Video games have been portraying people for as long as an ugly collection of lights could be made to look a little bit like a person if you squinted and used your imagination. Since then, video games have been constantly dealing with men and women and various anthropomorphic animals. Like movies, video games lend themselves to preying on easy-to-use stereotypes in order to make characters that will be liked or remembered by the audience. Of course, a reliance on gender stereotypes is quite often very offensive, mostly to women, but also towards men. Like much of nerd culture, video games often have women seemingly breaking out of traditional gender roles, only to end up portraying them with a heavy undercurrent of complete misogyny. For the next two days, I’m going to be looking at gender stereotypes and sexism in video games towards both men and women. I can’t possibly do this topic the justice it deserves in such a short time, but I’ll try to do the best I can. (Click here for Part 2 – Women)
|If I could turn douchebaggery into money, Marcus Fenix would be a billionaire.|
When it comes to video games, men have it pretty easy. In almost every case, they are the lead of the show and women are pushed to the supporting roles. They are the main villains, who threaten the day, and the only ones who can stop the overwhelming evil from destroying the world. They are the detectives, and the lawyers, the scientists, and the doctors. When you compare men and women in the struggles against gender stereotyping, men come up very, very short in terms of poor portrayals. However, this doesn’t mean that men aren’t heavily demeaned in the medium. Men are the leads to be sure, but they are also the idiots, the douchebags, the grunts, the voiceless charmless stooges that only know how to follow orders, and the rage filled psychopaths that care little for human life. Today, we look at how men are forced into gender stereotypes, and the current trend in male portrayals.
|No hair? Tattoos? Welcome my good friend! You can be a video game lead!|
Firstly let’s look at the physical portrayal of men. Have you noticed the sheer number of muscle-bound bald, tattooed male protagonists? InFamous, The Forced Unleashed, Rage, Killzone, Resistance 1 and 2, Mass Effect, all of these games have nearly identical main characters. They are a bunch of grunts, whose major physical trait is a deathly allergic reaction to any form of hair. Every time a bald, boring, and lifeless male character is created an angel loses its wings. The problem with this is that so few of these characters have anything even closely resembling a personality, so the only thing you have is their looks, which are identical to so many other random leads. The physical appearance is also where men get hit by over-sexualization. Yes, men are sexualized in video games, just not to the extent that women are, and, frequently, for a different reason. You see, many men are sexualized because, developers think players want to BE them, while women are sexualized because developers think players want to DO them. Look at Kratos, Marcus Fenix, and Chris Redfield (As seen in Resident Evil 5). They are very different characters. Kratos is a sneering half naked Greek, Fenix is a Mountain Dew-powered sack of muscle, and Chris is a steroid popping bodybuilder. They are all male fantasies of what men think women fantasize about (Holy backwards reasoning, Batman!). But the same way that sexy portrayals of women in video games are sexist and unrealistic, these portrayals of men are also inherently sexist. These sculpted gods of muscle and baldness are really nothing more than that; they are a pretty face with absolutely nothing to say. It is very rare for a man to actually have a personality, and rarer still for these men to not be rippling with muscles, and a distinct fear of shirts.
|Duke Nukem takes this so far that it’s almost satire… almost.|
Then we reach a bigger problem in male portrayals: they are all idiots. Men are always the dumb grunts being yelled at by others to do things and blindly following orders. You may say that this is just part of the medium, as, since most main characters are men, more men are going to be ordered around to complete objectives. That is true, and may be actually convincing if these men even had the slightest idea what a personality was. I have a long standing hatred for mute characters, but at least they have an excuse for not having a personality. Nathan Hale from Resistance 1 and 2 isn’t a mute character, but you can count the times he talks on your right hand. I hesitate to reference war games, but even the most story driven war games have some of the shallowest characters ever made. Then there is the inverse of the damsel in distress problem that women have been suffering from ever since an overweight plumber decided to beat up a giant turtle. Men in video games have a major saviour complex. So many men in games define their entire existence by their ability to be the hero. What’s wrong with wanting to be the hero, you ask? The problem is that being a saviour is the only defining characteristic of that character. Do you think Mario would even know what to do with Peach if she didn’t keep getting captured (Aside from the sweet, sweet cake)?
|If you aren’t going karting with me, then I have nothing to say to you|
Some games get characters right: Solid Snake (Metal Gear Solid) is a well made male character, as is Adam Jensen (Deus Ex: Human Revolution). However, a good portrayal of a man is difficult to come by. Japanese anime-influenced games tend to infanticize male characters by permanently keeping them at a high school stage of development, but even they tend to infuse a little more personality in their characters than the meat heads we have in most western games nowadays. The fact that we consider these portrayals of men to be very fair in comparison to the portrayals of women, just shows you how bad the industry really is at stepping back from gender stereotypes.