Escapist: I’ve Got To Be A Macho Man

By Kieron Gillen on May 14th, 2008 at 10:21 am.

In their Epic issue, the Escapist pays me cash money to vent a little about the somewhat odd double-standard people have about adolescent games, specifically Gears of War.

Along with my peers, I chuckled at the “So Macho” remake of Gears of War as 2006 drew to a close. And this was only natural. Gears of War’s washed-out, hyper-macho vision of a world on the cusp of complete annihilation was more than a little silly. That’s fine. That’s videogames. But my first clue that this satire was solidifying into something else came with Eurogamer’s year-end awards.

Lots more, including usavoury metaphors, digs at Walker and euologising of hypermachismo in the full thing. In short: If wanting that gun Blaine has is in the Predator is wrong, who’d want to be right?

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68 Comments »

  1. Rook says:

    “Serious gamers” – Uh oh, casual and hardcore weren’t enough for you?

    It’s kinda interesting to read/listen to games commentary post review as that’s when people feel it’s ok to really criticise it personally. Crysis get’s more than a passing reference to how bad it becomes post spaceship. Bioshock get’s lambasted for it’s lame moral choice and equally terrible last 1/5th. But these things are generally glossed over in reviews.

  2. Seniath says:

    Saw this last night, very good read, made me chuckle out loud on several occasions :)

  3. Alex says:

    I don’t know.. in the end you have to ask yourself “is the game itself fun enough”. And if it isn’t, the ‘visual sauce’ on top of it can become truly grating (the feeling that the developers are trying to hide something, or rather, nothing), which may have been what has happened with Gears of War (I can’t say myself – I’ve only played the first 10 minutes or so on the PC and that did look like someone had sneezed mud all over my monitor, which didn’t impress me at first glance)?

    Also, isn’t this just a general reaction to the cliched mess most shooters have become? I think a lot of people wanted the Old Spice-infused ubermanliness turned down a bit, where GoW actually turned the dial to 11 (and now they’re going for 21, what with nr.2 going to be “”bigger, better and more badass” – oh, how I wish they’d said badasser..).

  4. Jonathan says:

    That article really drives home my fascination with homophobia. Why do some hetrosexual men get so aggressive and even violent towards homosexuals? There’s hundreds of cases where a gay or bi sexual person gets beaten or even killed just because they like jazz and cushions. Or a cock to remove the quasi-offensive stereotype.

    I think it’s to do with not being able to *do* heterosexuality. By that I mean prove your sexuality in your behaviour which is why some go so far into macho land. Getting the blondest most titted girl they can find, showing off big manly muscles and driving massive throbbing red cars all fit into the I have sex with proper women. Of course if you can’t do any of that beating the crap out of a man weaker than you and shouting about how they repulse you would work just as well.

    Slightly off topic I know.

  5. Kieron Gillen says:

    I was kind of inspired to write it by the people critiquing people’s love of Gears of War as closet-cases ending up inching towards homophobia in and of itself.

    And – y’know – to make some gags.

    KG

  6. AndrewC says:

    While I do think there’s some strawman simplification of ‘those who are wrong/disagree with you’, as Mr Grumpy Rook tried to express, I do like the argument that while we are too old for the adolescant stuff we are also too old for the kiddie stuff too, so why do we have different reactions to the them.

    People, if i am allowed my own strawman argument, who are offended by the adolescant attitude are still too close to that frame of mind to be able to play around in it without feeling shame at all the stupid shit they did as teenagers. Once you have genuinely moved on from that moronic mindset, you can go back to it with amusement, but if you are still struggling within it, there’s a need to kick back against it to prove to everyone (or themselves) that they are not a part of it.

    With that said, I can’t agree with you criticising the need of people for these games to have some sort of ironic distance. We do not play kiddie games ‘as’ children, but ‘like’ children. Ironic distance is inbuilt in an adult approaching these games, but if it has to be 100% projected by the gamer onto the game, with no recognition from the game, would the game simply not get tedious? Like those cartoons that are nothing but flashing lights – great for a really young kid, but there’s just no way in for an adult.

