The Pectoral Cliché -- What Is The Purpose Of The Gears Bulge?

In the opening scenes of Gears of War 3 we see a beefed up Gear tending to his radishes. The contrast between the radish plants and sheer muscle mass of the Gears it’s meant to feed is almost comical. “That’s always the joke, isn't it?” says the Cliff Bleszinski, the design director at Epic Games. “They’re on a world that’s desperate and they have this huge muscle mass — where are they finding the calories to sustain that?”

Bleszinski jokes that sustaining each bicep alone with require 5000 calories a day, but when I quiz him about why the Gears of War franchise has always gravitated towards huge, muscular, dudebro characters, he explains that there is a good reason behind Marcus Fenix having bulging pecs.

“It’s really about empowerment,” he says.

“One of Gears’ strength that people like to knock it for is its characters’ large western design. I’m a big fan of identifiable design, so it’s like ‘What shooter game is that? Oh, the one with the characters that have heavy army who are really buff, oh I know that game’, as opposed to ‘What game is that? The one with the guy with the camouflage. Oh, I don’t know which one that is’.”

Bleszinski says it’s a style they have chosen and committed to, and it’s about empowering players to feel like they can do anything and giving them a fantasy to experience.

“It’s about you feeling like you can be this walking tank of a character whether you’re a guy who has come home from work to a family of kids and hates his boss, or you’re a kid who has come home from school and your teacher’s given you crap, you get to come home and be that big guy and save the world and ram a bayonet through an alien creature,” he says.

But empowering the player in such a way isn’t exactly original. Video games have long used hyper-buff characters with fists larger than heads; many of this year’s releases alone have not been short of meaty heroes who would put even the world’s greatest bodybuilders to shame.

So how does Bleszinski avoid making his characters clichés?

“You take the time with the characters and have the players get to know them,” he says.

Bleszinski openly admits that the first Gears of War fell into a bit of a cliché with its character development inasmuch that were wasn’t a lot of it — players were not given the chance to get to know the characters. He says this cliché was reduced in Gears of War 2 by sharing Dom’s story and giving the characters something to have happen with them. For Gears of War 3, Bleszinski believes that they have gone full-circle.

“Not only can players read the novels and the comic books, players can really get to know the characters,” he says.

“There are moments in Gears 3 where you play as Augustus Cole and you’re standing in a thrash ball stadium, and you realise that maybe he’s overcompensating with all his hooting and hollering, maybe he’s just really sad right now and wishes he could go back and play his old sport and he misses his glory days.”

“We have all these moments like Marcus having a recurring nightmare where he sees what he believes is the death of his father — these moments add a bit more texture to these characters.”

Do you agree with Cliff Bleszinski? Do the characters in Gears of War 3 feel empowering? Or are they clichés? What has your experience with Gears of War 3 been like? Let us know what you think!


Comments

    Might want to fix up this article on the main page, Tracey!

    They're clichés through and through. Sure there's plot and attempts at giving them depth, but I tend to ignore that.

    The game is a fun little romp through the world of ultra-violence and brohood. I don't take it seriously, I don't consider it empowering, it's just good solid fun and I don't feel the need to seek anything more than that from it.

      But Bunny, it allows me to continue CHAINSAWING PEOPLE IN HALF! Where would I be without it? ON THE STREET CHAINSAWING PEOPLE! And this time I won't get arrested(maybe for my public nudity, but that's a different kettle of chips), so it's empowering.

      It's funny you mentioned brohood because I need to get someone else to play this with coop or I'll never return to it. Army of Two was hilarious to play with another 'bro' and make bro puns.

      I wouldn't take the Gears games seriously if the devs didn't. Their laughable attempt at making these guys more than one-dimensional in GoW2 with the Dom subplot was beyond stupid.

      You're making a game with roid-ragey meatheads. Go nuts. Give them all bandanas and Rambo jokes. Don't try to insert a dead wifey story at the 11th hour. It's jarring.

