Gears of War, and Liking Dumb Things (2)

Part 1

Still, on the other hand, I can understand why people don’t like it. There’s many, many things not to like, from the setting to the characters to the weapons to the combat to the level design to the music to the obvious mass appeal of it all. For all intents and purposes, I think we could call Gears of War indelibly “mainstream”, and that means the hipsters come out to put it down. And, yet, I am of the opinion that if millions of people enjoy something so thoroughly, that must at the very least point to something unique, wonderful, and possibly redeeming about it. What do people like about it? Why? These, I think, should be your first thoughts, not about how it doesn’t line up with your personal expectations or ideas about something.

I, personally, judged people for liking things I didn’t like as a young twenty-something. In retrospect, I am not proud of that time, not only because it just doesn’t work with a Christian lifestyle, but that I missed out on so many human connections and experiences. “Dumb” become a label I put on something because I didn’t like it, and not so much due to the innate quality of the thing per se. Part of that comes from academia – in some sense, being an opinionated (blank)hole is part and parcel of the business. Making a thesis requires having an opinion about something, even if that opinion is an opinion about something that most people do not care about at all.

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See, here’s the thing: I am perfectly fine and OK with liking dumb things. That does not mean the game itself was designed by dumb people, just for mass audience appeal. Gears puts up a dumb face, but is often extraordinarily sharp in the mechanical details; Cliff Bleszinski is a gamer, and worked tirelessly to make a cover-based shooter work. The man knows his stuff, and it shines through the whole game. There’s plenty of other examples too! Bayonetta throws in plenty of dumb humor and sacrilege (depending on your tolerance for that stuff), but also an unbelievably nuanced, in-depth combat system that takes years to master just for the sheer pleasure of it. Nobody should put so much effort into a $60 retail video game, and yet Hideki Kamiya and Platinum Games do it every time. Resident Evil seems like a game about B-movie shlock, but most of the game consists of very tense resource management and adjustments based on ever-dwindling resources; later entries merely moved the series into more action-oriented lanes.

People often observe such games, movies, books (you name it) purely on face value, decide they don’t like it, and then tell everyone they are wrong for liking it. That experience seems like a cyclical response, as I end up with someone criticizing my tastes at some juncture or another. Even so, I honestly do not begrudge people who think everything must be, in fact, “deep” or “meaningful”; our society trains us to seek such social constructs, and if we cannot find them in our daily lives we find them elsewhere.

However, because I am a Christian, I simply do not feel the need to seek artistic works or entertainment media with “artistic sensibilities”. I like my so-called “guilty pleasures”. I love campy old Bond films with Roger Moore, even though they are just plain bad. I like dumb things, and I am not ashamed of it. I like them not in an ironic way, but just as they are. It’s strange to really express that I am not at all cynical about my enjoyment of intentionally (or unintentionally) dumb things. I just do. This is a constituent part of myself, and it simply comes with the territory of playing video games for so long.

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You get used to wall chicken after a while, you know?

And, I think, it partly comes from loving people just as they are. That is just tough; people suck. People disappoint. People do dumb things all the time. I do dumb things all the time. That’s just life, right? But we always seek a weird sort of perfection in our media choices, as if they always must contain a life-changing message, or a touching true-life story like You Won’t Believe How This Disabled Dog Saved a Family From a Fire on social media. Everything must contain something apart from the mundane, or else we will drive ourselves crazy. And yet, really, we all share that common experience of mundanity all the time. We just try to push it out of the way, finding inspiration in things outside ourselves, rather than the people right next door.

Video games, on the other hand, have been pretty dumb for years. They contain hilarious glitches, strange dips into the uncanny valley, or maybe just horrendous violence that no one in real life would ever do in their right mind. Sometimes they cheat, and that inanimate object certainly deserves the well-constructed tirade you gave it. You show ’em! Then they place you into unrealistic settings and then expect you to complete some arbitrary challenges…because? What the heck is Pac-Man doing, anyway? All of it is brilliantly, unbelievably silly, and I just totally enjoy the lot of it just as it is. Video games are as they are, and they haven’t changed much in the past fifty years.

And people, too, will always stumble and fall at one point or another. How many people will say “nobody’s perfect” today? Honestly, I do not know, but probably a whole lot. Dumbness unites us all, and only together can we overcome our collective dumbness and make something not dumb happen instead. Jesus loved dumb people, and we are dumb people, so we should love other dumb people too. There’s nothing wrong with liking smart things either; just don’t leave the dumb behind!

So that’s why I like dumb things: I love dumb, imperfect people because Jesus loved them. And I am as dumb as the next guy.

About Zachery Oliver

Zachery Oliver, MTS, is the lead writer for Theology Gaming, a blog focused on the integration of games and theological issues. He can be reached at viewtifulzfo at gmail dot com or on Theology Gaming’s Facebook Page.