Some wars are fought with friends at your side, but others must be braved while everyone's away at work. Pubbies: May the Locust eat ‘em, and the Devil eat the Locust. Is there any redemption for souls as black as these?
Gears of War 3: the twilight hours of the multiplayer beta. The map is Trenches, where the opening sprint out of spawn is always instructive. Five COG soldiers run in silent unison. Then we peel apart, and the augury is on. Where will they go? What are their goals?
It's important to watch. Without voices, communication is reduced to observation. Three marines rush the hill where the Oneshot awaits—the all-powerful sniper rifle with a laser sight that roams the battlefield like the Eye of Sauron. Every pubbie wants a piece of the Oneshot and its impervious dispensary of death. Those who aren’t torn apart on that smoky hill will dance their petulance before the lucky sniper, getting in the way and griefing their aim.
One COG stands at spawn, motionless and solitary, for a good five minutes. She comes to life just in time to run into spawn campers. She dies. She dies again. And again. And again, smashed flat against the rocks. (It’s very important to lock down the Mortar on this map.) She quits in the middle of the match. I’m about ready to quit too.
Her replacement gurgles like a baby. “Goo-gah,” he says. “A-goo-baloo-galoo?” And to my immense surprise, he clears out the spawn campers with hectic precision, wall-bouncing and taking one, two, three heads with the Gnasher shotgun.
I feel the need to encourage, having borne witness to the slaughter without providing any real assistance. This is worth plugging the mic in for.
“Holy sh*t, baby. That was awesome! You bodied those assholes!”
“I meant to say great job. Uh, sorry about the language.”
We roll out together, me and the baby. Softly singing nonsense, he leaves a swath of visceral carnage behind him. He’s hurling incendiary grenades a mile across the map, one direct hit after another. He cleverly lures Locust out of cover so we can Lancer them down. He launches an airborne Digger missile into the chest of one unlucky Locust. It burrows into him and explodes, killing two of his friends.
Suspicion dawns. “You’re not really a baby, are you?”
“Okay, maybe you are a baby. But you really shouldn’t be exposing yourself to this level of graphic violence.”
Our erstwhile teammates are still squabbling over the Oneshot. I spend most of my time spotting enemies for the baby, marking them out for eradication. I imagine his tiny infant fingers stretching to pull the triggers, pressing the buttons with bootied toes, honing his Gears skills to a nigh-professional level.
The maybe-baby has torn off a downed Locust’s arm, and is vigorously beating them to death with it. Gurgles of excitement: “Goo-kalooo!”
“I just don’t know if this is age-appropriate. Shouldn’t you be watching … I don’t know … Barney the Dinosaur or something? I don't know kids’ shows. Let me talk to mommy or daddy. Can you put mommy or daddy on the phone?”
My concern translates into spotty surveillance of the battlefield, which in turn leads to me being ripped in two by a double-barreled shotgun blast.
“Oh God! Don’t look at me, baby! Turn away from my corpse! It’s just a game. Remember that it’s just a game, okay?”
Only a few lives remain but, thanks to the efforts of our enigmatic baby, team COG has made an admirable comeback.
“Listen, let me talk to mommy or daddy. I’m going to pick up the Mortar and I need them to pick me up if I get shot. Can you do that for me?”
The message is apparently not relayed, and I go down again. Communication is the cornerstone of survival.
“Great. Thanks a lot, baby.”
But my usual onset of impotent rage at the uselessness of pubbies is softened this time; soothed by the baby’s adorable rendition of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star’. Their kill-to-death ratio of 19 and 3 doesn’t hurt either.
The baby ends the match single-handedly, siphoning off enemies one at a time and crushing their overeager advances with well-laid traps. Faintly, I hear a woman’s voice—a mother?—as the scoresheet comes up: “Bye-bye! Say bye-bye. Can you say bye-bye now?”
“Bye-bye!” declares the baby brightly.
And they’re gone, leaving me to wonder about many, many things.