    'What shooter game is that? Oh, the one with the characters that have heavy army who are really buff, oh I know that game’

    I fail to see how this demonstrates his point, but ok.

    Is there really a bayonet on that mounted machine gun there? Really? A bayonet? In case your enemy gets right up to the barrel dodging your hail of gunfire only to stumble at the last second and impale his locust self on the end of the barrel...still, epic.

      Mounted gun made from the old lancers hence the bayonets.

        Ah I see it now. I still stand by my statement though :P

          I think it's definitely fair to question why there's blood on the bayonets.

          That stuff is nasty, anybody knows that you need to clean it out immediately post battle. Not to mention cleaning your gun since there's the chance of gibs having gone down the barrel.

            There locust, not cleanly to begin with. Second, the game explains they've gone feral.

              He's talking about weapon maintenance, not the bad guys.

              And while it may be fair to consider some of the early locust "feral" I would struggle to call the bunkered down, organised troops found later in the game feral. And where do you get the idea that the locust are unclean? Yeah, they burrow in dirt, and are really ugly, but that doesn't mean they're unclean. That's like saying that just because they're antagonists they're baselessly evil. No, a better example, because someone's English they poison people using tea.

              (And the correct word there was "They're," which is a contraction of they are)

                Actually, in Gears3 I think Baird mentions that the Locust were always clean and organised, but the ones on the surface were scattered and using salvage for weapons and buildings.

                  I don't think he uses the word clean, which is why I avoided mentioning it, but he does say something along those lines.

    Empowering? Not really, no. But I do think the level of character development and story they've reached is really damn good considering the cliched and over-the-top nature of the game.

    Hell that moment in Gears 2 with Dom was, for me at least, one of the most memorable videogame moments ever and boy did I kill Locust with the fury of a thousand suns after that.

      Wow, seriously? The most memorable videogame moment? I like gears just like everybody else but, that has got to be the saddest thing ive ever heard.

        I said it was "one of the".

      I'm glad someone else really appreciated that part. That's the sort of thing that made me glad I played gears 2 solo first, when I played through co-op the second time my partner was having a laugh at it and I wanted to reach through the mic and punch him in the face.

        yeah it was strangely emotional... maybe it was because i was trying to put myself in Dom's shoes and thinking how i would feel being forced to pull the trigger on my love... or maybe i'm just a pansy... or both

        I actually found it a bit awkward. It was more sombre the second time around, maybe because I knew it was coming.

          I just thought the whole thing was a bit hamfisted. Like they were trying to hard to make an emotional point and it just didn't work for me.

        I laughed at that part because it was so over the top and ridiculous.

        It felt like a year 10 play about pregnancy or drugs.

          but, but those are really emotionaaaaaal... i just thought it was refreshing to see one of them attempt (in a b-movie classic kind of way) to break away from the "eat shit and die" attitude and actually show some different kind of emotion

      Are you serious? My friend and I played it co-op, and when we got to the scene we burst out laughing at how contrived it was. We assumed it was a joke from the developers

        I guess some of us just aren't so bitter and cynical :P

      It really did add to his character and made his moment in Gears3 really great and even brought tears to my eyes.

      Of course, many fratboys will just laugh at it because having emotions isn't manly and you're only manly when you teabag, drink, and put roofies in girls drinks. Only sissy boys aren't manly enough to be men.

      Nope. I didn't feel a thing when Dom had to pull the trigger on her. I expected that Maria wouldn't be the same after. After all, war never changes.

    As an interesting side note, they finally got the "silhouettes" of all the characters down pat, and while it's largely irrelevant due to being played in co-op, it does make it far easier from a visual standpoint to distinguish between the different Gears at a glance, even in darkness.

    They're no more cliched than any other game franchise.

    Epic have applied a strong style to the GoW world and it fits well. They look like they could happily romp through a world of ultraviolence and barrel over all their enemies.

