ONTD Political

Gears of War 3: Adding a Female Character?

8:16 pm - 04/14/2010
Gears of War 3: Adding a Female Character? (originally via Kotaku, but don't read the comments there unless you want to start curbstomping people--which is why I went for the original blog post rather than the Kotaku article.)

Gears of War 3 hasn't been announced -- although the game's teaser debuts a week from today, and the game itself will be out in April 2011 or later. So, why am I thinking about Gears right now? Well, the recent "Girls & Games" PAX panel and its accompanied discussion about female characters made me think about how difficult it is to portray women in a male-centric story without making it seem like the entire gender has been forgotten and/or passed over.

Gears of War, one of my favorite franchises, is a story of hyper-violent meatheads packed with brawn and lacking in brains ... and it's almost completely female-free. The Gears series is a celebration of masculinity, almost to the point of parody: the men in this game look like they eat steroids instead of Wheaties for breakfast.

The female panelists at the PAX panel cited the Gears guys as examples of "idealized" men in an attempt to defend the bajillions of idealized, over-sexualized female characters in, oh, every game ever -- but these men aren't idealized sexually. They're idealized for their masculinity: they are physically fit to the point of absurdity, and they can even be emotional without seeming like sissies.

Gears' lack of romance and female influence actually makes the game seem ... well, kinda gay. (Think Achilles and Patroclus, not Boy From Oz.) I am not the only person who has picked up on this. Even though Dom has a wife, Maria is a MacGuffin, not a character, and she only has a couple of throwaway lines in a flashback.

The only female character, Anya Stroud, is a lieutenant -- but you'd never know it, since the petite blond spends the game getting in and out of helicopters, narrowly escaping danger (off-screen, of course), and staying out of the real action while advising male soldiers over her headset. She must have been a heavily armored COG at some point, in order to move through the ranks -- but if that's the case, where are all of the other female COGs?

This brings us back to the picture at the top of this post. Who's that redhead in the COG armor? That would be Alex Brand, a character from the Gears of War spin-off comic books. She's rumored to be a new character in Gears 3, which would make her the first female to actually see any action in these games -- and the first to wear some real armor, unlike Anya's crisp business casual skirt-suit (the female uniform doesn't include pants?).

Here's where it gets a bit weird. Epic Games design director Cliff Bleszinski spoke about this issue in a recent article about female characters in GameInformer. Apparently, the reason why we never see any women in Gears is that they're all busy ... having babies. Because the Locusts killed so many humans that the women need to spend all of their time procreating. Instead of fighting. Oh, of course.

Just in case you couldn't hear the disappointment between the lines in that paragraph, I'll be a little more specific.

Sera is a futuristic planet. There's technology to heal soldiers in the heat of battle from just about every wound, not to mention invisible robots, crazy mapping technologies, and so on. They couldn't figure out a way to grow babies OUTSIDE of a woman's stomach? I distinctly remember cut-scenes where we see the Locusts growing their "babies" in pods -- and the Locust Queen is a woman. Do you think she's sitting around going, "Sorry guys, can't fight, pregnant." I doubt that! (Although we don't see much of the Locust Queen [no more than a couple mintues], she's a great example of a powerful female character who manages to be both feminine AND a bad-ass-- but she probably deserves her own blog post, so let's table her for now.)

If the humans ever hope to keep up with the Horde, maybe they should learn their creating-babies-in-a-lab technology and get some women out there on the field. They're sacrificing half of their potential troops for no reason! And even if women are "too weak" to fight hand-to-hand, maybe they could fly some bad-ass fighter planes or massive mech armor, Samus-style (or take some of the magical steroids that the guys appear to have been taking). But, no. Apparently, women need to be human incubators instead. Because men can't be bothered to raise children. And because women most certainly shouldn't be fighting.

So, why is Alex Brand in the story at all? Well, it turns out that it's because she's sterile. She can't make babies. So she's allowed to fight.

This ... is problematic.

First of all, I've already explained that there's a work-around for the story's argument that women "need" to be making babies -- which sounds like a fake argument to me anyway, and maybe even a retcon, given that Anya was supposed to be a soldier before she became a wimpy lieutenant.

Secondly, now that there's finally a chance to include a female character in this hyper-masculine world, ... the developers have decided that the reason she's there is because there's something "wrong" with her that makes her an "ineffective" woman (at least according to the rules of this universe).

What if a woman just didn't want to make babies, and wanted to serve humanity in another way? Can the developers really not imagine a scenario where a woman wouldn't want to to choose this path? According to this premise, the only reason why a woman would want to fight off an endless Locust Horde destroying her planet would be if she had absolutely no other way to spend her time.

Leaving aside those problems -- which are so awkward that I can't even think about them very long without getting a headache -- there's the issue of Alex Brand's personality. Her favorite insult for her male co-soldiers in the comic? "Princess." Right, because women love insulting their male friends by insinuating that they are ... women. Because being a woman in this universe is pretty much the worst insult that anyone, including women, can imagine.

Halo: ODST made similar mistakes with their introduction of Veronica Dare. After reading this article about ODST's problems, I actually decided not to get the game. A big deal for me, since I pretty much buy every single co-op shooter that the market provides. I really don't want to see the Gears franchise make embarrassing mistakes in their first real foray into female soldiers.

