Female gamers know how they are portrayed in video games: sex objects, sidekicks and damsels. But do men realize how they are?
The definition for a male playable hero in a video game is an impossibly fit man, with a raging temper and insatiable sex drive. Male gamers have come to expect such a representation of their gender, just as women in the game community have come to expect characters of their gender to be ‘background decoration’ in games, as popular technology journalist Sarah Gray said best. The difference is men expect it, and go unperturbed.
“Yes,” said Jeff Westbrook a World of Warcraft player, responding to an open call on Facebook, to see if anyone wanted to discuss the young, buff nature of male video game heroes. “I want a hero that’s older, covered in saw dust, low in energy and in a failing marriage that I can relate to.”
Westbrook was joking, but the subject is anything but funny, and can be tracked through all aspects of society – here is the perfect man, and here is the perfect women, both arguably equally oppressive in their own right. While gamers rally behind Gamer Gate to vehemently discuss feminism and misogyny in gaming however, few men want to talk about toxic masculinity in gaming. It seems the only gamers taking notice are who are female gamers and bloggers alike.
Perhaps men aren’t piping up because male characters in games can do the impossible. They can defeat the undefeatable and win, in all aspects, including the love of a woman, if they so wish. The character traits drawing attention in male characters are largely positive contrasting buy-in-large female characters in video games, which have defining traits that are negative.
OCAD Digital Futures student Alana Predko, believes the lack of opinion from male gamers may stem from the fact that most of the impossible traits displayed in the male game sphere are positive, but notes that they are still inherently harmful.
“While male stereotypes in games are damaging to (generally) male perception of self, they are outward projections of an ‘ideal’ that is confident, well-rounded, self-reliant, and resourceful,” said Predko. “This isn’t true of more female characters, as they tend to have outward projections of submissive traits, things that make them ‘helpers’ or easily kidnapped.”
Knight and maidan, savior and saved, hero and victim, are all pair ideas as old as fairytales, and traditional gender stereotypes fit parallel to these relationships because video games are just that – fantasy and fairytale. Both types of characters in the game sphere are already well established.
“[Lara Croft]; sexy enough to be viewed as acceptable by the male consumers of the game but not too tough and steely that she’s unappealing,” said Kendal Mello a World of Warcraft vlogger discussing popular game series Tomb Raider. “If they had made her a female Indiana Jones – wearing pants, a hat and a jacket, all proper attire for actually tomb raiding, the franchise never would have achieved the success that it had.”
Women might be speaking out about toxic masculinity in videogames, since they’re the ones being targeted by it. Technology journalist Ustad Khaira said the current controversy plaguing the industry is women are being forced out for having an opinion. Perhaps having to fight against the way their gender is portrayed in games has spurred female gamers to the front of the debate of illusionary and simplistic characters in games.
“It isn’t being done to men. It isn’t being done to allies of feminists. It’s being done exclusively to women,” said Khaira. He said fans of any other medium from television to novels, while having to subject to objectification, would never be disbanded. He said toxicity exists else where but it has never existed as strongly in other mediums as it has in gaming.
The discussion of male representation is almost alien to the general populace where women have been fighting against unrealistic representations for decades now. On the other hand – maybe male gamers just don’t want to talk about it.
“It’s because if we talk about it, we’ll seem un-manly,” said a male gamer who didn’t wish to be named. “We don’t want to be sensitive, and at the end of the day, we leave it at home on our television anyways.”