Men with Sticks: the Representation of Men in Videogames


2012/07/26 by admin

Emily King

To any but the most entrenched of misogynistic geeks in the world: it is reasonable to assume that women tend to get a pretty raw deal in regards to the representation of their gender in videogames.

It’s why many game fans often roll their eyes when the latest fighting game is debuted. It’s why some felt more than a tad uneasy when a developer came out and said that Lara Croft will show her vulnerable side in her upcoming 2013 game by escaping an attempted rape. It’s why series like Tropes vs. Women in Games by Anita Sarkeesian make their crowd funding goals.

Yet what Sarkeesian, and many critics of games, have often failed to recognise is that the
struggle of equal representation is an issue for all. That the struggle is not for women alone.

The problem is that the representation of men in videogames is not exactly stellar either. There hasn’t been the equivalent of the film analysis, watershed moment of Steve Neale going to Laura Mulvey, “Hold on, it ain’t so great for guys too.” The struggle for equal representation in videogames is over both physical appearance and the character of women and men.

Take a moment and consider the situation of Mario and Princess Peach. The classic analysis
here is that Peach is always being stereotyped – the useless damsel in distress who can do
nothing to protect herself as Bowser repeatedly runs off with her to the next castle. And then we have Mario. Good ol’ capable Mario who will go rushing off after the Princess, time and time again, risk life and limb to get the girl… Mario has been unable to escape the confines of the Man Box and he’s been stuck in there for over twenty-five years.

And for older players we’ve got male protagonists whose homoerotic design and portrayal sees them shoved so far into the Man Box that they can’t even see the light of day. From the sudden bulking up of Chris Redfield in the Resident Evil series to the unwavering exteriors of guys like Soap in the Call of Duty franchise – men in games are often physically and emotionally impossible.

We need more realistic looking characters in games due to the rise of eating disorders and other related mental health conditions. In the UK alone, the recent Reflections on Body Image report found that 75% of respondents saw celebrity culture, advertising and the media as the “main social influences on body image”.

Admittedly, traditional story structures will ultimately see male characters faced with challenges and obstacles that are a matter of life or death. And I wouldn’t want the action packed narratives of games to suddenly suffer a dearth of zombies or shadowy organisations trying to take over the world. But neither male or female characters need to be stuck inside representations that hardly represent the multitudes of gender identification that persist in real life.

To the casual observer, it would seem that all is lost for gender representation in videogames: that women will continue to be damsels in distress, femme fatales, or butch-like non-women; that men will continue to be muscle-bound-all-action stars, crazy about chasing skirts, or infused with a non-humanity that lets them kill without thought.

However, there are some heroes of representation: Valve with their Gordon Freeman and survivors of zombie apocalypses; Quantic Dream with their everyday people suffering under the strain of the extraordinary; BioWare with their straight, gay, lesbian and bisexual characters.

There is hope, but all need to see that they are being hemmed in when there is no need for them to be treated as such. People don’t need gender stereotypes in games, they just need a good story.

Emily is the Multimedia Producer for videogaming site BeefJack while also handling a day job
as a technology copywriter. Most of her musings can be found on her blog, My Not So Fictional Life.

One thought on “Men with Sticks: the Representation of Men in Videogames

  1. Emily says:

    Reblogged this on My Not So Fictional Life and commented:
    In case you missed it earlier, here’s the piece I did for the Meninism blog regarding the representation of men in videogames. Enjoy.

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