    And finally, i’m pretty sure there is some ironic distance to be got from GOW. when they’re down in the tunnels and you fight the giant crab thing, just before it dies it leaps up and towers over you, bringing it’s massive claws down, seemingly on top of you…and the main character doesn’t even flinch. It’s so over the top it had to be deliberate, just as that level in COD4 – death from above – with the helicopters and the night vision, was so callous, so dehumanising it had to be a deliberate comment upon the dehumanising effect of real-war-as-computer-game that recent media representations of war has become. Right?

    …right?

  7. essell says:

    “just as that level in COD4 – death from above – with the helicopters and the night vision, was so callous, so dehumanising it had to be a deliberate comment upon the dehumanising effect of real-war-as-computer-game that recent media representations of war has become.”

    I think it was RPS that interviewed the Infinity Ward people and asked about that, only to be told that (paraphrase) “Nah we weren’t trying to make any statements there, we just thought it would be awesome!”…

  8. Lh'owon says:

    Good read. I do think you leave the obvious question unanswered though — where is the line between stupid stupid and brilliant stupid?

    Maybe I’m just Mr. Grouchy but I’d hate to think developers could come out with distilled stupid and get it hailed as brilliantly stupid. Some things are just stupid.

  9. AndrewC says:

    Then that’s scarily compartmentalised.

    But then I remember an interview with Cliffy B where he was at some metal gig for a band called something like ‘from a dead tree’ or ‘death, death, misery and some more death, mom’ and he had an epiphany that it was the guys in the mosh pit that he was truly making these games for and he should ignore all other considerations. That kind of made me want to leave them to it.

  10. Heliocentricity says:

    and it was…

    “boom! 2 more by the car… he’s still moving, hit him again”

  11. Jonathan says:

    My own problem with “adolescent” games is that they’re never sure what they want to be. They try to do too much like in God Of War where they try to have your god puncher both the unstoppable killing machine but also have a weepy back story. Or in Gears of War where they give you the most ludicrous caricatures of ruthless marines while still trying to make the world seem coherent. Kids games on the other hand seem to have less to prove, they relish in abstraction like collecting jigsaw pieces. They’ll build cartoonish worlds around their characters moves instead of making a realistic setting and shoe horning your character into them. You can’t be embarrassed or pick holes in the story of Mario because there isn’t one, there’s just an excuse. As such all you have is the game itself and, when done right, that is ageless.

  12. Tom Camfield says:

    A slightly adjacent question:

    I’m currently enjoying playing TF2 on my mate’s PS3, and I’ve never been insulted there, possibly because there’s no voice communication. I was wondering re: 360, I believe there’s different areas to play, like family / recreation / underground or something, does the pointless abuse only occur in the ‘underground’ area or is it everywhere? I was thinking of getting a 360, but if there’s unrestrained gay hate going on I’d rather get a PS3, even if the 360 currently has a better range of game etc. Cheers.

  13. phuzz says:

    @Johnathan
    I reckon the violent side of homophobia comes from fear.
    (gross generalisations follow)
    Men aren’t scared of women raping them, it’s just not likely to happen, and then suddenly when confronted by a person who could potentially violate them against their will and they get scared and lash out.
    Or at least that’s what I’ve always thought, of course peer pressure and cultural stuff play a big part as well. eg you won’t often see someone here on RPS using ‘gay’ as an insult, but go online, and you’ve got a good chance of being called a fag etc. And yet we’re all ‘just’ gamers.

  14. Lorc says:

    I think that Gears of War (like Metal Gear Solid) is one of those games that I can simultaneously enjoy and mock for the exact same reasons without cognitive dissonance.

    When played perfectly straight faced, big burly broad-chested capital-M-manly marines are both gung-ho fun /and/ camptacular silliness. At the same time. And not in a bad way either.

    (I also thought that the consistently washed-out grey colour-scheme was very effective – especially in contrast to the underground drippy glowy stuff – so I’m probably just an anomalous contrarian and/or pervert.)

    If pressed I’d admit that laughing along with Gears of War is something of a guilty pleasure compared to laughing /at/ it. It may be a little embarrassing to enjoy it sans irony, and sometimes I wonder if I’m trying just a little too hard to laugh at it, but that’s just me being self-conscious and I don’t believe that it represents any kind of flaw in the game itself.

