect does for the Krogan–they are too busy making babies, trying to repopulate Earth. In her post, Myers gives a succinct run-down of why this is ridiculous:

If the humans ever hope to keep up with the Horde, maybe they should learn their creating-babies-in-a-lab technology and get some women out there on the field. They’re sacrificing half of their potential troops for no reason! And even if women are “too weak” to fight hand-to-hand, maybe they could fly some bad-ass fighter planes or massive mech armor, Samus-style (or take some of the magical steroids that the guys appear to have been taking). But, no. Apparently, women need to be human incubators instead. Because men can’t be bothered to raise children. And because women most certainly shouldn’t be fighting.

But what really disturbs me is thinking about the actual implications of a society where all the women are drafted (or just strongly encouraged? Is there much of a difference?) into being nothing more than incubators. The result is systemic mass rape and reproductive slavery, in the name of repopulating the planet. I am baffled that BioWare and Epic (though honestly, Epic much less so because of their terrible track record with female characters) would so casually throw out this little factoid without even remarking on what a serious fucking human rights violation this is*. The situation is dire, yes–both the Krogans in ME and the humans in Gears have had their populations devastated, and keeping the species going is important. But at what cost?

Bodily autonomy, which includes the right to decide if and when to become pregnant and give birth, is a basic human right, and yet it is still something women are struggling for around the globe. Many conservative Christian groups in the United States–groups that have and exercise the power to influence lawmakers in many states, like influencing Senator Bart Stupak to hold up health reform in order to roll back abortion coverage, or putting personhood laws on ballots that attempt to give fertilized egg cells the rights of a full human being–advocate against not only abortion but any form of birth control in an attempt to force women into one role: babymaker.

These people are extreme. They do not represent mainstream thought about birth control and women’s rights. And yet these facts about the worlds of Gears of War and Mass Effect show that the idea that a woman’s most important purpose is to bear children is still an idea that is deeply entrenched in our society. In talking about how the one known female Cog, Alex Brand, was allowed to join the military because she’s infertile, Myers goes on to say, “What if a woman just didn’t want to make babies, and wanted to serve humanity in another way? Can the developers really not imagine a scenario where a woman wouldn’t want to to choose this path?”

I hope the reason is a lack of imagination; the only other option is that, in this universe, fertile women are being forced to bear children against their will, and this is considered a necessary hardship that must be endured entirely without critical examination or comment, let alone resistance by the actual incubators women in the story. And what that says is that, if the situation is dire enough, it is acceptable to take away the most basic rights of women, a message which is absolutely unacceptable and reprehensible.


* In Mass Effect this is a footnote in the codex; if any of our readers can elaborate on how this is spoken of in the Gears of War comics or games, I would appreciate it.

 

About Alex

Alex posts some of her sewing projects and cosplays on her Tumblr; you can also find her babbling about sewing and games and Parks and Recreation on Twitter.
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89 Responses to Gears, Krogan, and Women-as-Incubators

  1. kateri says:

    OK, so people really want to have a future dystopia in which reproduction is the be-all and end-all of society? FINE. I have one for you:

    Male sperm have become so weak through radiation, whatevs, that it takes literally gallons of it to fertilise an egg.

    Now, as we know, women are born with all their eggs ready-made, while producing semen is an ongoing process. Therefore, in this universe, women have their eggs harvested at adolescence, and are then free to go out and fight. Men, however, have to stay in a facility similar to a dairy milking farm, doomed to a life of constant mechanical masturbation in order to produce the required quantities of sperm. You can decide for yourself whether the rare, successfully fertilised eggs are reimplanted into women, or mechanically incubated.

    Who could complain about that? I mean, guys like masturbation, amirite? :P

    • It’s been awhile since I took a genetics class, but I’m fairly certain we learned that males will become completely unnecessary once we can safely clone human beings. The male contribution to the genome is nice for some consistent chromosomal variation, but that’s about it.

      I want the scifi future game where people are grown in labs by friendly robots and we simply don’t need males anymore.

      • Pardon, “friendly, sexy robots.”

        • Maverynthia says:

          Skip the labs, how about we use the friendly sexy robots as the labs. :3 It would be interesting to see my sexy male android carrying MY child. it could be an intricate ritual of getting the eggs and then planting them into his child-pod and he fertilizing them. :D

          • 8mph Ansible says:

            I think awesome. Then I think of seahorses and I smile. And then I think of Octavia Butler’s “Bloodchild” short story and I’m off in lalalaaaa land. =)

            -Ani8

            • Rakaziel says:

              *

              Yes, lets make them look like seahorse – human hybrids to emphasise the aspect. And it would also look very cool imo. And would look alien enough to emphasise the science fiction aspect as well.

              Returning to the original topic – many stories I have seen about cloned societies seem to suffer from that all have the same genes – which, considering even current technology, makes no sense. Add a bit of eugenetics just to keep things healthy and you have diversity again.

          • Alex says:

            Ahhhhh, “Bloodchild” really freaked me out. What a great story. I need to read more Butler!

      • Twyst says:

        Yes, i was saying this to Alex too, men provide a ranomising factor, that is all. You can theoretically create a baby from 2 eggs. I remember dudes were very upset by this when it was announced a few years ago.
        And really, the “women are weaker than men in battle” is silly when it is life or death. So, because someone is smaller (whatever) you are going to bar them from battle? Ridiculous.

      • Bakka says:

        Actually, one of the things that they have been able to do with stem cells is create egg and sperm (google search turns up loads of results on this). So you can now get the randomization without needing a particular sex (just make the egg cell from one person (any sex) and the sperm cell from another (any sex)). So except for gestation (wich we still require wombs to do, we don’t need either sex.

        And gestation time has also been going down because of time pre-implantation (in some forms of artificial insemination) and the lowering of age-of-viability (age at which a fetus can be sustained in an incubator).

