Monday, February 07, 2011
How Could I Make a Man Out of You?
There's a little discussion on the internet lately about superhero movies. American men aren't men on the screen, casting directors say, so, we need to turn to men from the other side of the pond to play our American superheroes.
Here in the realm of video games, and, specifically, the American First-Person-Shooter, we don't have to deal with getting real actors to play our manly men, so we have less of an issue. Get someone with a great, manly voice, and artists will create the rest of the attitude - body and muscle and lots of manly scenarios for our hero to get himself up in. The world bows down to the manliness of the male lead, who stands up to everyone because the world just happens to revolve around his manly exploits. Like as not, his name is going to be Alex. That's a pretty common one. But it may as well be
Duke Nukem epitomizes this archetype, but he also parodies it; he's totally aware of what he is and has been for over a decade. Whether the audience is aware is a different story, but that's always a risk with satire.
The world of the hardcore gamer is, notoriously, not a terribly safe and inviting place for women. This, I believe, is often due to an incredibly loud group of young male gamers. They make up the majority of "hardcore" gamers by reputation, and, as such, seem to want to ostracize anyone not part of their tribe, which includes women. Witness the new blog "Fat, Ugly, or Slutty," AKA, the reason I don't wear a mike when I play on X-Box Live. Don't witness it for very long, really; it's not a fun read. All you need to understand about it is that it's male gamers acting cool by putting down and/or sexually harassing women who play games.
Now I'll give these guys the benefit of the doubt and assume that they are pretty young, and that in at least some cases they think they are being funny. And they're probably, literally, children, picking on adult women. Adult women are picking back by pointing out that they are, in fact, children, if not literally then at least by their behavior.
If these sort of "get back in my kitchen" comments are being made by men over eighteen, then we have an even deeper problem than I can understand. So here's my thesis. These young gamers have basically two types of men to emulate in their cultural world. And one of those types just happens to be the woman-hating, misogynist douche-bro exemplified by networks like Spike TV. Which of course televises the annual Video Game Awards, such as they are, and finds it necessary frequently to assert masculinity by putting down and objectifying women. When these guys cover video games, these in turn become the kinds of guys that a generation of kids wants to be like when they talk about video games. That makes "video games" the world where men are men, and women get topless and get back in the kitchen.
The other type of men our young men sometimes emulate are the men in anime. Anime protagonists tend to be younger than the protagonists in American media, which young Japanophiles - of which there are now many, many - see as empowering to them. They then want to emulate how their badass, younger heroes behave, which... paradoxically, also tends to warp their thoughts about women, since they start to see them as anime archetypes. They're crazy tsunderes, or perhaps goddesses that need to be put on pedestals and handled with kid gloves because of their magical skirt-wearing woman powers. You don't have to go far on a gaming website to see otaku comments treating women like some kind of strange and mystical other, expressing wonderment and confusion. And, well, again... they're kids, confused, and don't know better, but that's also creepy to adult women.
These two stereotypes of young male gamers are of course exactly that: stereotypes. Not all young male gamers are "douchebros" or otaku. But enough of them are to the point where, collectively, they become a problem for women who might otherwise enjoy gaming communities for their own merits. Sure, kids can enjoy games, but so can adults. Many games are designed for adults, and we are all part of the same community. This is why women frequently seek out to create their own gaming communities: to escape these sorts of problems.
Many young men seem to be using the gaming community as their reinforcement while they find their way from childhood to adulthood. During this period, they need male role models, and, some of the gender roles that they encounter on the way turn out to be less than ideal in that department.
So far, so good. But I started out in this article discussing Splint Chesthair, FPS Protagonist. Why does he appear in games time and time again, but yet, isn't considered a model worth emulating?
Well, because Splint Chesthair can't be you. Splint Chesthair is your dad.
Even when Bruce Willis was badass John McClaine, he was a grown-up guy who had a wife and kids. Now, the action hero is aging, but he's still starring in movies. This may be in some way starting to warp young men's sense of who the action hero is. As what seems like a more recent example, The Matrix, where Keanu Reeves was the lone hero, was in the 90s, not now, and not really relevant to the kids who are playing on X-Box Live. So the action hero is your dad, or else, he's some kind of fantasy hero that will always be etherially older than you even as you round the corner in to age 30. If the protagonist isn't an anime guy, which, in an American game, he isn't, he just seems like an older guy.
And with over a decade out of action, The Duke suits the aging-action-hero archetype perfectly.
However, young men, if you should find him worth emulation, rather than as a surrogate father figure, it still might be a step in the right direction from the guys you see on Spike TV. At least keep this in mind: Women want to be around the Duke.