In Which I Lament The Depiction Of Males In Computer Games
I had sworn I’d never write a post about the topic of topics, the filler of comments with gall and spite, the one topic you must not write about as a male, lest be scorned…
Oh Boy! (or Girl, I guess, to genderize correctly.) In all honesty, I’m scared. I hope the relative obscurity of my blog will prevent me from the dreaded 100-comment discussions. Anyway, here it goes:
I’ve heard the question over and over again. Why do women complain about the depiction of women in computer games, but men do not about depictions of men? The often-cited reason is: Depictions of females in computer games are sexualized to fuel male fantasies, while depictions of males are empowered, to also fuel male fantasies. Hence, guys don’t have anything to complain about, that’s why you don’t hear about it. This is called “false equivalence”.
So I guess it’s my time to speak up and claim that, to me personally, this “false” is a “true”. I want to complain about the depiction of men in computer games. There are two points I want to look at and refute:
Sexualization is bad, Power Fantasies are good?
Maybe the problem is that the female stereotype shown is more offensive than the male one.
That would imply either a) sexualization is inherently bad in itself, or b) power fantasies are inherently good. Now, you can argue that “sexualization” is an over-reliance on sexual attractiveness, and this is bad as it is a stereotype. I will even agree, I hate chainmail bikinis with passion. But on the same level, “power fantasies” are an over-reliance on bullyism, and this is also a stereotype, hence bad.
Now, let’s reduce it from the stereotypes to the underlying concepts. Sex and physical prowess. Sex isn’t inherently bad. We all like it, we like to do it, and unless we cheat nature, which we also all like to do all the time, we actually need it to survive (as a group). Physical prowess also isn’t inherently bad. Back when we had to run 5 hours chasing a gnu, we actually needed it to survive. But we don’t need it any more. Physical Prowess is much more archaic than sex. Therefore, it often gets sublimated: the power of physical prowess is converted into more intangible power over other people.
If that is true (I’m not 100% sure, I admit I haven’t read more than a couple of introductory texts on psychology and psychoanalysis), the male depictions in computer games hint at having power over other people. I find that even more offensive than being sexually available. Why do I, as a male, have to subjugate others to fill my gender role? I don’t like having power over others, it makes me feel queasy. I’d rather “make love than war”. I reserve my right to be offended at those male depictions, because they pigeonhole me into something I find highly problematic.
There is no choice for women?
This has become less and less true over the years. Of course, there are still bad apples. The last wave of posts about this topics was motivated by the TERA demo. I looked at the youtube videos featuring the classes, and I see a problem there: about 90% of the women are scantily clad, about 90% of the men are heavily armored or at least properly clothed. But even in TERA, there are the occasional properly-clothed and even armored females, and the half-naked guys. Then again, the game is going to tank anyway, and we can get worked-up about it all day. What can you expect from a game that has a brainless muscle beating up your target audience as advertising campaign?
On the other hand, many games at least give you a token choice. And if you don’t like that one, you’re equally out of luck as woman or man. Don’t like over-sexualized females? (I don’t, so I follow the rules laid out here.) Better don’t play a Demon Hunter in Diablo III, or a Blood Elf in WoW, or a Norn in GW2. If you’re hell-bent on playing a female character, switch to the Barbarian, Orc, or Sylvari, respectively. If you’re hell-bent on playing the class/race, switch gender, and chances are you’ll be happy (with the exception of the Norn, I guess), because stereotyping in games seems to run along races rather than sexes these days.
Don’t like over-muscled males? (I don’t, so I follow the rules laid out here.) Better don’t play a Barbarian in Diablo III, or an Orc in WoW, or a Norn in GW2. If you’re hell-bent on playing a male character, switch to the Demon Hunter, Blood Elf, or Sylvari, respectively. If you’re hell-bent on playing the class/race, switch gender, and chances are you’ll be happy (with the exception of the Norn, I guess), because stereotyping in games seems to run along races rather than sexes these days.
So, is there no choice in female characters? No, there sure is. Is there less choice in female characters than in male characters? Hard to make a blanket statement, but I can’t see it. Elves are typically a great avoider for the male stereotype, and it seems we’re getting to the point where either evil-ish or hunky races avoid the female stereotype. In that respect, I disagree with Spinks; I think there indeed are different female models available in most games, and that there is choice.
The Final Rant
Stop reading here. Seriously. (Actually, I decided to delete most of it before I hit “publish”, because it detracted from my point.) Just one short summary:
I find many male depictions in video games offensive, because they imply I need to be a power-hungry hunk to be really male. I don’t like to have power over others, and I’m not athletic. Stop exploiting this weird gender image, it’s not working for me. Then again, most games give me a choice to avoid the stereotypes I don’t like. So get over it, all genders and sexes.