      • Bakka says:


        Simon Ferrari:

        It’s been awhile since I took a genetics class, but I’m fairly certain we learned that males will become completely unnecessary once we can safely clone human beings. The male contribution to the genome is nice for some consistent chromosomal variation, but that’s about it.
        I want the scifi future game where people are grown in labs by friendly robots and we simply don’t need males anymore.

        I am really sorry to get nit-picky about value, but one thing that bothers me about discussing whether males are “necessary” beyond their contribution to randomization, is that this only makes sense if we think that people are valuable for the sake of reproduction, or for the sake of the genome. (It is a similar point to valuing women for their reproductive capacities).

        But I honestly cannot understand the genome or reproduction as intrinsically valuable (that is, valuable for its own sake without reference to something else of value). If there were no people, but there were still some cell-samples that contained one complete set of human DNA, then I cannot see this DNA as having much particular value. If it did have value it would be for-the-sake of producing an actual person, and not for its own sake (as a sample sitting around in some storage container).

        In contrast, I think actual people are valuable for their own sake, without reference to what they can do, who else happens to value them and so forth. I think men would still be “necessary” because men are intrinsically valuable. I think women are intrinsically valuable too. Men are a kind of person and people are valuable. The intrinsic value of people makes them “needed” whatever means of reproduction are used.

        I think the whole idea that people are valuable for their role in reproducing the species, or contributing to the genome, or whatever, gets it backward. I don’t even think it makes sense from an evolutionary perspective because evolution is not the kind of thing that is capable of valuing. If evolution is valuable, then it is valuable *to us.*

        I dunno, there is something about this that just rubs me the wrong way.

        • Ah, I’m sorry I didn’t make it clear enough: I was kinda joking Bakka! Obviously I think my own contribution to culture, as a male, is something valuable. But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t love to see a dystopian future filled with nothing but female humans and sexy male robots.

        • Bakka says:

          Hi Simon,

          I do see that you were being flippant (I was too, with my response above this one). But in this thread is not the only place I have heard this expressed. There are lots of discussions that dismiss men as not-valuable except for randomization (I have received serious student papers that argue as much). These arguments also tend to see women as valuable for reproduction. But this seems to me a serious mistake. I wish we could see people as valubale in-themselves.

        • Rakaziel says:

          I would rather go on and ask what makes a sentient species as such valuable in the end. Why not skipping both genders and replace mankind with robots entirely?
          Is our value the value of what we create? – To what end?
          Of what we see and realize and come to gain insight in? Our ability to marvel at beauty?
          Again, to what end, given that we die.
          To further the developent of our species for ourselves as a species?
          In the end it is either creating a better world because we are empathic beings or and thus enjoy the joy of our species – or going through cycles of reincarnation and gradually developing our own souls for the better. IMO.
          In the end it only differs by what we define the soul is, and go from there. Both come down to that we value our soul.
          (incoherencies could be the result of that it is 3 am here)

    • Ian M. says:

      The film “A Boy and His Dog” did the penis milking machine idea in a post-apocalyptic setting back in 1975.
      The concept of a child from two eggs is pretty old in SF as well. Count Zero (1986) had a mercenary character (Webber?) who was saving up for just such a procedure.
      There’s an entire sub-genre of SF dealing with reproduction and population issues. In the late 60s early 70s people thought we were going to overpopulate the planet by 2000 and had to stop population growth. From there you get “Make Room, Make Room” (made into the movie Soylent Green) and “Logan’s Run.” Later there’s “Galapagos” by Vonnegut about mass infertility and the more recent “Children of Men” or “Y: The Last Man.”
      Which is to say that Bioware and Epic aren’t traversing new ground or breaking barriers, they’re just being lazy.

      • Thefremen says:

        It’s well worth noting that “Y: the last man” is a hell of a lot better than Gears of War ever could be.

        • It’s kind of unfortunate how anti-Semitic and generally cynical, if not anti-feminist, Y: The Last Man can be at times.

        • Blargh, I need to clarify that. I don’t mean to say that an anti-Zionist political stance is always anti-Semitic. There were only certain sequences with the Israeli women that I found kind of uncalled-for.

    • Laurentius says:

      Actually, yes guys like masturbation and consequences of it have been already explored as i long time ago read SF story ( written probably in eighties of xx century ) that was mix of dystopia and hard SF, in this story cornerstone of totalitarian regime was in fact mechanical masturbation. To be honest, majority of people would gladly accept either of this options if the other would be to go to war which most probaly quickly result in brutal and painful death.

    • Matt says:

      This reminds me of an awful daydream I had for a dystopia: a world where human semen was eaten like eggs, and we had huge farms full of men caged and bred to maximize production volume like egg hens.

      The carefully selected anatomical and behavioral adaptations that eventually came up after a few dozen generations were terrifying.

    • 8mph Ansible says:

      *notices wire extending from my head to yours*

      When was that installed?

      -Ani8

  2. 12Sided says:

    What really got me was learning that Salarian females are also apparently rare and living on the home world as incubators/politicians. Only with the Salarians it’s a cultural rule that the eggs will be fertilised in a way that 90% of the population remains male.
    The idea as it is described was pretty horrific as far as I saw, with Salarian woman relegated to incubators and resources traded as medieval princesses were, forced to remain a minority by social rules. And all the comment we get from it is a little foot note in the codex!
    I love Mass Effect so much, but really? This? AAAARGH

    • Mantheos says:

      I’d really like to go to the Salarian homeworld at some point in the third game and see their culture. It think it would be really interesting because of the way their society is structured.

      I have to disagree with you about the way the Salarian society is structured. It most definitely favors the women. The Salarian women are the politicians and leaders. They want the population to be 90% male because if they are rare, then they are of a higher social standing. And because they are the only ones that can reproduce, they could wield incredible power in the government.

  3. z says:

    The two circumstances are different, in a small sense, I think. The Gears situation is more problematic than the Mass Effect because it is a human problem and serves as an illustration of fact that this is what human society has come to in that time, and how the decisions that humans made led them there. The fact that krogan society in Mass Effect has devolved to the point of what you see in ME2 could be construed to highlight the obvious consequences of the genophage inflicted upon them; who knows how krogan women were treated prior to the genophage?