    Good article by the way.

  15. phil says:

    To misquote Nathan Barley:
    “Over stimulated, adolescent boys with ADD and issues will love Gears of War – brilliant; normal people will think we’re being self consciously ironic – also brilliant”.

  16. Meat Circus says:

    I’m confused. If you really wanted to look at big muscular men and huge, dripping cocks, wouldn’t you access a nearest Internet and do just that that instead of chainsawing some aliens?

    Gears of War’s failing was never quite being certain whether it was supposed to be taking itself seriously or not, and ends up failing to achieve either the required level of silliness or seriousness to make it a truly memorable piece of heavy weapon homotainment.

  17. AndrewC says:

    Gay men are all potential rapists, Phuzz?

  18. Meat Circus says:

    I don’t think he said that, to be fair.

    Though, of course, /all/ men are potential rapists.

  19. Okami says:

    I love Gears of War. It’s big, ugly and stupid. And I for one loved the visual style of the game. Before Gears of War, I didn’t even know just how many different shades of brown and grey there are in the world.

    I also revelled int the more than gratuitous violence, you just have to love the feel of your 500 pound Cock err… Cog slamming into a wall of concrete to take cover behind it. And pumping round after round of bullets into incredibly manly and muscular alien hottie… monsters never got old for me.

  20. AbyssUK says:

    It’s just a game about big guys with guns.. like the squillions that have come before it.. I can’t remember big discussions about if the Doom Guy loved penises or indeed if BJ Blazkowicz liked dressing up in ladies under ware.. I don’t get the fascination with gears specifically, honestly it was an average FPS at best with a below average Sci-fi storyline.

  21. araczynski says:

    i’ve got nothing against the site or whoever wrote it, but i get the feeling that he/she is either really bored, or really mad that he didn’t finish shrink school.

    nothing is funnier to me than psychoanalysis of a game.

    GoW was a good game, i played through the story in 20 hours or whatever it was, enjoyed it, sold it, moved on to the next game. That’s what games are for, for brief enjoyment, and perhaps a short ‘escape’. If you’re into psycho/socioanalysis, you and your thoughts would be more seriously taken if you moved on to, well, a serious topic.

    anyway, i need some coffee.

  22. Colthor says:

    “Though, of course, /all/ men are potential rapists.”

    And all women are potential prostitutes. The hussies.

  23. Lorc says:

    Words like “potential” or “possible” are very good at sounding like “probably are” and “want to be”, even if the person using them means nothing of the sort.

    While this means that using them when talking about hot-button topics is often a bad idea, it also means that what they imply isn’t necessarily what the other person was trying to say.

    It would be incredibly silly if things got derailed into flames over an imperfect choice of word.

  24. Okami says:

    And all goats are potential sluts. The way they allways smile teasingly at me.. They want it, I know it!

  25. Alex says:

    I think I just don’t like ironic entertainment, playing a game/watching a film/listening to music with ironic distance. I certainly see how it can be fun but it always feels like I could’ve spent that time playing/watching/listening to something that I actually, really liked (or had the chance of really liking, at least).

    I will now opinion away.

  26. Meat Circus says:

    @Lorc:

    DAMN YOU, spoiling our fun.

    All Gillens are potential genocidal maniacs.

  27. AndrewC says:

    All PC gamers are potential pirates.

  28. Meat Circus says:

    Now you’ve crossed a line. Rape and genocide, fine. But DOWNLOADING A GAME VIA BITTORRENT? You’ve gone too far.

  29. The Pope says:

    I loved the 80s action movie silliness of the game, but didn’t enjoy the gameplay. It just felt slow and clunky to me.

    By the way, a heads up to a lot of game critiques – there’s nothing more adolescent than getting together and sneering at how mainstream and adolescent something is.

  30. Meat Circus says:

    Of course, none of this is to answer Gillen’s original question: if the Eurogamer commentariat all hated it, what manner of hanging chad shenanigans got it into the Top 10?

  31. AndrewC says:

    Ellie Gibson?

