Homo say Gears?

N.B. For lack of any confusion, this post is only concerned with, at this time, the first Gears of War. The sequel is another post in the future.

For months I have seen and heard assertions that Gears of War is a pile of homoerotic gonads rubbing against themselves. Before playing the game, I believed much of this and felt that in a story that included a homosocial environment and battlefield with brawny soldiers this had to be the case. Mistake number one; I dare say it’s a mistake into which the gaming community has fallen.

Sure, the achievements have references to a tongue-in-cheek homosexual overtone: when playing co-op with someone as Dom you can earn ‘Dom-curious’ and ‘I can’t quit you, Dom.’ The former seemingly a play on bicurious and the latter alluding to Brokeback Mountain. Even in versus matches there exists an achievement for the first ranked match: ‘Always remember your first.’ Time and again the game pokes fun at its audience and gives a little wink to the assumptions we have of those jocks and homosocial environments–you know: circle jerks, mutual porn watching, et cetera.

The thing is, the rest of the game doesn’t fall through. Many people have bandied about the term ludonarrative dissonance for the fact that the game is constantly on the aggressive, asking you to be macho and push forward while you are instead seeking cover and taking shots from a safe location. You can’t run in guns blazing and hope to survive. Which is the linchpin of the entire game–a conflicted message. The game builds itself out of tension and its execution in many different aspects–but there isn’t really any sexual tension among Delta squad.

At no point while I was playing this supposedly homoerotic game did I ever have that knowing eyebrow raise that denotes I found something scintillating. There was no surreptitious giggle over a puerile fantasy of men in a locker room in nothing but towels. What we’re seeing is a community filling in for something that does not exist in the text or even in between the lines while playing the game itself.

In fact, reading various pieces, forum discussions, and banter on this game, homoeroticism is almost thrown around as a dirty word in some corners. They seem to ask: how can all these (assumed) men players who are seeing this as a pinnacle for masculinity actually like this ‘so obviously’ homoerotic game unless they have possible homoerotic tendencies themselves, in an effort to rile up the core player of this title. It seems to be a path of denigration using homoeroticism as its weapon. Now my eyebrow is raised and my lips pursed in an effort to not say something off-color.

What we’ve managed to do is conflate homosocial and homoerotic, though this is hardly new to videogames, or even this particular videogame. There exists a cultural standard that a single-sex environment is rife with sexual tension in some way that will release itself in homoerotic and lusty propositions of which no one will ever speak. Whenever I, as a gay male, mention I attended an all-male college, people will laugh and say they know why I went there (those four years were perhaps among the loneliest of my openly gay life in terms of sex or romance, actually). That environment did have homoerotic under- and overtones, but the context afforded such.

In the context of Gears of War, we’re barely given fully fleshed personalities that aren’t riddled with stereotype and cliché. Cliff Bleszinski himself admitted in an interview he was not seeking to reinvent characters or push forward a new standard. The focus was on the game, and the plot was to remain ancillary with plenty of one-liners and quips, being more focused on presenting an action game that played on previous sci-fi mainstays or newcomers (ranging from Pitch Black to Alien and Predator). Nowhere in this action or in these one-liners is it implied that this homosocial environment will cross over into any risky business, even as a joke. There wasn’t even anyone in a state of undress.

If anything, the homoeroticism seemingly evident is one on which I didn’t pick up because I never played it with other people. The homoerotic titled achievements all require playing with a buddy, and the design team seems pretty self-assured that this buddy will not be your girlfriend (which made me wonder what the point of the end credits thanking female significant others was–beyond saying one did so). After all, this game fills that niche for a market of men hungry for masculine media made available to the inner-man who does manly things in a manner of man-like activity. In fact, the game seems to push its homoeroticism in a seeming wink at the social aspects of our gaming culture.

The game is not so much homoerotic as our enjoyment of it is. It isn’t even my or your enjoyment, it would be instead dedicated to our shared, collective experience of the title that suggests something illicit. Now, I’m going to disagree with an earlier post (though my recent starting of Devil May Cry 4 assures me that it’s homoerotic within the first half hour), as we’re never even given a body which we can admire in unarmored fashion. So, if I dare say it, Gears of War is not homoerotic.

We are. (Assuming we’re all males and playing an all-male cast.)


About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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6 Responses to Homo say Gears?

  1. NegativeZero says:

    To be honest I always assumed that the whole thing was a joke that originated at SomethingAwful and has since been taking seriously. CliffyB being ‘gay’ has been a SomethingAwful meme for a very long time.