  4. tossca says:

    I am so glad you brought this up, as it was one of the most disturbing things in ME2 lore for me. Bioware would have gotten a lot of love from me if they would have at least mentioned that the female Krogans were being grossly mistreated in this world. They could have even used this as an incentive for ending the genocide. (I know for me it was)

    I can’t help but picture myself in this type of post-apocalyptic scenario and it scares the living daylights out of me. I’m pretty concerned about the state of our culture and it’s opinions of women, because this seems to have not even occurred to anybody. What does that say about how women are thought of?

    Hey, the women are off making babies, but that’s okay. Women like making babies. It’s all they’re good for.

    Oh and I seem to remember a similar situation with dwarves in DnD lore?

    • Mantheos says:

      I cannot comment on this without spoiling Mordin’s loyalty mission, so stop reading if you don’t want ME2 spoiled for you.

      SPOILER WARNING
      SPOILER WARNING
      SPOILER WARNING

      During Mordin’s loyalty mission you find the body of a Krogan female that has been experimented on. You then find Mordin’s former assistant has been working to cure the genophage. You can convince Mordin to save his assistant’s data and (after the mission) work to cure the genophage. When Mordin protests this, you remind him of the body of the female Krogan you found and tell him that the genophage is wrong. In this case, you are using that Krogan female to convince Mordin to preserve the data and possibly end the genophage down the line.

    • Mantheos says:

      I also forgot. The game also references the Krogan females as being separated from the men in “camps” in conversation when you go to Tuchanka. That could be construed as mal-treatment of Krogan females as well.

      • Mayor Milobar says:

        Actually, the game makes reference to female clans. If you take the time to explore the entire conversation tree you discover that male and female Krogan are separated into gender-centric clans. The female clans visit the male clans and CHOOSE the strongest Krogan to mate with.

        • Alex says:

          Not quite. Wrex talks about how it was his idea to get all the females from all the clans together into one camp and share them so they wouldn’t be fighting and killing each other over them any more. So there’s one female clan.

          Again, it doesn’t matter that they choose who to mate with. The idea that ALL the females are on the planet just making babies is a stupid idea with some very troublesome implications when thought all the way through, instead of just deployed as a reason to not make female Krogan models.

  5. Pandora's XBox says:

    Here’s my favorite comment from the overwhelmingly idiotic comments:

    BryanL:
    “I most certainly would put a bullet between your eyes or worse if you were a woman on Sera and you had the ability to reproduce and you refused to. ”

    Thanks, Maddy, for having the patience to deal with BS like this. I know I couldn’t do it without developing blood pressure problems.

    • Jayle Enn says:

      I read that ‘comment’ as: ‘My impotent rage at your implied refusal to have sex with me, even under such dire circumstances, drives me to violent fantasies.’

      • Pandora's XBox says:

        Yeah. I find a lot of these comments surprising. My expectation of gamer egalitarianism is pretty low, but consider me disturbed at how stiff some of these guys seem to be getting at the idea of this “dystopia.” And by “dystopia” I mean that a world where women are expected to procreate all day and men are expected to shoot people all day sounds suspiciously like a utopia, according to what current pop culture (especially video game pop culture) would have you believe.

  6. Jayle Enn says:

    The Sword of the Stars universe is creepy for this as well. Several of the races in that game are written as having extreme degrees of sexual dimorphism in physical and mental capacities, and the tendency in general is toward ‘males do game stuff, females breed’.

    All of this makes me wonder how many of the men writing fluff for these games learned at the metaphoric knee of Niven’s Known Universe, where a race breeding sentience out of its females, and most other aliens being referred to as a genderless ‘he’, are part of the canon.

    • James says:

      That is a really Known Space sort of thing, isn’t it? (Or, really, a Niven thing) I’ve never really thought of it in the context of SotS, (probably because the background of SotS doesn’t really invite deep thought). But yeah.

      For what its worth, (and I’m not sure its worth much at all), the person who did the background for SotS is a white female SF writer from like, Iowa or Ohio.* If I were inclined to draw a lesson from that, I suspect it would be about how much unexamined sexism is buried in the DNA of SF generally.

      *Take this with a solid helping of IIRC; I had occasion to look it up some time ago.

      • James says:

        And naturally I then had to look it up. Arinn Dembo, and evidentally she’s from Knoxville.

    • Lisa Harney says:

      I believe that the writer responsible for the races in Sword of the Stars is Arinn Dembo, who is a woman. But that just means that the idea of “males = active doing fun things, females = passive home having babies” is entrenched.

    • Lisa Harney says:

      Sorry, I was in such a rush I didn’t even notice that James already said this.

  7. Michael H says:

    Well we could see both the Salarian and Krogan situations as analogous to the way women were treated in both Nazi Germany and China.

    In China would be closest to Salarian. Where laws on the number of children a family can have has led to abortions of female foetuses. This is all caused by a concern that female will not be able to provide for the parents when they’re older.

    I wouldn’t expect bio-ware to be able to comment on this. With the youth of video games developers are afraid to make concrete statements that could led to bad press. I mean sci-fi is filled with analogies and satire that writers( or developers in this case) are unable or afraid to comment on without the protection of “Its all just made up”.

    Who knows maybe the way women are treated in these games is meant to highlight the way modern society views the females. The way Judge Dredd comics highlight how security at the price of freedom leads to a fascist state. Or they could just be incredibly ignorant to think rape camps are an okay way to save a race.

    • Matt says:

      “Who knows maybe the way women are treated in these games is meant to highlight the way modern society views the females. The way Judge Dredd comics highlight how security at the price of freedom leads to a fascist state. Or they could just be incredibly ignorant to think rape camps are an okay way to save a race.”