  32. Ginger Yellow says:

    I agree with pretty much everything Kieron says in that piece, and I’ve found the Gears backlash rather bemusing. It’s great at what it does – mindless, over the top carnage, coop play and flashy visuals and set pieces. If you don’t like that, then that’s absolutely fine and understandable, but it doesn’t justify the hate.

    I think part of it is that despite the unoriginality/poor quality of its setting, story and dialogue, it was reasonably cutting edge in many ways at the time, but was swiftly equalled or superceded. It’s harder to see its merits past the cliche now. It was one of the first shooters to have a decent cover system, but now everything does, even GTA. It was the first game to really push next gen consoles’ graphics (technically, if not art direction), but there are plenty of games now that look just as pretty and much more colourful. It was one of the first shooters to have campaign coop play, and implemented it very well. Now lots of games have campaign coop or something similar, although few do it as smoothly (and even fewer with a split screen option). All these reasons justified the high scores/sales at the time, but they don’t make it stand out any more. There’s a whole field of titles with comparable features but much better story/level design/art direction.

  33. Sucram says:

    Golly KG you’re right. People don’t mock Devil May Cry nearly enough.

  34. Robin says:

    Gears of War is the Poochy of action games, representing a kind of ‘cargo cult’ approach to game aesthetics. Insulting to the intelligence of the audience in its insincerity as much as its artlessness.

    It’s as if a bunch of executives had noticed that lots of successful games ripped off their setting from Aliens or Tolkien, and misinterpreted this as meaning that there was an audience that actively sought out this kind of mindless Todd MacFarlane piss, rather than that it was the best that the terminally uncool developers could come up with.

    It’s what happens when a developer is given vastly too much money but no creative direction, allowing them to retreat to their comfort zone. (And as such must be aggravating for developers who would actually do something progressive with that level of resources.) It’s a game made for a demographic that doesn’t exist, bought into by a captive audience that had no investment in it beyond being bored of waiting for Halo 3.

    Doom was brilliant, care-free, wallowing in it’s own filth and adolescent bravado. It was also the product of six mulleted men in a garage, not a multi-billion-dollar corporation. Gears of War is a paunchy middle-aged estate agent doing Megadeth karaoke. It’s not just the games-as-art set who should find it distasteful.

  35. The Shed says:

    Quality article. Although I never really considered any games to be “Teenage” games, I surely see your point. Also, How the hell did I miss the “So Macho” video?!

    “When I heard My Chemical Romance for the first time in 2006, just as Gears arrived, I knew that if I were 12 years old, they’d be the most important band on Earth. Now, in my early 30s, they’re the funniest. And I’m fine with it, either way.”

    That pretty much sums the whole thing up, but GoW is a game, so you can enjoy playing it to a degree either way. And I still can’t forgive the hunk of steaming proverbial that Black Parade is, no matter how comical their attempts at music are.

  36. cliffski says:

    I’ve never played GOW or even seen a video of it. whenever I see some muscle-bound hunky American football player type with a big gun in a game, I just roll my eyes and turn the page.
    I don’t get the appeal, except as stated, in a homoerotic way. They also remind me too much of the attitude of modern day real life marines fighting wars on a dubious premise. This is why I like a good WW2 FPS. Its a historical game about a fight we can all agree was a just cause.

  37. Jochen Scheisse says:

    I didn’t know it was that cool to hate Gears of War. I don’t see a difference between Gears of War and, lets say Halo. Both are no nonsense shooters with no storyline ambition, catering to some mildly different mixture of pride and testosterone. Both are pretty fun to play for a while and become boring quick.

    BUT: Gears of War has an argument going for its existence:

    TEH CHAINSAW GUN!

    If I’m correct, not even Games Workshop Spacemarines owned such a weapon, because its awesomeness was too much even for the Emperors Elite.

    UPDATE: I stand corrected

  38. Doug F says:

    I really can’t make up my mind about My Chemical Romance. One moment I think they’ve forgotten the sense of humour in their attempt to be Queen, and the next I’ll be chuckling over a song like “Teenagers”. Their music is funny, but I can’t tell if they’re in on the joke.

  39. Ginger Yellow says:

    At least nobody makes any claims for GoW’s story. There are legions of fanboys who will tell you that Halo’s story is amazing. The nutters.

