[NOTE BEFORE, HEAVY SPOILERS IN THE ARTICLE BELOW]
The Gears of War series has had many charges hurled against it in the past ranging from its damaging effect upon the gaming medium in creating a proliferation of ‘cover shooters’ of ‘chest high walls’ to its corrosive effects upon the morality of society itself, especially considering the fact it apparently glorifies war and depicts its bulky warriors as the height of virility. However, during the course of this article, I’d like to show a different side, a side which might not necessarily emerge through naturally through dialogue, but one which is being portrayed in the setting of the game as well as the overarching plot’s events.
Gears of War depicts the ongoing war between the subterraean Locust Hordes and the struggling survivors of ‘E-Day’, the humans themselves. What is interesting to note before is that in the prologue to Gears of War 2, the near apocalyptic events of ‘E-Day’, that si whent he Locust staged an ambush from underground to flood the cities with Locust and exterminate much of the population, they were weakened by their own wars and obsession with violence as shown through the ‘Pendulum Wars’ before the events of Gears of War, fought over the major fuel source of Sera, imulsion. In this sense, we can see a symbolic connection between the E-Day and the actual idea of Judgement Day in more than just the fact that humans are being exterminated, the humans are being exterminated because they have become so immoral and vicious that they are judged as unfit to survive. Myrrah herself claims that the extermination of the human race was something they brought upon themselves. It was not referencing some kind of injury which the humans had dealt to the Locust, but rather the idea that the destruction of humanity was the logical conclusion of the battles which preceded E-Day, and that the Locust are merely there to spur on humanity’s self-engineered demise. This leads on to an even more intriguing aspect of the Gears of War narrative, that of the metaphorical signficance of the Locust themselves.
The Locust are portrayed as utterly cruel and depraved. They have no qualms about slaughtering men, women and children and serve a singular purpose of engaging in a never-ending war with humanity until it is entirely crushed. At first, one might infer that the Locust are merely generic cannon fodder who exist to satisfy the trope of ‘utterly evil enemy which has to be killed’…however, further scrutiny reveals a more tragic and potentially horrific element to their existence. Many of the Locust are humanoid in character, and their leader, Myrrah is especially humanoid. The only thing that has truly deformed them and alienated them from humanity itself isn’t merely their grotesque appearance, it is their unerring love for murder and destruction, which has led them to the mission of expunging Sera of all human life. This is because in actuality, the Locust represent the mindset of any soldier who is committed to war. War transforms a reasonable man into one whose sole purpose is to murder and kill others, and this means that inevitably, they will surrender those parts of themselves which defines them as humans, which is why if the Locust were a peaceful band of traders who still resembled deformed men,the metaphor would be lost. It is war that deforms them so, and as any soldier’s true purpose in battle, their love of war means that they relish the opportunity to kill any man in their way. Although one might argue that some wars are noble in purpose and thus, the idea of the genocidal Locust representing all soldiers is flawed, one needs only look further into the motivations behind the Locust to realise that their same motivations are similar to that of any other nation out there which attempts to seize the semblance of virtue. Whilst most Locust are incapable of articulating their own reasons for destroying the human race, Myrrah serves as the eloquent messenger of death, describing the necessity of the destruction of the humans, framing their extinction in a scientific way as though nature itself demands their destruction to allow the physically superior Locust to occupy Nature’s position of lords of Sera. Ultimately, most players will see this ‘noble mission’ for what it is, a land grab by Myrrah to try and placate her restless Locust hordes and an attempt to justify the systematic slaughter of countless men, women and children…but are these not the same motivations that spurs on any soldier? Have these promises of glory not been fed during WWII, and WWI, and the Great Napoleonic Wars, and during the colonization of Australia and the Americas? The series demonstrates that every war has its ‘justification’ but challenges the player to analyse whether it can every truly justify the deaths of other men.
This ‘addiction’ to war is also widely reflected in the ‘addiction’ to imulsion, that is essentially the fuel for most of modern day civilization’s machinery and infrastructure. imulsion is so precious as to be equated to our own world’s oil, and in fact it was this reliance that spawned so much inter-necine conflict between the humans in the first place and left the humans vulnerable to attack fromt he otuset. In this sense, imulsion portrays two things, not only that the over-reliance and addiction to certain things can be damaging and harmful, but that the very nature of this addiction fuels another more devastating addiction, that of war. Moreover, it is a subtle social commentary on the way in which fuel might often be a seductive commodity to wage wars for, as the Iraq war and Gulf Wars both illustrate this, here fuel is not only a reason to wage war but also the way in which war itself is fuelled. It is this destructive cycle that plagues Sera and has culminated in the near extinction of humanity.
However, there is an even more interesting analysis to be gained here. The theory that the Locust are merely humans deformed b a lust for war goes further, it could be that the Locust were actually humans at one point in the lore of the story but were changed when they were exposed to imulsion, something which is explored in Gears of War 3. It is by being exposed to this ‘addiction’ for war and fuel for so long that literally changes men from normal beings to the savage killers that comprise the Locust race. This is heavily suggested by the fact that the more imulsion creatures in Gears of War 3 are exposed to, the more powerful and deranged they become. This is why the final weapon in the Gears of War trilogy is so effective, since it targets all the emulsion in all infected Locust and humans, it is literally destroying the ‘addiction’ man has to war, an addiction which once destroyed will finally secure a path to peace for the world at last. This solution does not come without a price though, Marcus realises that his father has infected himself with imulsion to study the effects just as the weapon is about to fire. It is a point of tragedy when Marcus beholds his father transformed into ashes before his very eyes as the imulsion dooms his father to death. This could merely be an opportunity by the writers to reinforce the concept of sacrifice into the nature of war, but the actual meaning is more sophisticated than that. As Myrrah later recalls, Marcus’ father was not only a scientist who helps end the war, he was the architect of some of the most powerful and terrible weapons of the war, especially the Hammer of Dawn. In a sense, whilst the soldiers are both actors and victims in the war, he has merely contributed to the deaths of many, not only of Locust kind but in the most desperate stages of the war, even civilian populations in an effort to deny the Locust any ground. His death affirms the fact that all wh participate in war have to be held accountable at some time, just as humanity itself was judged by the Locust for their own addiction to war.
Though Gears of War might not retain the sophisticated dialogue of a Bioware game and often appears to indulge more in gratuitous violence than it does criticise it, there exist many subtle elements of satire and criticism built into the structure of the world itself. It might be excessive to say that a game which regularly encourages its players to sever foes into pieces with a chainsaw built into a gun is a sophisticated critique of war, it definitely acknowledges the brutality of war, something which is demonstrated by the end of the series when all the soldiers rejoice the end of the war. They are too scarred by the lives sacrificed and the violence of the war to usher it back, and with the destruction of imulsion, perhaps not only their means to war but also their addiction to war have finally been destroyed once and for all and love and compassion can enter back into the lives not only of the Cog soldiers, but humanity itself.