      It would be exactly like that if the subject matter were brought to the forefront and actually addressed and explored, but it’s just a background factoid treated as a generic “hey look this is sci fi!” trope like flying cars and a black POTUS.

      • Matt says:

        ” and a black POTUS”

        Border House should have a warning that strikethrough tags are ignored. D:

        • Michael H says:

          Yeah that’s a fair point. As a sci-fi geek myself it is annoying that women as incubators is a trope. I hope its not a large amount of sci-fi writers doing this.

          Its also a pity that Epic wouldn’t have women in gears since you’ve always been able to have female avatars in their Unreal games.

  8. Oh my god, that is so creepy and horrible. (@Jayle Enn: I thought of Niven, too.)

    It also makes trans women completely invisible.

  9. Bakka says:

    Thanks for the great analysis, Alex. I read Maddy’s post a while back (around April 2, I think) and it made me really uncomfortable. I really wanted to weigh in because at that point the comments were just horrible (now there are a few that are somewhat better).

    One thing I think you capture well, is that sex-slavery is just wrong, full-stop (whether or not we have artificial wombs is beside the point). The idea that we need artificial wombs to achieve equality has always sort of bothered me (e.g as in Marge Piercy’s novel “Woman on the Edge of Time”).

  10. Matthew says:

    While I agree that the article is really good, here’s my question. I’ve noticed that a lot of articles on this site and other similar ones always say “I really love Mass Effect” or “Gears of War is one of my favourite series” but then basically outline all of the horribly degrading and sexist things within them. I just can’t fathom dissociating these things from my enjoyment of a game. For instance, I don’t really care how enjoyable Modern Warfare is, because I can’t enjoy a game that’s so casually imperialist and clearly neo-conservative. It’s no different for a movie. I don’t care how well shot the film is or how good the acting is; if it’s, say, a fairly racist film like Avatar, for example, then I’m not going to enjoy it.

    • Asperity says:

      Can’t speak to Gears of War as I’ve never played any of that series, but Mass Effect made some huge strides for equality–even though there are plenty of things they got horribly wrong. That they bothered to record two separate full vocal tracks for the protagonist in a game with an awful lot of dialog was amazing to me when I first played the game. I can play as a woman with pretty much any facial features and skin color I’d like (though no variety in body type, which sucks), and everything she says is fully voiced. That’s too rare in games for me not to want to play it. I still wouldn’t play it uncritically, though.

    • Mantheos says:

      With respect, how is Modern Warfare 2 imperialist and neo-conservative? I agree that it did some horrible things. The Fight Against Grenade Spam video and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell easter egg were awful. The No Russian Level is also controversial, but I don’t see the game as a whole as neo-conservative or imperliaist. Also with respect, I’m not sure what you mean by “casually.”

      • Matthew says:

        I say “casually” imperialist and neo-conservative because it seems like they put a lot of that imagery into the game without even considering the implications. In Modern Warfare, your enemies are pretty much all characterized as “terrorists” from a non-descript Middle East country. You’re expected to fight against them with basically no context whatsoever for your actions, except that it’s “heroic” and for the good of the USA/UK.

        Even if you consider Modern Warfare as primarily an online experience, it’s even worse, as there’s absolutely no context for your killing, except to make war and shooting and killing “fun.” If that’s not an imperialist, neo-conservative advertisement posing as a game, I don’t know what is.

        As for a series that I’ve been able to play that I don’t feel has offended me in any way whatsoever, I’d have to say Metroid Prime, one of my favourite game series of all time. Sure, Samus Aran isn’t characterized to really high degree, but how many games put you in the shoes of such a badass female who’s surrounded by so many bumbling male counterparts (especially in the third one) that need saving? I’m a little worried about Metroid: Other M, but yeah! The Metroid series! That’s my antidote to the refrigerator-men (and horrifyingly, the baby incubators) of Gears of War

      • James says:

        And then right after the No Russian level there is a nice little bit of softcore torture porn.

        I don’t know that I think neoconservative is the best way to think about it, as such; I think that suggests a coherent political view that I very much doubt is there. But its very much of a piece with a kind of unthinking imperialism boosterism that you see out of say, Tom Clancy.

        I can rant about this at some length, actually, because it drives me nuts. It envisions a way of thinking about the use of force, and the profession of arms, that I find genuinely disgusting, and its a narrative that an absurd number of people just embrace unthinkingly.

        • Matthew says:

          Couldn’t have said it better myself (and if you read the comment above, I DIDN’T say it better myself… time to get more sleep!)

    • Maverynthia says:

      I have a similar viewpoint. I always hear how these games are bad, yet people are the first to say “Best game evar!”

      I don’t see having another voice track as too progressive for some of the problems that have been highlighted. It’s basically making it seem that all the developers have to do is toss a “sparklie” (some small tiny thing like being able to choose the sex of the lead character, voices, or lesbian partner) at women and they’ll eat the game up, while still going full force with the same old sexism.

      The MOST progressive game I’ve had the pleasure to play is Endless Ocean 2. While the game forces the female character to wear a bikini for a swimsuit, the model itself is not over sexualized at all. Even the beginning swimsuit is blue and not pink (you can make it pink however for both sexes.)

      So it’s like, yeah… why support these games to that extent when the developers are obviously still NOT GETTING IT.

      (For all I can see, they tossed in a female Shepard so that the men playing it can fap over her.)

      • Asperity says:

        Definitely not the feel I get from the game, and recording that much dialog that well isn’t a small thing.

        I loved Endless Ocean, but I dunno about the comparison, as there’s hardly any plot to speak of. (Haven’t played the second yet, so perhaps there are actual conversational options in it. There weren’t in the first game.)

        Also, it’s an entirely different genre. Virtual vacation as opposed to science fiction role-playing game. Totally awesome wish-fulfillment stress relief (pet the shark and pretend I’m at the beach!) and yeah, I did like being able to play as a woman. But I don’t remember them having to change any of the dialog or emails you get based on player character gender (wasn’t it all second-person pronouns?)

