Little (represented) Women

Here there be spoilers.

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.

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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10 Responses to Little (represented) Women

  1. You know I never played Gears 2, but I did ironically seek out to see what the queen looked like on YouTube once the game released. I was hoping for something else, but I was expectantly satisfied at the time (I really just miss Kerrigan). Even though the Beserker was an outright palette swap for the Garrador from Resident Evil 4, I appreciated the fact that they pressed out she was a female. I do wonder about the individual portrayal of women in games though because the creator runs the risk of being instantly typecast as some sort a chauvinist. People don’t want to stand out on sensitive subjects like that anymore, especially the immature men at the drawing board for games now. Think of of a game where a female character traces the same chords that a character like Hedda Gabler does. There would be an outcry from plenty of pseudo-liberalists that the game is painting women in a bad light. At the same time, I STILL don’t see enough people acknowledging the design and narrative significance someone like The Boss had in Metal Gear Solid 3.~sLs~

  2. Denis Farr says:

    @SLS: At Ibsen’s time he was considered portraying females in a bad light, but this didn’t stop female actors such as Eleanora Duse from praising him for giving her a role in which she could actually ‘act.’ In order to admit that females can exist in equal proportion, we have to propose that they can be human–flaws and all. The issue is giving them human flaws, not stereotyped ones.I have yet to play <>Metal Gear Solid<>, though the roommate has them. May have to dig into them.

  3. Oh man, I totally forgot the Berserkers were female when I wrote about race and gender in the original Gears last semester. Gonna need to go edit that and quote you now. Danke!

  4. Denis Farr says:

    Simon: Glad to be of help. Is what you wrote about the original <>Gears<> available online for reading (your mention of semester makes me think it might have been for a class?).

  5. http://chungking.wordpress.com/2008/10/16/gears-of-war-and-genderrace/Yeah, it was for a class, and it was my first semester so I hadn’t done nearly as much reading as I’ve now got under my belt. It holds up a bit, but the general discussion has been generally ground into the dirt (I wasn’t aware of Racalicious at the time of the writing).You definitely cover the women a bit more. I was more hung up on the Homeric epic comparison (which I didn’t know other people had made until last week when I read something of LB Jeffries’) and the race issue.

  6. Amanda says:

    Thanks for noticing something like this…. really cool of you :)

  7. Blade319 says:

    Is your examination and critique strictly of the games or is the slowly-forming universe and mythologies included? I recently read in a Gameinformer article that in the Gears graphic novels, there has been the introduction of a female gear (Alex is her name…very feminine…). She is not a La Femme/sexy assassin type of killer, nor is she jacked like the rest of the gears…but a nice blend that can run with the rest of the pack.

    The article also informed the readers that most, if not all of the women that were surviving under the Coalition of Ordered Governments were assisting the war effort by allowing themselves to repopulate the human race. Basically having the COG women being voluntary baby factories AND performaing other various serivce tasks (pencil-pushing, nursing, etc.)This was presented in one of the short novels that have been written since the release of Gears.

    As far as the Anya/Marcus romance debacle, I feel that it was only introduced to completely debunk any of the Marcus/Dom homoerotic questions that have surfaced since the very release of the first game. It’s so easy for one to assume that since Dom has lost everything that he was searching for after he “saved” Maria, that the only other place he may find comfort and companionship would be in the loving embrace of Marcus’ burly arms. Is it not true that there is nobody else on Sera who knows Dom like Marcus knows Dom?

  8. Denis Farr says:

    Hiya, Blade. I did recently read that GameInformer article, but when I wrote this, I had no idea how far this objectification of women went. I am half-tempted to pick up the comics and see if they really do hearken back to Third Reich German methods of seeing women.

    At the same time, I have been interested at how they are representing the women as an androgynous type. It kicks back into that GI article, where Cliff and some other developers mention that among the more difficult things when creating female characters in an action game is giving them power-ups without over-masculinizing them (’cause that would just be horrible!).

    As for Dom and Marcus? They seem to want to put in that distance, while at the same time playing with them. In both games there are achievements (whose names I forget off the top of my head) that poke fun at their relationship. One is a reference to Brokeback Mountain. It’s a case of playing the gay jokes, while asserting their heterosexuality. They’re just cool with their sexuality, you know? /sarcasm

    Thanks for stopping by.

  9. Blade319 says:

    Denis,

    Interestingly enough, the “Ashes to Ashes” trailer reveals Anya as a blonde with a lancer. It’s amazing that it only took 3 games to get these guys to include women in the fight!

    Currently i’m writing a paper about GOW. psychoanalytically examining different aspects of the narrative as well as the game mechanics (Title of paper: Gears of War: Just a bunch of dudes raping each other)

    It doesn’t reflect my opinions but makes a good argument. What i’m wondering is with the achievements “Domination, Dom-Curious, and I Can’t Quit You Dom” Are the developers toying with the percieved sexuality of their characters, or are they labeling their players as homosexuals (Considering i could go into someone else’s achievements and find out that they are “Dom-Curious”)

    Just food for thought!

  10. Blade319 says:

    Denis,

    Well with the “Ashes to Ashes” trailer for the 3rd game, it’s been confirmed that Anya is the blonde with the assault rifle. Good job Epic games, it only took you 3 titles to bring women to the frontlines of Sera.

    With the achievements “Domination, Dom-Curious and I Can’t Quit You Dom” I wonder if the designers are toying with the sexuality of their characters or labeling their players as homo, considering I can peek at other player’s achievements and find out that they are, in fact Dom-Curious.

    PS I’m writing a paper on GOW titled: Gears of War: Just a Bunch of Dudes Raping each other. It doesn’ reflect my personal opinion, but makes for a hell of an argument.

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