Intentionally or accidentally – the iconography, cultural references and the similarity between events in the trilogy and real life turn Gears of War into an allegory for the United States of America and its wars. Considering the political context, this – made in America – shooter title has a really disturbing ending with disturbing implications and intolerable messages.
This was a pretty hard article to write for me, because I have a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of somebody finding the way the trilogy ended appealing. To me it was just offensive and disturbing. The only way I see to possibly gain any satisfaction from this ending is from an American perspective – a perspective I have no actual insight into.
I’m bound to fuck something up here, I’m bound to step on someones feelings and I sincerely apologize for that.
Still, Epic Games made a horrible statement here. They chose to glorify a fascist society and to celebrate a super holocaust… … and made me, the player complicit in it. And that’s not okay. At all.
I did my fair share of virtual kills and fatalities, accepted many stereotyping enemy clichés as entertaining cannon fodder and allowed myself to even dwell in pretend misogyny. Sometimes without caring much and sometimes by being able to put aside the socially questionable or downright wrong implications of video game narratives. Gears of War 3 made that impossible for me. I was disturbed by the way the story ended and felt like I was playing a villain all the time but nobody told me. Where I was hoping for redeeming value, I was answered with increasingly barbaric sentiments.
A few things come together here:
– The strong analogy of the Gears v Locusts conflict to US wars
– The dehumanization of the so called Locusts
– The final solution for the Locust problem
A couple of major plot points and motifs that make Gears Of War analogous to US war conflicts. For example are almost all Gears modeled after stereotypes of US citizens:
Language, names, iconography and ethnic mix make the COG distinctively US America. What could have been a cultural mix or something vague, is defined to be US American. Most obvious examples include the characters of Cole and Dizzy. Cole is an American Football (Thrashball) playing and ebonics speaking black character. And Dizzy is a bearded caucasian trucker, wearing a cowboy hat, speaking with a strong texan accent and is shouting “Yeee-Haw!” from time to time.
There is one character – called Tai – who is not directly representative for American culture. His appearance and demeanor resemble what an uneducated white person thinks a polynesian native is like. He is the games noble savage or magic native american and Epic games makes an explicit point out of his otherness and the fact that he is not from them same culture as the rest of the COG.
So who are the Americans fighting in Gears of War? I’d argue they fight people from the middle east. Let’s have a look at the unfolding events of the war and see how this maps with the conflicts between the united states and arab/persian nations:
Humans in search of immulsion, a valuable liquid fuel source to be found underground, invaded and damaged the cave habitat of the Locusts – a nation living where the immulsion is – forcing them to head to the surface. The human characters refer to the war as a “war over immulsion” critically.
Waging a “war for oil” is a popular subject for criticism against the US engagement in war against Iraq under President George W. Bush.
When the war over immulsion escalates, Locusts resort to attacking human cities, killing large numbers of civilians and making sky scrapers collapse. The invasion of the Locust territory (in GoW 2) as a response to the attacks against human cities is directly analogous to the invasion of Afghanistan as a response to the attack on New York on september 11th 2001.
Actual quote from the game: “We are taking the fight to them.”
Putting the American iconography of the Gears, the timeline of unfolding events in the war, the immulsion motif and the terroristic nature of the Locusts together, you get a fairly strong but distorted mirror image of what started as the American War on Terror. This makes it pretty hard for me to not regard the way the fictional conflict is resolved in Gears3 as a fantasy blueprint to end that war. And it’s not pretty.
Trying to make other races appear to not be real or full people, dehumanizing them is the oldest trick in the book to make justifications for inhumane behavior towards them. Especially when there are clear visible distinctions like skin color and when the oppressive group can claim the oppressed group to be less civilized.
It is done with prisoners to beat them up, was done with slaves to keep them as property, native americans to drive them from their lands, to indigenous people in colonized nations, to african tribes to justify ethnic cleansing, to jews to put them in camps and on and on and on…
I know it’s the internet. Bloggers and commenters are playing the Hitler-card like nobody’s business. And yeah, usually those people think they are making a point, but just fail by drawing a completely ridiculous comparison between their minor complaint and a unfathomable act of madness and injustice.