        Putting gender choice into a story-heavy RPG with bunches of characters and dialog trees involves a lot more effort. We went through decades of not having a choice available, or if there was an option nobody’d ever have done QA as a female player so all the NPCs would still refer to you as “he”. And that’s without vocal tracks.

        Anyway. I didn’t think of female Shepard as being particularly there-for-fapping. The sexism in the game that I’ve seen is more in the NPC models (or lack thereof) and game backstory than in the protagonist. Except for the part where they keep using dude-Shepard on their promotional materials. Bleah.

        • Maverynthia says:

          The second game actually becomes more of a “fantasy” game in that there is an actual story with characters and plot you have to accomplish. There is a point where the dialogue changes when you pick the gender but that’s about it. They address the player directly and avoid he/she.

          I’m trying to think of what decades we’ve been through without choice. All the ones before Wizardy? Or are you talking about games that address the gender of the character directly? I’m not sure if Ultima 7 does, but that’s another RPG game I can think of that let you choose the sex and race of the main character. You could even nookie some NPCs (unfortunately only one in the first game but Serpent Isle seems to have corrected this a bit more.) in the game.

          From what I’ve been seeing, not having a thoughtful choice stemmed from the Doom era of churning out FPS after FPS and then making RPGs based on that testosterone fueled imagery.

          I just seems to me that Bioware is just being lazy with it, while game that came BEFORE it have had no problem changing the words.

          • Asperity says:

            I’m mostly thinking of all of the games where you just don’t have any choice at all about playing a male protagonist. The first time I remember getting to play as a woman was King’s Quest IV, and if I remember right it was a while before I had that option again.

            The Ultima games did allow you gender choice, which was great, but most of them had huge problems with botching the pronouns. It wasn’t at all a gamebreaker, but it was annoying. Definitely takes you out of the game. Best available at the time, though.

            The thing is that the more story and dialog the game has and the more interaction among characters, a) the more I’m gonna like the game, and b) the more opportunities the developer has to make mistakes. The dual vocal track thing really was huge for me, and I don’t remember any developer having done it before. Why I love it: all the benefits of having protagonist gender not matter* for gameplay purposes, so I can be every bit as awesome a galaxy-savin’ commander as the stereotypical male protagonist, while still having the constant vocal reminder that heck, yeah, I’m playing a woman. This may be a failure of imagination on my part, but I think I’m okay with that. If I weren’t okay with having some of my game imagined for me, I’d restrict myself to playing pen-and-paper RPGs all the time. Also, Jennifer Hale’s voicing on Cmdr. Shepard rocks.

            Thanks for the info about Endless Ocean 2! I’m psyched about playing that sometime soon.

            *Eh, except for the romance subplot options, but I’ll leave my complaints about that out of it this time.

        • Eusthenopteron says:

          Endless Ocean: Blue World has a plot. Not a great one, but it’s got one.

    • Alex says:

      Everyone draws a line of what they are willing to look past in order to be entertained (and where that line is drawn can change for individuals, too). Mass Effect does a lot of things right, but it also gets a lot of things wrong. When playing it, I was able to look past the stuff that rubbed me the wrong way and enjoyed the game, and then afterward I was able to deconstruct the sexism.

      I won’t play some games because of sexism or racism or homophobia. I’m with you on Modern Warfare (particularly the second one); others are GTA IV, Resident Evil 5, and Soul Calibur 4. Those I consider egregious and won’t buy. But on the other hand, if I only played games that didn’t have any sexism, homophobia, racism, etc. in them, I would basically be left with Portal (and that I’m not even sure about).

      I think playing the non-egregious (for your personal definition of “egregious”) games and criticizing the parts that support kyriarchy is a good balance.

  11. Mantheos says:

    I agree with you all that women should not be forced or “encouraged” into the baby-making role. I also believe that women can fight in wars on the frontlines.

    With that said, I’m going to defend Mass Effect. Even if you ignore the genophage, the Krogan homeworld of Tuchanka is basically Somalia. It is a violent and brutal place made up of warlords fighting for control. There is no law or central authority. In fact, the description and travel advisory of Tuchanka is similar to the real travel advisory to Somalia. There are no women’s rights in either place. The fact that Krogan females in the game are treated as prizes and reproduction-machines by the warlords is not advocating that women should be forced into that role in real life. Bioware wants you to sympathize with the Krogan in their current state, particularly with the females. When Shepard finds the body of a female Krogan that has been experimented on, he/she is horrified.

    • Alex says:

      Bioware wants you to sympathize with the Krogan in their current state, particularly with the females.

      If that’s true, then why do we never get to see any living females? And why are all the arguments Shepard can make against the genophage focus on the millions of “babies” that died/will die because of the genophage (which isn’t quite accurate because it doesn’t kill babies, it makes only one out of a thousand births viable; my Shepard is against the genophage, but I hated arguing against it during Mordin’s quest because the only reasons to oppose it that are given sound just like anti-choice activists railing against abortion)?

      It’s not actually about the females. No one ever remarks that being confined to a single camp and made to breed could ever be considered a negative. And that is my problem with how it is presented.

  12. 8mph Ansible says:

    I heard a lot of screaming in my head when I met the brickwall/reveal of the article. Then after I clicked on the Gears of War link and read the first three comments, I heard myself screaming.

    *smdh*

    -Ani8

  13. nanasuyl says:

    They lost such a great opportunity of a nice storyline in Gears of War. If they really wanted to go with the “women must have babies” thing, they could have made Cog, instead of an infertile, a lady who refused to be a babymaker and joined the military anyway. Wouldn’t it be much more interesting? She could lead a revolution or something!

  14. nanasuyl says:

    Sorry, when I said “cog” I meant “Alex Brand”. I guess I was half asleep when I wrote.

