To be perfectly frank, I am never quite sure why I’ve played the Gears of War franchise. While it certainly has given me fodder about which to write when it comes to issues of sexuality and gender representation, the game itself has no particular appeal to me (feeling no particular desire to grab my testosterone and yell ‘RAH!’). Having examined the reasons behind it, I have come to the conclusion that the academic gender studies person in me loves dissecting it as a piece of pop culture, and the optimist in me, who does exist, keeps hoping for some reveal that will show there is something more intelligent behind it all.
The last point may well be moot, however. Having rented both games, my roommate expressed an interest in playing as well; he went pretty much straight to the multiplayer modes–a mode I never thought to experience, finding shooters on a console controller awkward at best (personal preference). Having gone to E3, I volunteered to attend the scheduled event with Epic Games, having been the only of the GayGamer staff to have even played the games to completion. In the small room where only press were apparent, I found that the questions, outside my own, also focused on the multiplayer aspects. I am sure there exist players who care about the Gears world (comics and books beyond the game exist, after all), but the majority of the interest appeared to be in the newly announced Beast mode, and the awe at four-person co-op play.
The fact that I happened to get a question in about Anya and the game’s addition of female soldiers seemed odd in such an environment. The answer I received is one over which I am still puzzling, and one on which I doubt I will have a firm opinion until I see the game itself. My question? Asking how the decision to include Anya on the front lines came about, particularly in contrast with her intelligence position in the first two games, and what it meant in terms of the world.
The answer tied back into the story and expanded with what seemed an appeal for the diversity of the cast. Keeping in mind that Jacinto had just been destroyed at the end of the last game, and that this takes place eighteen months after, it was stressed that there was a more primal nature to the game–particularly as it takes place during the summer months, and the demo highlighted more lush, outdoor environments. This means that humans are now going back to a more basic life, and everyone fights for survival. Cliff Bleszinski went on to say that they hope to explore the characters more, seeing how this sort of environment allows for both the evolution and devolution of characters–from the way it was said, it seemed that Anya moving beyond the bookish, protocol-following ways of her past is seen as the former. Time will tell?
However, Bleszinski also explained that there would be more female soldiers, naming one Samantha Burns, whom he described as an English-accented woman of mixed race who was incredibly competent. Yet another character he brought up was the Drake-voiced Jace Stratton, who seems the non-clichéd counterpart to Cole Train. What seems to be happening is an eye toward inclusion, and stepping beyond just tokenism. In text on a screen, this all reads well and good, so far.
The part of the answer that made me raise an eyebrow and recall that this is the Gears franchise, which has had some problems in how females in its universe are treated through canon, was when he stated that he also wanted to show Anya could be one of the guys, but still make it so you knew you could date her. I had suspicions at the end of Gears of War 2, when Marcus panics when Anya can’t be found, that there would be a romantic subplot involving her, about which I feel very ambivalent (and her liking Marcus seems confirmed through the Gearspedia and the novel Gears of War: Aspho Fields). The largest problem I have with it would be making her a primary character who is seen more just so that she can get into a relationship. Do not particularly want.
Another possibility that I would prefer, and seems to tie into the parental issues games seem to be facing more and more (or I’m noticing it more), is the fact that during the E3 event, Bleszinski mentioned Marcus’s father again, a subplot that has woven through the games, but never particularly revealed much. In contrast, Anya’s mother was a highly honored front line fighter who trained Marcus Fenix, and having issues where she deals with her mother’s past as a high-ranking soldier could be potentially of much more interest than a romance thread. I cannot recall too many games that explore connections between daughters and their mothers off hand (exaggerated by the fact that women feature so marginally).
Again, I am left at a crossroads, where I often see where the Gears story could be headed. While playing the sequel, I kept wondering when the twist would occur and we reveal that the Locust are something more than Tolkien-inspired orcs in a sci-fi setting (with all the connotations that can carry). While I’m not sure such plans exist, I suppose I will play the forthcoming game (likely a rental) just so I can see how much of this is just words given, and how much is actually enacted through the game itself.