    The "nuggety build" nature of all the characters; no one is really... tall and slim/straight, they're like boulders of muscle mass, solid width to go with their height. This design fits well with the way the character grab cover; low and heavily. No one seems overly lithe in the GoW universe, and their characters have a very unique silhouette.

    While the military theme is common in gaming, the overall design is entertainingly unique. The GoW characters certainly suffer from cliches, but once again, I don't think anymore than any other character in gaming that adopts a semi-"Hero's Journey" style of narrative.

    It's nothing like Halo, CoD, Crysis, Mass Effect or other Western shoot 'em all in the head types of games in visual design.

    purpose?
    to give me the biggest broner....
    broner - getting an erection after doing manly things with ur guy friends

    I would gladly take the giant pectorals of the Gears over the tiny-head syndrome everyone in Deux Ex: Human Revolution has.

    CliffyB is 100% right.

    It feels really fucking good to be Marcus, chainsawing through guys, popping headshots, and bumping fists.

      Wait, Marcus goes around fisting bu... oh, you said "bumping fists".

      I tend to become dyslexic on a Friday afternoon.

    I'm not sure why everyone talks about bro-this, and bro-that. Perhaps because they're not comfortable admitting that it's quite homoerotic.

      Yes, because it's only totally gay if guys like each other...

        Why can't a hetrosexual guy tell another hetrosexual guy that his booty is fly? is it so wrong?

        The only thing I love more then killing locusts is killing locusts with my bros.

          Naturally, it is a team focused game. I don't think there's even a free for all.

      "Homoerotic" might be stretching it a little.

      Gears quite clearly peddles a fantasy of idealized masculine insociation (being accepted by one's bros and being 'one of the bro-group'). This is a fantasy which appeals to a very large number of men of all sexual preferences. You can find it in plenty of media geared towards hetero men as well as in much of gay porn.

      It also appeals to quite a number of women (again of varying sexual preferences). Many women find how men interact with each other as friends to be much more warm and comradely than how women interact with each other (basically, they see woman-woman friendships as having more backstabbery and bitchiness and man-man friendships as being more honest and open).

      But is friendship/affection/bonding/kinship the same thing as sex?

      I'd argue they are closely connected (to varying extents depending on individual context) but to say they're exactly the same thing is probably going a bit too far. Many people of varying genders/sexual preferences do indeed have a very close link between their affection-drives and their sexual drives, but some people do not (for whatever reason).

      Is Gears Homoerotic? I guess that depends on who's watching. Some people would find it so; I had a ladyfriend who read the Gears books and came to the conclusion (a conclusion she had quite a bit of evidence for) that Dom was completely in love with Marcus. Certainly for those that find masculine insociation between men with very traditionally masculine appearances to be an erotic thing, Gears would probably be the new Tom Of Finland.

      But, for instance, an heterosexual man that doesn't match the traditional ideal of hypermanliness yet aspires to do so would probably find a hell of a lot of appeal in Gears, without wanting to dance the mattress mambo with Marcus.

      So yeah, you have a point, but don't assume your way of viewing the game is the ONLY valid way of viewing it (I should add, I'd say the same thing to someone that argued that "there is NO possible way that Gears can POSSIBLY be homoerotic").

        No, the game is homoerotic. Bleszinski likes a nice pair of manly tight buns. Fact.

    It's the look of the characters that turns me off. It may be a great game but I see screenshots and just lose interest.

    Look at Blezinski's age and then look at the stuff he grew up with, like: http://lolzombie.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/heman.jpg

    Not hard to put 2 and 2 together.

      He-Man kicked ass. I'm not a Gears fan though :-P

    I haven't played Gears 3 yet so the answer could be explained in the game, but why does that mounted gun have a bayonet on it?

      The mounted gun made from the old lancers hence the bayonets.

    Marcus Fenix spends his entire life basically struggling for the approval of authority figures (Hoffman and his father, most obviously).

    All the characters live under a dictatorship and take orders.