  40. dhex says:

    where is the line between stupid stupid and brilliant stupid?

    as a student of this line, i think it’s got a bit to do with doing a bit too much. the constant near-tears laughter one lets loose when watching tokyo drift, for example – each absurdity piling higher and higher until the audience is throwing down money and placing bets on what kind of ridiculous twist will happen next. (my bet was that the grandfather had actually dropped the atomic bomb and in his guilt invented drifting to try and make up for his actions. i lost.)

    a friend of mine showed me a bit of devil may cry 4 just to give me a glimpse of the 3 minute panty-flashing ridiculousness, and i think therein lies the difference between western and japanese juvenile expressions:

    japanese developers make games for 13 year olds who want to dress up in cardboard costumes, while western developers make games for 13 year olds who wish they were old enough to buy beer.

  41. The Shed says:

    @ Jochan: Hating GoW has been cool since sliced bread, buddeh. I guess you’re just damn lucky you missed out on all the sardonic comments thrown its way. I simply can’t bring myself to hate the game, personally; it knows where it’s going and its hustling there at a speed of knots.

  42. Jochen Scheisse says:

    I definitely prefer games like GOW to “Yet Another Normandy Simulator 14″.

  43. AndrewC says:

    Perhaps, Cliffski, if you do not see the appeal, you should play it a bit to see.

    And war is war. I agree that real life considerations should, indeed, can not help but come into how you approach games (rather than the ‘it’s just a game, it doesn’t mean anything’ position expressed above), and GOW’s attitude is so close to America’s current foreign policy as to leave a bad taste in the mouth.

    But war is war, terrible things happen in all of them, the ones fighting in WW2 were not suddenly angels just because they were fighting against nazis, and lots of real people really died in it. Isn’t it less morally reprehensible to run about in a made up war than a real one? And I’m sure the Locust are very, very bad people, making the COG fight a ‘justified’ war too.

  44. dhex says:

    andrewc: the moral reprehensity (i don’t even think that’s a word) would seem to hinge on how it’s handled. it’s all make-believe at the end of the day.

    I don’t get the appeal, except as stated, in a homoerotic way.

    seeing as my favorite genre of game is “shoot it in the face a lot” all i can say is awesomeness is cool. but i think a lot of genres are like that, either it clicks with you or it don’t.

  45. Theory says:

    I think you’re way off base with that Miyamoto comparison Kieron. Epic’s games are childish because they are gratuitous, without any irony save that which the player inserts. They’re Scary Movie with no jokes. Miyamoto’s are merely inclusive, Pixar- and Wallace and Gromit-style.

    On DMC: I can’t believe it’s not butter mocked on a regular basis.

  46. Meat Circus says:

    @dhex:

    But do you like “shoot it in the face a lot” because of its homoerotic overtones?

    japanese developers make games for 13 year olds who want to dress up in cardboard costumes, while western developers make games for 13 year olds who wish they were old enough to buy beer.

    Western developers make games for 13 year olds who wish they were old enough to buy beer and then be roughly bummed by a burly marine, I think you’ll find.

  47. Zonderic says:

    A little bit of aestheticism goes a long way towards enjoying all those guilty pleasures. Everybody enjoys a little role play, that’s a large part of videogames anyway. Getting a little homoerotic can be quite fun in the same way some gratuitously “heterotic” moments are fun. Not in the sense that you are one or the other, but just tweaking the taste, like lemon in water.

  48. Pidesco says:

    I finally got around to reading this article, and I’d just like to say that there is a fundamental difference in quality between Gears of War and Devil May Cry (3, the only one I’ve played). DMC3 is a complex action game requires skill, technique, and is , basically, fucking hard. GoW, on the other hand, is a lazy piece of piece, than only requires you to periodically jump into to cover to regenerate. GoW is stupidly easy, repetitive and boring. DMC3 isn’t.

  49. Theory says:

    I don’t think anyone is talking about the games’ mechanics, Pidesco.

  50. cliffski says:

    “Perhaps, Cliffski, if you do not see the appeal, you should play it a bit to see.”

    Indeed. But is there a PC demo? and how many peggles is it? If its over 20 peggles, I likely wouldn’t bother.