Pop Quiz, Hotshot.

We’re still trundling beefily through Gears of War 2, shooting aliens in the face, hiding behind convenient cover, pulling levers. All that heroic stuff. Not many decisions to be made, by and large, because the course is clear – gotta save the world.

However, there is the occasional chose offered. Like when you decide whether you want to… go left or right. Or whether you want to… take the lift or the stairs. Or whether you should… go along the rooftops or through the buildings. These are the chin-scratching moments where fates are decided.

But enough sarcasm. Today’s playing of Gears of War 2 did actually manage to shock me, which I find kind of impressive given the otherwise extraordinarily flat emotional state it otherwise puts me in. And in fact it was a moment of choice, too, just not a choice I got the chance to make. It was shocking because Dom, the guy I happen to be controlling, made.

So, on our way to save the world from the evil aliens, Dom, who loves his wife very much (this is, in many ways, the central dramatic/emotional tension in the game) decides we need to take a detour to look for her. Okay, he loves her, it’s a very powerful commitment he’s showing… but, really, Dom? Is it the best thing to delay saving the world at this point? Are we not in some sort of hurry to make sure that all of humanity is not doomed?

No? Okay, fine. Let’s go look.

And off we go, looking for Dom’s wife, Maria. It will not surprise you, gentle reader, that we had to get our hands a bit dirty with alien blood to make our way through the alien concentration camps where the captive humans are kept. It will also hardly surprise you that we managed to find the menacing steel pod in which Maria was being held. But then things do get a little weird.

So we open up the pod thing and out staggers Maria. After a brief “vision” where she looks fine and dandy, we see that she’s actually in dire straights. She’s emaciated, hollow eyed, and looks disconnected from reality. In all ways it’s fairly clear she’s meant to reference survives of the Nazi camps. She is not at all in good shape, and Dom is suitably upset. She doesn’t even seem to recognise him as he cradles her in his arms saying “no, no, no…”

I will even admit that I thought this was a pretty well-done moment. The idea of finding your wife who has been tortured and maybe driven out of her mind is deeply painful and I felt the game did a passable job at it. So, pop quiz, hotshot – your wife has been mercilessly abused at the hands of a brutal alien race. She’s emaciated. She’s not all there mentally. What do you do? What do you do?

Well, if you’re Dom, what you do after a lot of breast-beating, is that you shoot her in the head.

That’s what happens. He kills her. Further, Marcus (the other guy) walks off just before this, obviously knowing that that’s what Dom’s going to do. We hear the gunshot as he walks away. Moreover, from the swelling music and so on, it’s all very clear that Dom killing his wife was the right thing to do. Holy shit.

Gordon asked me how I would react if I had just rescued an emaciated and mentally and emotionally damaged Rilla from some kind of concentration camp. Various things sprung to mind, like loving attention, care, nourishment, therapy… maybe over time a return to some semblance of a life. Many things can be done in these cases that don’t involve murdering the person you love most in the world.

But Gears of War 2 is all like: shoot the hostage.

18 February 2011
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