It all started when running through the innards of the Riftworm. Taking my chainsaw-gun in hand, I tore through tissue as blood spurt back on to the ‘camera’ that was behind me. Slightly bemused by this rather superfluous barrier, I couldn’t help but envision this whole travel as ripping through the worm’s multiple hymen. While I made this comment in an off-hand manner while my roommate watched me, it did not strike me as particularly false, though not wholly true.
Curious at why I felt this, I started noticing a trend: females in this game mainly existed to have violence or the threat of violence visited upon them.
Anya Stroud, the intelligence officer who provides you with various instructions feels less a presence in this game, though she is seen more often–with the stakes supposedly being higher and more breaks in communication occurring due to location. While this time around Jack displays an image of her speaking, her visibility only seems to serve prefacing the last cut-scene in the game.
Then comes the queen of the Locust. I’m not sure what I imagined, but a human-looking Locust with greyish skin tone was not on the list. Instead of seeking to other her with grotesque features, she remains othered merely by the fact of her sex. It was slightly disconcerting.
The only previous Locust females we’ve encountered to this point are the Beserkers in the first game, whose blindness and brute strength served as a reminder of the capability of females in nature for physical viciousness. Queens can often be seen as sexualized objects, with the obsession being over their ability to produce heirs or progeny (oftentimes over their capability to rule). While no hint is given as to Locust procreation or how the line of succession in their society works, the queen here is sexualized by her presentation as an almost vamp figure with curves and a mantle that actually seems part of her own body, but could easily be mistaken for regal clothing.
Even Baird and Cole respectively chime in:
“That’s the Locust Queen?”
“I thought she was supposed to be butt-ugly.”
The goal, as her nemesis, is to kill her. This makes sense, though she isn’t presented in the slightest as someone who is physically imposing or serves as a direct threat. Instead, she orders Skorge to attack you as she walks off stage right. No violence is to be visited upon her in this game.
However, prior to this encounter, we have the scene with Maria which rattles Dom. Her only real purpose in the story is to serve as a distraction from the main plotline, with Dom’s focusing on her safety and worrying about physical threats against her. Even in releasing her from her suffering, Dom has to pull a trigger to visit upon her one last act of violence. In the end, she dies a death that is coded to be more meaningful at the same gunpoint that has already laid waste to numerous Locust. Whatever her fate was, this turn in the plot supposedly serves to pierce the tough-guy barrier that the COGs have all donned along with their massive armor. Maria is a weakness, nothing more.
To get at the men, hurt the women. It’s a theme that is certainly not new in warfare, though it serves as propaganda of the sort we expect–demonize the enemy as wanting to kill your wife, sister, daughter. While all the women that the COGs fight are either in positions of power or combatants themselves, it is the fear of violence against one’s own women that is trumpeted as what has to be avoided. In this fashion, Gears seems to reveal a filter of how we are seeing the landscape, which is supported by the hints it keeps giving as to our lack of knowledge of the Locust’s activities and history.
All we ever see of the Locust is their military, whereas we are shown humanity’s own suffering through the Stranded and torn down homes. There even exist flashbacks of what life was before the war with the Locust horde. Given the fact that we do storm their places of living and are given glimpses into their living situations, it is somewhat odd that all we ever see is a culture obsessed with war (as the Locust queen wryly notes is a trait of humanity). The message the game touts is clear: even in some futuristic, other-world setting, females best serve the war effort by playing behind the scenes. Their stake in humanity is a passive one.
At the very end, after a boss battle that served as pointless and the sinking of Jacinto, Marcus suddenly worries about Anya. What we see reflected in his face is the same worry we were to have experienced from Dom’s own expressions. Though there exists little actual conversation between Marcus and Anya that is not professional, his worry about her death among all the others serves as both a warning of a future romance story we may have to endure and the fact that all this fighting is really a propaganda machine. The enemy will break and slaughter your women (though it’s also been doing so to your men). Women, like paintings, are seemingly a high-priced commodity; likewise, their utility is somewhat left up to debate.
Unlike the breaking of Tai, the threat of violence against Maria or Anya is meant to be more poignant due to the fact that the human females in the game are never shown to be capable–they are ‘innocent’ victims. We, as players, never control them, meaning anything they may do to help the war effort exists off-screen. They are not fellow COGs on the battlefield, so their utility is seen as decoration. They exist in cut-scenes and radio transmissions–a mythical unicorn which needs protecting, and is spotted about as frequently.
While it seems to be in agreement with a supply and demand model (women are rarely seen, so their value as a commodity is higher when killed), Gears of War serves as a better reminder that this genre of games is very much stuck in a childlike mentality where girls don’t play with boys. This relegates them to being featured in stories when needed, but very rarely given any actual function beyond damsels in distress.