Is Anya Stroud Being Changed To Fit Gender Stereotypes In Gears of War 3?
Full disclosure: the post has been edited to address some of the issues brought up in the comments.
Oh, one of these posts, you may be thinking to yourself. Let’s just get some things out of the way before I get to my criticism, shall we? I have an active investment on the franchise–for example, I played the beta for almost 100 hours. This isn’t a random person that caught wind of the ‘grave injustice’ being done to women in this game or something. I adore the franchise. Nor am I casting judgement on Epic for changing Anya; I am not saying they are misogynists, or sexists or anything like that. I have no way of knowing that. If someone steals your wallet, however, you don’t care what kind of a person they are. You care about the action, that they stole your wallet. Likewise, I have no idea what kind of people the developers are, nor does it matter. What matters is this: Anya, the first playable female in the Gears franchise, is being changed, and it appears she’s being changed to appease people who uphold normative gender stereotypes.
A few days ago, Kotaku wrote an article regarding the ways in which the beta will improve the shooter. The line in question is the following:
“There were changes made that you might not expect. Some players thought that Anya, the Gears character who was a playable fighter for the first time in the beta, was “a little more gruff and vulgar” than she should be. “Her lines got toned down and pared back a little bit.”
There’s nothing in there explicitly stating that these changes were because of her gender, but you tell me, then: what in the world else could it be? Forgive me, but the only thing I can possibly extrapolate from that is that players thought Anya, with her kickass rough and raw demeanor wasn’t feminine enough. You can cite her previous calm characterization if you’d like, but she fulfilled a different role there, she was probably a different person. War changes people. And are we to assume that they didn’t take her character into account the first time they drafted her up? I find that difficult to believe. Putting her in the game, period, probably took a lot of thought and consideration–they’ve brought in full fledged novelists to write the story, no?
Anyway, her change is problematic if gender is to blame. This is problematic because, even though we’re constantly on our soapboxes over how games are worthwhile, they are art, what have you, we continue to undermine those efforts when things like these happen. I understand that the industry is a business, and as such catering to your audience is important. The audience provides the income, and it doesn’t make sense to deny them what they want. Sometimes, though, the audience is wrong. Sometimes, the audience shouldn’t be listened to, especially in a case like this, where it’s a male-dominated audience trying to dictate what the depiction of a woman should be. An audience that has a history with gender problems.
I sincerely hope that Epic reconsiders what they’re about to do, and what it means in the larger scheme of things. Anya, and the way she is depicted is important–she proves that even a game overflowing with an excess of testosterone like Gears can be inclusive. If such a high profile developer is afraid of breaking free of gender stereotypes in this day and age, though, then we can probably assume that the industry will continue to perpetuate this sort of thing.
PS: Of course, we’ll have to wait and see what she’s like in the game proper. Things can–and hopefully will–change. It might not be as bad as it sounds–it might not even be an issue of gender, I’m not denying that. September 20th will tell all–and we’ll probably write a follow-up post near then, too.