Video games often aren’t recognised for their ability to portray, symbolize, or reflect anything in our world but those people who say such things do not realise it has become a new median for great ideas. Painting, sculpting, and music eventually turned into movies, and video games. It’s merely a new way to get ideas out to the world. The symbolism in video games today represents much more of our world than many people realise.
Let’s take one of the most violent games ever created and has received criticism for being nothing more than a mindless kill-everything-that-moves game. Gears of War. It is also one of the most popular games ever created and is in fact a wonderful piece of art hidden behind blood, guts, and explosions.
There are three games in the gears of war series as well as four books and a comic series that all expand on the symbolism in the game. But the symbolism is most relevant in the second and third game and in the books. Firstly I ask: what is an issue of major debate in the world today? the answer is the environment and what should be done about it. Now the actual concerns of the environment are irrelevant to this article but it does seem that gears of war is pro-environmentalist.
In the third game and in the last two books there are tree-like things called stalks. And they really are like trees, even described as such in the books Anvil Gate and Coalition’s End as “monstrous tree like growths.” And being tree-like as they are they can very well represent the environment. In Gears of War 3 you can actually see the stalks and they always come shooting out of the ground like a geyser and then it sits there and spawns lambent creatures (more on them later). These stalks actually destroy the planet slowly as more and more of them show up and slowly wither away all the life in the world. They literally destroy life and cause it to rot. As a large pile of stalks was described doing just that in Coalition’s End. Now it seems that those stalks could very well symbolize human expansion in the world and our negative effects on the environment.
It’s no secret that pollution is a problem causing greenhouse gases, and us cutting down trees in the amazon jungle isn’t helping either. And that’s what those stalks represent. They represent our negative effects on the environment and how one day it will eventually come back to ruin us. Another point of good symbolism in the game is the miracle fuel in the series, imulsion.
Imulsion is the main source of fuel in the game much like oil in real life. In fact it is exactly like oil. There is an abundance of it that wars were fought over as explained in Aspho Fields. Specifically called the Pendulum Wars, they were fought for the imulsion and to strengthen the coalition of ordered governments originally founded by the All-fathers. And those All-fathers were as the character Quentin Michaelson put it in Coalition’s End “a bunch of imulsion rich countries who wanted to increase their power.” A lot like president Bush’s coalition of the willing and his little war in the middle east where there just happens to be a bunch of oil. and this imulsion brings us to the lambent.
The lambent are a race of creatures infected by imulsion as it is later discovered that imulsion is a living parasite that infects and takes over its host. Almost like a virus that makes zombies the imulsion infected beings have no minds of their own. Now what have zombies always represented in society? Mindless consumerists. People who buy things and are almost incapable of thinking for themselves. That’s what the lambent represents. Consumerism. They also represent our addiction to oil. The United states economy is largely fueled by oil and the imulsion infecting the lambent is similar to how oil hungry everyone is. They can’t live without it. they have to have their suburbs, cars, gas, and ten million other things produced by oil just like the lambent need imulsion to keep living. Gears of War has many messages in it and in some cases the sheer violence itself is a reflection of our world.
The locust are a terrifying horde of creatures that look human but are the farthest thing from human. they all have two legs, two arms, and a head, but that’s where the similarities end. they’re grey, scaly creatures whose only goal is to end humanity. They are the representation of all that is evil in life. they rise out from the ground and waste no time killing everything they see. Gears of War has messages like these everywhere in the game.
Life is not an organised piece of machinery. At least in the sense that the world is not organised. The middle east is in turmoil with the United States invading, Israel is threatening Iraq with nukes, The democratic republic of the Congo has been called the rape capital of the world, and the economy around the world is collapsing. Life is not organised and is filled with chaos every day. That’s also the every day life of the characters in Gears of War.
Every day is a fight for survival in the Gears of War world. humanity is always trying to survive from the locust horde and every day holds death and destruction for all of them. This isn’t far off from life in the Congo (as mentioned above) and life in Afghanistan, and the Gaza strip. People struggle just to survive and as the character Sam put it in Coalition’s End “We’re so busy trying to survive we have a generation growing up without the ability to read and write.” And the same thing is happening around the world. Women aren’t allowed to read and write in the borderlands near Pakistan and so they try to survive having little to no education. But not everything in Gears of War is a political message. There are personal ones as well.
Each character has a representation. Victor Hoffman represents existentialism since he is the last military leader and he feels he holds the fate of humanity on his shoulders. Like how an existentialist must carry the burden of humanity with themselves because every action they do reflects the rest of humanity. Marcus Fenix is a Christ-like figure who always tries to do the good thing in a world surrounded by hell and chaos. Dominic Santiago is constantly looking for his wife and when he does find her he must shoot her as a mercy killing. He represents the sacrifices people must take sometimes. Prescott is the chairman of the COG (coalition of ordered governments) and he is a sleazy, underhanded politician, representing the degradation of politics in society. Each character has symbolism of some sort in them, the stalks, the imulsion, the lambent, the locust all of it reflects something in our world and in ourselves.
Gears of War has far more depth than anyone can realise. And given that this is one of the most supposedly violent and mindless games ever created then there is much more to be seen and learned from in other games with a rich story and character development.