But in this case the comparison is the meat of the problem.
Nazis referred to Jews in terms of them being a plague, vermin, pests, parasites… …Gears call their enemy race Locusts. In battle, the Locust Queen asks, what makes a life of her people less worthy than a human life?
On which Marcus Fenix, our designated hero, simply and confidently replies: They are not people, they are monsters. The big problem here is… THEY ARE PEOPLE! They are an independent society, with spoken and written language, social structures, cultural treasures, art, architecture forced into becoming a war culture by human intrusion.
Granted they are barbaric and ugly. But that does not make them less than people.
Racial segregation is fairly common as a plot device in scifi and fantasy stories, like for example orcs = evil in Lord Of The Rings and subsequently in Warhammer and Warcraft. But in publications like this the makers at least had the dignity to limit acts of violence against enemy races to individuals who have actually shown to be a threat…
I mean, imagine Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli going around and slaying orc babies in their cradle.
But in Gears we should find a sense of victory in killing every single Locust on the planet, no matter if they have done anything wrong yet, no matter the age or personality. They deserve to die – all of them – because they are not human.
“Final solution” (german: Endlösung), for those who don’t know, is a euphemism coined by officials of the Third Reich. It was used to sell the idea of completely eradicating the jewish people in Nazi Germany.
The holocaust. If you don’t know the history behind that word, look it up. Seriously. I’m a german, I live in Berlin, I know that history.
The Nazis had found a way to basically industrialize the killing of people of jewish heritage (and political enemies) by hunting jews, imprisoning them in work camps and using gas chambers to finally kill them. The goal was to eradicate jews as part of an idea of them being a lower inherently evil race. Genetical distinctions, were used to artificially define an enemy worthy of total annihilation.
And as it turns out, launching a super holocaust to solve the Locust problem, worse and more thorough than anything the Nazis were capable of, is the celebrated victory you achieve when beating the final boss of Gears Of War 3.
Adam Fenix (father of the protagonist) has created a machine that is capable of completely and totally killing off every single Locust on the planet. The blow of the machine reaches every corner of the world and is calibrated to kill off people and creatures that carry the Locust genes but does no harm to humans. A genetical distinction decides here who deserves to die and who deserves to live.
This kind of doomsday device – build explicitly for the annihilation of races – is exactly the kind of thing, which a Hellboy, Captain America or aWilliam “B.J.” Blazkowicz would fight to destroy. In the skin of Marcus Fenix, we are fighting to activate it.
After the final battle is won and the machine began the deletion of Locust life, the Locust queen returns to the scene to spell it out for everybody. The is no justice or moral in what the player has fought for. It is just another act of killing.
And while the queen was the only one actually talking some sense, confronting us with the injustice we committed, Marcus takes a knife and stabs the unarmed woman to death, up close and personal. Filled with rage and hatred he says: “That’s from Dom and everyone you killed, you bitch!” while she sinks lifeless to the ground.
After the only voice of reason got stabbed to death,Marcus gets cheered and celebrated, swelling victorious music plays, he gets the girl, can finally throw away his gun armor and look hopeful into the future.
I cannot reconcile being a genocidal hate-filled grunt with being the hero deserving of praise and prizes. But then again I’m from Germany and maybe the remnants of my nation’s history make me sensitive for those subjects. I’m also not even in reach of understanding how it feels to be an American under the pressure of 10 years of war.
Maybe if Osama Bin Laden had killed 3000 of my people, I could relate with fantasizing to kill him up close and personal and make it hurt, any moral implications be darned. Maybe if I knew someone who lost a limb or his life in Afghanistan or if I had to fear to be drafted again, maybe then I could relate to the fantasy of pushing a button to just making it all go away.
I don’t know what it would take to make me find any satisfaction in what I was ultimately fighting for in Gears Of War. But I know I’m far away from that and it is discomforting to me to see that games are a market in which you can excel by selling fascist genocide role play.
- Editor’s note: This article is an edited version of an article originally published in september 2011. You can find the original article and other older articles in the pdf archive.