Evolution of Anya Stroud

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.

Anya Stroud from the 'Ashes to Ashes' trailer. She is a white woman, seemingly in her 20s, with short-cropped hair. She is holding a chainsaw gun, leveling it off to the left, looking through its scope.

Anya Stroud from the 'Ashes to Ashes' trailer. She is a white woman, seemingly in her 20s or 30s, with short-cropped hair. She is holding a chainsaw gun, leveling it off to the left, looking through its scope.

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-clich├ęd 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.

Anya Stroud, holding a chainsaw bayonet in her right hand, held upright, with her left arm resting against her raised left knee, staring forward in a shadowy portrait.

Anya Stroud, holding a chainsaw bayonet in her right hand, held upright, with her left arm resting against her raised left knee, staring forward in a shadowy portrait.

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.

About Denis Farr

Denis Farr is a white, androgynously gendered, TAB, German-born and U.S.-schooled, male-sexed queer person (with a penchant for other male-sexed queer persons) who started writing about games at Vorpal Bunny Ranch (in other words, he's loquacious). He has continued with this endeavor, expanding his writing to both GayGamer.net and here at The Border House. A strong proponent of expanding diversity in games, his focus is often on how characters are depicted in games, and exploring the language we use to explicate games themselves.
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7 Responses to Evolution of Anya Stroud

  1. Mantheos says:

    For me, story-wise it makes no sense how Anya is a gear when in the first two games she was an intelligence officer. I love the the fact that there are now female gears in the game, but it would have been better if they just made new female gears rather than making Anya a gear. Marcus, Dom, Cole, and Baird are bigger than football players and hardened veterans. There’s no way Anya can make the transformation from intelligence officer to gear in 18 months. Disbelief suspended, I actually do like Anya as a gear even if it stretches credibility. I also didn’t know there would be other female gears, so that is a pleasant surprise as well.

    • Denis Farr says:

      Well, with the fall of Jacinto, it seems the COG is in a disarray, and do not have it together enough to have a supporting intelligence team. This was the way it was explained, using (I’m paraphrasing) the quotation about how humanity is two meals and a disaster away from losing civilization.

      Yes, having more than one female soldier, and possibly more than two, would mean a lot (especially as I just watched Aliens again last night and was surprised they had more than the one female marine I recalled).

      • Mantheos says:

        I see. I can go with that. And I am glad that there are female gears this time around and in full body armor too.

        It is funny how James Cameron makes a movie as good as Aliens (with all of its subtleties, themes, and allusions) and then makes Avatar, which is very predictable and has the subtlety of a bulldozer.

    • Samus says:

      Anya actually started as a Gear and trained alongside Marcus. She ended up in intelligence despite being trained as a soldier. (Favoritism due to her mother’s military prowess and high rank? Don’t know.) All of this can be found on the gearsepedia page about her:

      I suspect that this game will offer a reason why she needs to get out of the pencil skirt and pick up a gun again. But, anyway, my point is that the idea of Anya once being a Gear is an old idea, and she already has the training to do it (although this is only in the extended canon and not mentioned in any of the games).

  2. Alex says:

    I’m positively shocked that Epic seems to actually be going beyond tokenism. That is just great to hear. I hope they sort out some of the more problematic elements of the fiction, too.

    (I’m also weirdly intrigued by examining this series, though in my case not enough to actually play them, ha.)

  3. I too have a surprising amount of interest in the world of Gears and its characters. Far more, at least, than I do for any other big shooter franchises out there. They haven’t nailed the execution yet (Gears 2 didn’t sustain my interest enough for me to finish), but I remain compelled by Cliff and Epic’s dedication to the mythology and world.

    I remember before Gears 2, there were so many comics, so much talk about the writers they’d brought on and big-picture musings about the themes and characters… I was really expecting something from the sequel, story-wise. Needless to say, I was let down, but something about the Gears universe still feels like it has room to become really good.

    I’m happy to see the direction they’re heading, and between his comments in interviews, his open and supportive reaction to the “What color is your hero” panel from GDC, and just his general vibe, I feel like Cliff B. actually does get it. He is an it-getter.

    For all the rockstar ridiculousness of his public persona, he strikes me as a really thoughtful dude, a brilliant game-maker and someone who is very open to the fact that he can always do things better. The Gears-centric section in Extra Lives when Bissell interviews him is just the latest salvo in the “Cliffy B is a thoughtful dude” campaign, and it is an effective one.

    And as far as big-budget shooters go, Gears is certainly a head and shoulders above Halo or Killzone, sheesh. Just a head and shoulders, though – no neck.

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