    There's nothing empowering about it, unless one's definition of "power" is "being able to bench press 150 kgs or more."

    So no, I don't find the characters of Gears even remotely empowering. Then again, my concept of empowerment is actually deep.

      "Then again, my concept of empowerment is actually deep."

      Somehow you misspelt a lot of words in that sentence. I'll correct it for you;

      "Then again, I am actually quite full of myself."

        If you think that someone that (gasp) disagrees with you must be full of themselves, it is you that is being full of yourself by assuming your opinion is the only valid one.

        I simply am of the opinion that "buff = empowered" is a very simplistic equation.

        Other people are entitled to think differently. I simply stated my own perspective on the matter.

        Being that this is a comments page on an article which ended with "Do you agree with Cliff Bleszinski? Do the characters in Gears of War 3 feel empowering?," you'd generally expect there to be a number of varying opinions expressed on it.

        I don't see why you are so hostile to an opinion that differs from yours.

          Read this sentence again;
          "Then again, my concept of empowerment is actually deep."

          See that?

          You're the one who threw in the sentence reeking of holier-than-thou, dismissing Cliff's take on empowerment and regarding it as somehow shallow.

            Yep... going to have to agree here. You were stating that Cliff's view isn't 'deep' because you don't see it that way. And your view of empowerment is 'deep'. You can't actually point that out like it's a fact :P

            I'd say the empowerment in the game comes from the 'bro-ness' I guess. Especially if you read the books. When Dom is in trouble, Marcus puts across a very insecure and frightened demeaner, when Baird is in danger, Cole comes to the rescue...

            And I'll say, after a certain part in GoW3, Marcus' vulnerablity due to a hitch in his 'bro-ness' is very full on.

            So meh :P

            That's because I do regard it as shallow.

            But that doesn't make me "full of myself." It means I believe he's wrong and he's confusing an aesthetic physical prowess with empowerment generally.

            Disagreement is not arrogance.

              Placing one's opinion higher than others is.

                But of course he thinks his opinion is a better one than Cliff's - otherwise it wouldn't be the opinion he holds. Who holds an opinion that they think falls short of an alternative? lol. It's not possible to properly disagree with somebody unless you feel justified that your opinion is the 'better' one. Unless you want to say that everything is entirely subjective and there are just no facts to be debated

    People mainly just mock it for the brownness and over reliance on cover, also it's pretty mediocre.

      Chest high walls. I keep assessing various objects when I walk to work to see how much cover they offer.

    it would be way better if the infantry and especially sas was filled with unfit fat guys

      You're assuming that the real world military is full of people that have similar builds to the Gears.

      There are a few, but in general most military personnel are significantly more lithe and athletic than the body shapes you see in Gears.

        Yep, that's true. A lot of the people I know who are in the military are more on the slender athletic side. Its more realistic that's for sure considering what they have to do.

        But again, you need to remember it's an asthaetic choice in a GAME to portray something that is most likely NOT in place in most peoples life etc. There was never the aim to mimic reality was there?

          I know a lot of people on the fat side, though they tend to be in the navy or techo's. I've seen lean builds and massive builds around though

          You're right, the size of the Gears is a clear case of stylization for artistic purposes. Nothing wrong with that.

          I was simply responding to Vegetable Lasagne's earlier comment, which seemed (at least to my reading of it) to pose that "if you don't like hyper-buff Gears you must want to have the real-world military filled with unfit fat people."

    The genre makes me not interested in it. The character designs make me laugh at it. Perhaps I don't have enough testosterone to understand how anyone could possibly take these characters seriously. I've played about 3-4 hours of the story (of 1 & 2) and was dramatically unimpressed but I will consider the possibility that the plot gets better later on, however, nothing is ever going to make those characters look remotely respectable.

    The first two games are in my 'pile of shame'. I'm looking forward to playing through them. The only reason I picked them up was because of this ad http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccWrbGEFgI8.

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