  15. Laurentius says:

    MW and MW2 can only be described as noe-conservative as they decpit soldiers and army being “cool”. The rest of the story doesn’t make any coherent sense at all, so it could stand really for everything.
    As to Gears of War i consider this to be terrrible game franchse, and it’s succes really stands only on adolescent boys nerdiness. (even forgetting this story treatment of women, the depicting of men is just plain ridiculous).
    What’s more imo if by some outside condition human species find itself on the edge of exticion, men and women would quickly and voluntarily jump from it. In some way both Gears of War and Battlestar Galactica share this same tiring composition of optimism and being naive.

    • Mantheos says:

      Battlestar Galactica is miles ahead of Gears of War in terms of plot, and it is much darker, grittier, and more realistic. It also has some outstanding social commentary.

      • Thefremen says:

        BSG did a much much better job of world building than Gears of War ever intended to. In Gears of War we’re supposed to believe that people all of a sudden started implicitly trusting authority figures, in particular those in government, where in BSG there are those who disagree with the president, there are those who want elections, there are even those extremists who use terrorism to try and change social order.

      • Eusthenopteron says:

        Until it went straight to shit at the end, at least.

  16. Jargo says:

    I don’t really get it. I admit i skipped every cut-scene in Gears of War 2 because i really didn’t care about the story at all. But aren’t the Humans in GoW2 not the bad guys in the end ? isn’t this the big “twist” ?

    So it “fits” somehow that the society of GoW2 handles like a quasi fascist state. The whole “breeding” thing smell very like nazi-germany where the mothers get medals when they give birth to lots of children.

    And ME2 … the whole discussion puzzles me. The krogan are characterized as a very barbaric and brutal culture. why should a “survival of the fittest” society react different to something like the genophage ?

  17. Thefremen says:

    As one of the world’s leading experts on Dune Fanaticism, I thought I’d jump in here and talk a little about the Bene Tleilax, sometimes referred to as “Tleilaxu”. (WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS TO THE LAST TWO BOOKS IN FRANK HERBERT’S ORIGINAL 6 DUNE BOOKS)

    In the first 4 books of Dune, the Tleilaxu are seen as xenophobic, revolting and barely human. Masters of genetics, their representatives are short, with metallic-ish skin and all male. We are told throughout that they grow their young in “Axlotl tanks”, and naturally also grow their products for sale such as Gholas (clones of the dead who may retain the memories of the dead as well), Sligs (a slug/pig hybrid whose diet includes failed Gholas) and other genetic experiments. After much cajoling the Bene Tleilaxu finally give up the secret of Axotl tanks in Chapterhouse Dune to the Bene Gesserit (a faction of women who have dedicated their lives to ensuring the survival of the human race, they’ve unlocked genetic memory of their female ancestors) and they are shocked to find out the tanks are actually women who’ve been lobotomized and modified in other inhumane ways.

    The thing is, in Dune, this was seen as a “holy shit you have got to be fucking kidding me” unspeakable horror kind of thing. As I recall the Bene Gesserit did get a few Sisters to sign up for the sacrifice so that Gholas and Artificial spice could be created, but the process was seen as death and before the process each volunteer passed their memories on to another sister (something like a mind-meld, in universe this is all quite unremarkable).

    • Mantheos says:

      Aren’t there over a dozen Dune books?

      • Thefremen says:

        There are 16 if you include the books by Brian Herbert/Kevin J Anderson. However, I do not think of them as canon in the universe, nor do many other Dune fans. Brian Herbert’s books read like trashy Star Wars books, fail to have the politics of the originals (both in the Dune-is-secretly-about-dependence-on-oil way and in the Dune-characters-are-often-stuck-in-neofeudalism-political-intrigue way). Furthermore, some of the backstory in the prequels Brian Herbert wrote contradicted backstory established in the Frank Herbert books, and the Book 7 Brian wrote contradicted the fore-shadowing Frank Herbert had established as far back as book 4.

        There are little mistakes too, like Frank Herbert established that the Fremen are nocturnal due to the intense heat on the surface of Arrakis, and throughout all the original Dune books the Fremen conducted raids at night, moved through the desert at night, etc, but Brian Herbert had the Fremen attacking Harkonnen mining operations in broad daylight.

        Yeah so at any rate, there are 16 Dune books, 6 by the original author and well worth your time, 10 by his son and his son’s buddy which are pretty darned bad.

  18. Steve says:

    Thanks for the thought provoking article. I hadn’t really thought that much about the role of women in the GoW franchise before reading what you had to say. However, “systemic mass rape and reproductive slavery” may be a bit too harsh, since current technology allows for artificial insemination, and as such I would assume that the authors would not have imagined “systemic mass rape” as cannon. Also from what I remember of the games, there were female intelligence and communications officers so even the slavery term may be stretching things.

    I do think that the Gears of War universe is ridiculously warped and could do with a-lot of improvement, but that’s because of a fundamental problem I have with the style of the game (hyper masculine bs). It doesn’t shock me when they come out with something like Alex Brand’s style of self hate masculinity at all.

    • Alex says:

      If they’re being artificially inseminated against their will (which I’m guessing many are, whether or not they are being forced physically or by law), it’s still rape, in this case with an object.

      Also, the existence of female officers doesn’t prove the rest of the women on the planet aren’t enslaved (the only reason for a woman to do anything other than make babies in this universe, apparently, is to be infertile, so it’s likely those female officers are infertile also). If all the fertile women are being forced to repopulate the earth, that’s reproductive slavery. It’s a harsh term for a harsh violation of human rights.

      • Fraser says:

        I get the sense that the willingness of women to be reproduction factories was not even considered by the writers of Gears of War. It seems as though they just assumed all women would be perfectly happy to volunteer “for the greater good”. Which makes the game-world less explicitly awful, as it avoids the mass rape and slavery situation, but even more sexist.

        What a game.

      • Steve says:

        Has the author explicitly stated that all females that are not having babies are infertile? Or is that just one character in the series?

        And yes, sorry, forced insemination is still rape, so yes if there was no choice then that would be incredibly bad. I would rather believe that the author intended that there was a choice and that the majority would chose to have babies, and the minority serving in non-combat roles.