It's perfectly fine to write stories about men. Problems arise when you are write stories for men ... and only for men. Gears already has female fans, but if the developers hope to keep those fans (let alone get more), caution is advised. Going in the wrong direction with Alex Brand could be a dealbreaker.

I don't want to suggest that these games might be better without a female character, because I don't think that's true -- I think every story benefits from diversity of perspective (in gender, race, background, class, whatever). It'll generally make a plot more interesting, and it'll get a wider variety of people interested in the story because they'll be able to relate to the characters in it. But if you make a "token minority" character into some sort of stereotype, or a minority who self-hates to "fit in," you're going to drive away the very people that you want to attract to your game. It's a bit of a tightrope -- especially for male developers who have no personal experience with, y'know, being a woman. So, what should they do? Talk to a woman. Or even more than one! Get some feedback.

Personally, I'd love to playtest this game, or maybe just look at early dialogue. But since I doubt I'll get to do that, I'll just spell out the basics: leave the self-hating "princess" insults out, don't bring up the baby-making nonsense, and please don't have an ODST-esque subplot where Alex Brand gets kidnapped and has to be rescued, okay?


...Seriously, the only role the creators of Gears of War see for women in the future is baby makers? And the only way not to be relegated to 'incubator' is to incapable of bearing children? Really? Really?

This reminds me of the game devs who wrote off creating female characters in favor of realistic wall damage. :/
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mcpreacher 14th-Apr-2010 03:36 pm (UTC)
gears of war should be considered a cultural embarrassment yet here we are
popehippo 14th-Apr-2010 03:49 pm (UTC)
Please do not tell me this is real.

eyetosky 14th-Apr-2010 03:46 pm (UTC)
I think having the writers/key team members actually hang out with some female soldiers for an extended period of time would be a huge help.
lithiumflower 14th-Apr-2010 04:03 pm (UTC)
I don't think so and I don't think that's the point of the games. They operate on an idealized fantasy of macho male idiocy and barefoot useless females. Convincing them to make a more convincing and humane portrayal of everyone is really key, instead of just going for the most conveniently sexist portrayal that they argue is what really appeals to their fanbase, a fanbase they won't exchange for a less creepy and shitty one.
popehippo 14th-Apr-2010 03:48 pm (UTC)
Oh goodie, another video game franchise I can avoid like the plague! \:D/

lickety_split 14th-Apr-2010 03:55 pm (UTC)
I love how most developers use the excuse "Oh, well we can't put women in the front lines because we'd have to animate the way they run differently!!!"

Uh, excuse you, but last time I checked but unless a woman is in high heels there really isn't much of a noticeable difference between the way she runs and the way a man runs.

*also goes back to Dragon Age where the women are allowed to run while in uniform*
herbalriver 14th-Apr-2010 03:53 pm (UTC)
Good thing I avoid games like this, good God.

OT: Any good JRPG games you guys recommend for the DS & Wii?
homasse 15th-Apr-2010 01:54 am (UTC)
DS: Final Fantasy Gaiden: 4 Warriors of Light (or whatever they're calling it in English) should be coming out soon. I played it in Japanese, and it was pretty fun, if hella difficult at times.

Wii: Fragile (gameplay is only so-so, but oh, man the atmosphere is amazing)
lithiumflower 14th-Apr-2010 04:00 pm (UTC)
OMG, you couldn't make this shit up! And yet...they did! I wonder if these people ever read these articles because honestly, when you put it this way, it's just embarrassing. But since they have the privilege of being douchebags and telling women to get over it, I doubt they care.
internal666 14th-Apr-2010 04:05 pm (UTC)
And this is why I play Halo.
ladypeyton 14th-Apr-2010 05:29 pm (UTC)
I'm confused. Master Chief is strictly a male character, right? You can't change his gender, IIRC.
ashkenazkamikaz 14th-Apr-2010 04:23 pm (UTC)
What a counterproductive way to be inclusive about women in FPSs.
yunghustlaz 14th-Apr-2010 04:25 pm (UTC)
Console shooter game sucks, world remains unsurprised.
ladypeyton 14th-Apr-2010 05:28 pm (UTC)
Is GoW strictly a console game?
lightning_ougi 14th-Apr-2010 04:31 pm (UTC)
Goddamnit. You know, I kinda wanted to play this game because of all the nasty ass monster designs and the IT'S A GIANT WOOOOOORM---

You know what? Nevermind.

You know, everyone would be better off playing Aliens Versus Predator (3).

The game is as violent as fuck, but it lovingly captures the worlds of the series, adding in so many details and mechanics, ie the Xenomorph's blood can kill you, so don't blow them up too close.

Not to mention, there is a pretty equal ratio of male to female Space Marines. Suck on that, Gears of War.
ladyofshalott06 14th-Apr-2010 05:22 pm (UTC)
And this is why I prefer Dragon Age and Mass Effect.
ladypeyton 14th-Apr-2010 05:27 pm (UTC)
Looks like that's a series I won't ever need to invest in. Luckily, Fallout: Las Vegas is coming out in September. (crosses fingers against delays)
lightning_ougi 14th-Apr-2010 05:30 pm (UTC)
Oh boy oh boy. I'm so excited for New Vegas!
varhan 14th-Apr-2010 05:42 pm (UTC)
the chick in that pic looks like hayley willaims
escherichiacola 14th-Apr-2010 06:03 pm (UTC)
I though GoW was the game equivalent of locker room grab ass.
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