  2. WorldMaker says:

    I agree to some extent with NegativeZero, some of the claims of Gears being homoerotic come from the same sources that call Halo homoerotic… but I think it is certainly much more than just SomethingAwful at play here.I think perhaps more at play is the overall immaturity of vocal online players. That’s very much a facet of the game you admit to not exploring, Denis, but it gets to the crux of the matter I think: The people that you “see” a lot and more particularly “hear” a lot when playing a game like Halo or Gears generally seem to fit within a juvenile demographic that may or may not have any idea of its sexual orientation but certainly uses homosexuality as the brunt of bad jokes and worse name calling.To some respect the people calling Gears homoerotic are not much removed from the vocal majority playing the games online. Somewhere along the lines some Halo fanboy, well set in his knowledge and mastery of Halo multiplayer, might have derided some friend or buddy with “Why would play Gears of War? It’s so gay.” and somehow that insult becomes a tag line for media coverage of the game…To be honest I think that it says a lot more about the media discourse when it comes to gaming than about the game itself.You noticed, Denis, the tension between the overpowered male stereotypes and the gameplay that suggests war is truly hell and that the only way to survive is through at least a modicum of strategy and a lot of good cover and avoidance… I think the real story of Gears, the real play of Gears is there in the trenches of that ludonarrative tension, but how many reviews, much less well known media discussions, ever get anywhere near that territory?

  3. Erik says:

    We’ve already talked about this a little Denis, but I feel like I wanted the game to have some homosexual undertone, just to make it feel like there was more going on in the narrative than it seemed. The first title especially had a number of unexplained areas of the plot, and I really wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt.Unfortunately, I think that what may have started as a suggestion of the possibility that the Gears weren’t precise embodiments of the hetero-normative masculine (as a means of getting gamers to think outside the box) devolved into using “gay” as an epithet. It may parallel the way students first learn to notice phallic qualities, but often turn around and taunt baseball players (for example) for holding a penis.This may or may not interest you, but I feel that the revival mechanic is almost equal in weight to the cover mechanic. I think that’s where you’re really missing out by playing alone. In fact, the “Lookit all dat juice” fight was nearly impossible for me when playing solo and sticking to cover. It wasn’t until I abandoned cover and spent more thought on revival that I polished the fight off quickly. As much as I like the idea of a game that makes players cautious and concerned about cover/protection, I think I like the mechanics even more that making everyone a medic really emphasizes cooperation and teamwork, even if being “downed” can be a (dare I say it?) <>emasculating<> experience for some.

  4. Chris Lepine says:

    Nice insights here Denis – I had no idea that the GoW community had implied that they were sensitive to so-called homoerotic overtones to the game.I haven’t played the game myself. I can’t say that I have any new insight to provide here, and this risks coming off as intellectual psycho-babble. Alas, I think GoW expresses a more general normativity in terms of its proclaimed “homoerotic” language.I think the quote, ‘I can’t quit you, Dom’ tells us something about the people who believe the game is homoerotic in some way. The “I can’t quit you” line, now extracted from Brokeback Mountain, has in my experience been put to work by plenty of homophobic men I know. It is a jab, a way of saying ‘I love you, man’ without acknowledging it as an act of love. Many of the (homophobic) men that I know use the line as a way of ridiculing their male friendships and denying any kind of “eros” in them.Your experience/analysis of GoW definitely resonates, but not because I’ve played the game. I recognize that the aggressively playful homoerotic language used in the game, and it belongs to the realm of language conceived of by males unwilling to recognize forms of love with other men – and at the same time acknowledging it in an aggressive manner. Let’s not forgot that GoW involves a whole lot of killing – it’s not like the co-op teams are groups of boys heading out for picnics together ;)Does this make any sense at all? Is it horribly off-base? That’s my experience of that kind of language, at least.

  5. Denis Farr says:

    Thanks for the conversation guys.@NegativeZero: This would not surprise me, but it seems to actually be considered canon. As someone who appreciates actual homoerotic scenes and situations, I’m working on reclaiming it.@WorldMaker: I’ll be working on that tension, actually. The next post deals with that and its link to modern masculinity. Otherwise, yes, this whole GoW as homoerotic speaks far more to our own discourse than the game.@Wordsmythe: I’d certainly agree with you, and that has made it into my other post. Just felt like making this one first, for when I was reading articles on the game, the homoerotic angle came up a few times, making me scratch my head. If I had thought to find people on Xbox Live I knew to play with me, sure, but I was not about to randomly just start playing the game. My patience is not so high.@Chris: Indeed, what you’re saying is I believe fully accurate. Though, again, even as an achievement it is bonded to our experience as gamers together, bonding over the game. It says much more about our own interactions, and possibly interactions these chaps may have. The actual text of the game (and by this I mean everything therein) just doesn’t even give me a true feel of camaraderie, let alone anything deeper.Honestly, that achievement could be attributed to almost any FPS game I can think of with the manner of the community we expect from such. The discourse just so happened to be that GoW was more deserving of this for some inane reason I have not been able to place other than popularity and some peoples’ ire at it.When homoerotic is used as an insult to a game, I get a little irate.

  6. Eleniel says:

    “When homoerotic is used as an insult to a game, I get a little irate.”

    Seriously. It’s pretty much a subtle (not to mention expensive!) way of saying “UR GAY LOL”. It’s about as progressive as an Apatow bromance comedy (not very!).

    Fantastic post!

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