        • Alex says:

          As I already explained in the post, the fact that we don’t really know what the situation is is part of the problem. Epic just threw it out there and didn’t explain, and didn’t appear to think through the consequences of such a situation. As I already explained in the post, the fact that the only female combatant is infertile implies that female combatants are only allowed if they can’t make babies. Furthermore, even if they aren’t being forced, they are being strongly encouraged, so not having children isn’t going to seem like a valid choice, and people are going to be having children even if they don’t want to.

          Someone posted a comment above from the laser orgy post where a man said that if he were in the Gears universe, and he came across a fertile woman who didn’t want to breed, he would kill her. The women are under such pressure to have children to save the human race that THAT type of thing is bound to happen. But Epic didn’t fucking think of that.

  19. Alex says:

    Someone posted to a mailing list I’m on the following information from the Gears books:

    [The Gears books] mention that women capable of child bearing are kept of the frontline, with additional rations and incentives to those that join the ‘baby factories’ – chain pregnancies, etc. To be fair, all men in the Gears universe are also expected to fight, kill and die in the name of the government, unless they’re physically unable to do so – they don’t really have free choice either. The novels touch on the world before the Locust invasion, and it was a lot ‘fairer’ – women served in the front line (there are several high ranking female soldiers commanding units), and men chose to sign up, rather than being conscripted. I think the general idea is to convey that the human race in Gears universe is on the verge of extinction – the novels mention that something like 99% of the population has been wiped out.

    • Thefremen says:

      They should do a better job then, in the games, of communicating the fact that Gears of War is a dystopian setting where life is hell for all remaining humans. Also I fail to see how there wouldn’t be some kind of rebellion against a government attempting to impose such rules.

      • Jessica says:

        There may not be open rebellion but the Indies in the game and books have refused to support the government. They live outside the goverment cities and do not fight the Locust. While the games could do a better job of explaining the role of women, especially in scenes with Anya (she is infertile) I recommend reading the books. The characters are developed more fully and the two major issues are addressed (the role of women and government totalitarianism). I would consider them essential reading to understand the world of Gears of War.

  20. Pingback: Gears Women: Busy Makin’ Babies for the COG | | Set On Stun |

  21. Ohma says:

    If I recall correctly (which the chances are non-zero that I haven’t) the Gears books are written at least in part by Karen Traviss who has something of an obsession with burly manly men in burly manly armor have to fight aliens and roughhouse with eachother while the women stay behind and have lots and lots of burly manly man babies. It’s what she did with the mandalorians in her Star Wars books too.

    Too bad she doesn’t seem to be aware of it though, if she were the franchise books she writes might be a bit less creepy and Gor-ian…also possibly more outwardly gay, which would be fun.

  22. Michael H says:

    I was playing Biowares Dragon Age last night were I found a similar theme to that of the Krogans in mass effect. The Qunari in Dragon age seem to have a similar situation as the Krogans where women aren’t aloud become soldiers.

    The interesting difference is that in dragon age I was aloud to argue with Sten that some women choose to fight. Granted he simply said that one can not choose to be anything and that me being bought a warrior and woman was impossible. Under his logic one of those must be a lie.

    Its funny that BIoware would go to such trouble to highlight this problem with the Qunari in one game but shy away from a similar aspect in another. Is it that Mass Effect is marketed towards a broad audience while Dragon Age is marketed to older gamers.

  23. Rakaziel says:

    What is wrong with the reply function?

    • Alex says:

      We have the number of nested replies limited. Otherwise, we would end up with comments where there’s one word on each line, and that becomes annoying and difficult to read. So when the reply limit is hit, any new replies are posted at the bottom of the thread.

  24. Pingback: In defense of Gears, the ultimate "bro game" - Laser Orgy

  25. Aidan says:

    In response to comments #33 through #37 (I’m sorry, I don’t know how to responds to specific comments on this site), I have to strongly disagree. Arinn Dembo is probably the most staunch feminist I’ve met in my life, and a good friend of mine. She’d no more write misogynist works of fiction than she would cut off her own hand.

    It’s true that every species except humans in “Sword of the Stars” has a fairly strong degree of sexual dimorphism, but I feel this in no way makes the game misogynistic. Among the humans and the Tarka (a species of reptilian-like aliens), women are considered the equals in virtually all ways throughout their cultures and militaries. Women fill the ranks of foot-soldiers to generals, janitors to the leaders of their species governments. They are active in walk of life

    Among the Liir (a species resembling Earth’s cetaceans with powerful psionic abilities) hermaphroditism is the rule, and they will switch gender identification based on preference or breeding habits.

    The Morrigi (a species that look like a combination of Earth’s birds and east Asian dragons, also with psionics) divide their species between the space-faring males and the planet-bound females, but the females are not merely breeders. They’re the scientists, farmers, engineers of their species as wells as powerful merchants (trading regularly with their males and other space-faring races). Anytime you research a new tech in the game while playing Morrigi, you can bet it was a female clan that gave it to you.

    The Hivers (insect-looking aliens, though they have internal skeletons and other non-insectoid features) have the sharpest male/female divide of the civilized races, with most of their species being male Workers, Warriors and Princes – in descending order of number – with only a small population of Princesses and one Queen of the species. However it’s the Princesses and Queen who govern the species and all Hivers have a deep desire to serve, protect and love their Mother and the Great-Mother. When one plays a game of SotS as the Hiver faction, you are taking on the role of the newly-coronated Queen and directing the empire to victory.

    The only species that’s truly misogynistic are the Zuul (a species who’s males resemble small furry humanoids with opossum-like snouts and females are bear-like creatures, again possessing powerful psionics). The males rule absolutely, subjugating their females and treating them as chattel or pets. However the Zuul are the enemies of all other sapient species, created by now-vanished conquerors the Suul’ka as a bio-weapon against the Morrigi. They’re lives are truly Hobbsian: brutal, nasty and short. Everything about them is horrid and ugly and evil. They are, if anything, a commentary on the misogynist mindset.

