Guys of War

Been playing Gears of War 2 in split-screen co-op campaign mode with Gordon the last couple of days. Even that sentence is kind of amazing, the level of technical specificity I have to use to communicate the nature of play. That aside, the game is about as broad as a barn.

Playing the game, especially along with someone else, feels related to watching movies like Predator or Rambo. There’s no way in sweet hell you could ever become immersed or even attempt to take the game’s world and narrative and rhetoric seriously. Even playing Gears of War on my own there was generally a willful ignoring of what my over-muscled dude was grunting about the state of the world and his personal beliefs.

But when you’re sitting there with another intelligent human being, both piloting giant men (whose thighs must chafe terribly) as they run through the ruins, it becomes very clearly a blockbuster and not a story. Which is intriguing to me, because I rely fairly heavily on the narrative to make me feel involved in such linear shooty-shooty games. Here, the narrative is central to keeping me at arm’s length.

Given that the shooting mechanics of the Gears of War 2 are completely fine, but hardly anything to write home about, I started to wonder what exactly I was getting out of playing it. And really, it’s like watching and joking about a bad movie. Predator and Rambo don’t really deserve the call out at the top there, the Gears of War vibe is far more inane than either of those every were. Frankly, I’m struggling to find a comparison. I want to say Play 9 From Outer Space to capture the schlock, but that’s a different affair and revolves at least partially around a quiet admiration for Ed Wood’s passion.

It’s probably more like watching Troll 2 if you haven’t seen the associated documentary. It’s ridiculous, and you stick around for the ridiculousness, along with the usual video game crack of progression and performing menial shooting tasks with your opposable thumbs and fingers. Gears of War 2 feels devoid of meaning to me and it’s really only as an object of mild ridicule and continuous banter that it makes sense to play it.

Like a movie like Avatar, it feels like these massive (and expensive) games like Gears of War are forging off into some bizarre territory – a caricature of humanity and human interests running along with chafing thighs.

11 February 2011
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