And now, W!F continues its tradition of timeliness with this post about Gears of War 2, which came out six months ago.
Recently I happened to watch the notorious tear-jerking scene in Gears of War 2 where one of the main heroes, Dom, is finally reunited with his wife, Maria, after she’s been tortured by the Locust for ten years, and then he shoots her in the head.
Okay, it’s not quite like that. But it’s close enough that it made me fairly angry. From what I see, it looks like Dom thinks he’s found his beautiful wife, but when it turns out she’s not so beautiful anymore, he decides the best course of action is a “mercy killing”. This all plays out in about a minute. He takes ONE MINUTE to make the decision to KILL HIS WIFE. Instead of, you know, getting her some medical attention at least. That’s just ridiculous.
I had a short conversation on Twitter with Mr Ryan Gan of the JPAG where he came up with some possible explanations, but when it comes down to it, the in-game reasoning doesn’t matter much. I was completely missing the point when I criticized that aspect of the scene. Even if the in-game reasoning were completely solid and logical, the game still utilizes the tired and sexist Women in Refrigerators trope; it is still part of a bigger and disturbing pattern of entertainment where female characters are killed off in order to develop or provide motivation for a male character. It’s not only lazy writing but lazy game design [relevant part is after the spoiler warning].
Getting lost in sorting out in-game justifications for sexism or racism or homophobia or transphobia and so on muddles the issue: just because there is an in-game explanation for something doesn’t mean it’s not offensive. Of course the people who created the thing are going to have some kind of flimsy rationale for it existing!
We saw this a lot with the Resident Evil 5 controversy. When critics expressed shock that RE5 contained African zombies actually wearing grass skirts and wielding spears, some responded that this was all explained in the game; the residents of Kiujuju regressed to a more primitive state as a side effect of the zombie virus.
Great, so there’s an in-game explanation for it. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that it’s still a blatant racist caricature. In addition, why is a certain way of dressing considered “regressing” to a “more primitive state”? The thinking behind this design choice is ignorant and lazy at best. (Once again, N’Gai Croal has the answers.)
Now, this does not mean in-game explanations are completely irrelevant when criticizing games. The explanation for why something is a certain way or why a character does something can have important affects on the meaning of that thing or a person’s interpretation of the game. But these explanations cannot excuse lazy or ignorant writing, and/or helping to perpetuate institutionalized oppression. It’s something that generally needs to be judged on a case-by-case basis, but here’s a hint: if the criticism has to do with racism, transphobia, and/or other oppressions, then the in-game rationale isn’t going to matter very much.