    And as for James’ comment that the fiction “doesn’t invite deep thought”, I would invite you to read up about the game’s takes on:
    * Religion as a bio-cultural phenomenon
    * The ethics of creation and use of AI
    * Environmentalism
    * Metaphysical issues regarding Death, Life, and the effects of preoccupation with either in the psyche of an individual and species.

  26. Brinstar says:

    I’m posting this comment because Arinn Dembo, the creator of Sword of the Stars, took extreme offense to the comments by readers Jayle Enn, James, and Lisa Harney (who Ms. Dembo mistook for one of our regular bloggers/authors, and is in fact a guest contributor) and Ms. Dembo attempted to comment on this post as well as wrote in to the editors. While we do not wish to silence anyone on this blog, unfortunately, Ms. Dembo’s comments and responses violated the discussion policy on many levels. As such, we could not publish them.

    Instead, I will quote the bits which are able to be published. This is in response to comment #33-#37, with the reader comments in bold and Dembo’s responses in italics:

    “The Sword of the Stars universe is creepy for this as well. Several of the races in that game are written as having extreme degrees of sexual dimorphism in physical and mental capacities, and the tendency in general is toward ‘males do game stuff, females breed’.

    All of this makes me wonder how many of the men writing fluff for these games learned at the metaphoric knee of Niven’s Known Universe, where a race breeding sentience out of its females, and most other aliens being referred to as a genderless ‘he’, are part of the canon.”

    Dembo: This interpretation of my work is inaccurate and unfair.

    There are six races in the Sword of the Stars universe. Each and every one of them examines the concept of power and gender in different ways. There is exactly one race in the game which even comes close to the description above, and it serves as a vicious and brutally damning caricature of patriarchal culture and its mindset. The Zuul are written and designed specifically to be horrifying, frightening, and emblematic of everything that is wrong with patriarchy. They are not representative of all the races in the game, by any stretch of the imagination.

    I am neither male, nor a disciple of Larry Niven (or any other Reaganite right-wing pundit who works in the science fiction genre).

    “That is a really Known Space sort of thing, isn’t it? (Or, really, a Niven thing) I’ve never really thought of it in the context of SotS, (probably because the background of SotS doesn’t really invite deep thought). But yeah.

    For what its worth, (and I’m not sure its worth much at all), the person who did the background for SotS is a white female SF writer from like, Iowa or Ohio.* If I were inclined to draw a lesson from that, I suspect it would be about how much unexamined sexism is buried in the DNA of SF generally.

    *Take this with a solid helping of IIRC; I had occasion to look it up some time ago.”

    Dembo: The inference here is that my race and my state of origin can be used to explain the “anti-feminist” or “anti-progressive” nature of my work.

    I object extremely strenuosly to the assertion that I as a person, my work as a whole, or my genre in general is guilty of “buried, unexamined sexism”. I find this extremely insulting and deeply personal. And I find the reference to my alleged “whiteness” to be deliberately derogatory. So is the “Red State = anti-progressive hick” inference.

    Editor’s note: Actually, science fiction is fairly guilty of buried and unexamined sexism. Even in the feminist science fiction space, there is a lot of progress to be made. For example, the last two WisCons were filled with heated debate about diversity and acceptance–and this is amongst feminist science fiction writers. Of course, I cannot comment about whether Dembo is personally guilty of unexamined sexism, but obviously everyone has privilege in some way and blind spots.

    I believe that the writer responsible for the races in Sword of the Stars is Arinn Dembo, who is a woman. But that just means that the idea of “males = active doing fun things, females = passive home having babies” is entrenched.”

    Dembo’s respose was too vitriolic, so I summarize it by saying that she felt personally offended and attacked by this comment (and the other comments) to the point that she felt the above comments were defamatory.

    We welcome Ms. Dembo to comment on The Border House at such time that she is able to abide by the discussion policy.

    Thank you.

  27. Ian M. says:

    Just a point of order to the editor. You cited an open and vigorous debate as an example of “buried and unexamined sexism”.

  28. Brinstar says:

    @ Ian M: I don’t think I would necessarily characterize what happened at the past couple of WisCons or on the internet in the aftermath as “open”. Indeed the voices of people and women of colour had been silenced on the blogs of a couple of white science fiction authors. Rather than the debate focusing on the issue of lack of representation of people of colour in the feminist science fiction space, the debate turned into QQing for the poor white women who were being called out and criticised for racist imagery in their stories. Rather than the debate actually being about the situation of people of colour in science fiction, it became about white people. It was unfortunate.

  29. Maverynthia says:

    @Aidan I see a lot of those species are “the men do this BUT” I feel is still misogynistic. Like the one that are planet bound, why is that not sexist? Because they are scientists and engineers? Women in today’s society can be scientists and engineers, that doesn’t mean sexism still doesn’t exist. Just because the women rule and are put on pedestals like those hivemind bugs doesn’t make it not sexist. Really reading the descriptions there, I see a LOT of sexism. Remember, just because she’s a woman and a “good friend” doesn’t mean she can’t be sexist.

  30. Michael says:

    Its funny the inner nerd in me feels like posts like these are an attack on the Sci Fi I love. But I know your greivances have justification. Regardless of who writes our fluff for games it will always be tarnished by the bias’s present in western cultures.

    Maybe it would have been preferable in Mass Effect if we could have talked to a female Krogan. If the victims were given a face and voice. It does seem cruel to leave them silent.

  31. Alex says:

    @Michael: Its funny the inner nerd in me feels like posts like these are an attack on the Sci Fi I love.

    I understand feeling that way–two things I try to remember when reading criticisms of things I love are that 1. if the person took the time to play this game and write about it, then they must also care about it to some extent, and 2. criticism is necessary if we want our medium/genre to get better. It helps… kinda xD

    Thanks for commenting!

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