by Christopher Bedford and Jennifer Wulffson
Gears of War depends on a conventional anti-hero/redemption narrative set in another world where it is up to a motley band of once-disgraced brigands to save what remains of humanity from a subterranean enemy known as the Locust Horde. Its formidable commercial success aside, the game is simply a well-executed shoot-’em-up that offers no significant expansion on that well-worn genre. Its television advertisement is of far greater interest: the emphasis on the melancholy, pathos and self-reproach communicated by ‘Mad World’ connects Gears of War to a contemporary understanding of war produced in large part as a response to the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The conundrum for the producers of war-based video games is a delicate one: how to craft and market a war game in an era when public opinion has turned against war as a paradigm? How, for instance, is heroism rendered in a fictional narrative when the most obvious contemporary social referents - the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan - do not, as social histories in the making, embody the kind of unambiguous moral bases easily identified, for example, in World Wars I and II? How can our period eye, in all its ambivalence, be satisfied while still offering a compelling narrative of heroism?
Those responsible for the advertisement of the juggernaut franchise that is Gears of War obviously concluded that to acknowledge the public’s ambivalence was key to eradicating it as an obstacle to the game’s commercial success. While the game’s story is not a romanticized one, the commercial relies on age-old Romantic notions of self. This is, of course, a rather insidious strategy.