Do we need to address the representation of men in videogames?

 Do we need to address the representation of men in videogames?

When something like the whole Gamergate ‘thing’ comes up  –  I usually find it very difficult to keep quiet. It’s the kind of widespread internet ‘discussion’ (if you can call it that) on which I  relish sharing my opinion. I haven’t made much in the way of comment on it so far – and I’ve bitten my tongue quite a lot over twitter. Fact is, I don’t really know where I stand in this debate.

 

I’ve read so many articles now that I’ve become numb to it. There are so many elements, so many strands, that it’s almost impossible for me to find one coherent argument or perspective that I feel completely represents my feelings on the issue.

 

Before I go any further into this – I’d like to address a few key things about Gamergate that I can safely say underpin everything that you’re about to read here.

 

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1/ Gamesgate has nothing to do with journalistic integrity for me. As I’ve stated elsewhere, I honestly couldn’t care less about whether Reggie Fils-Aime kneaded Jim Stirling’s buttocks and kiss-fed him champagne while he wrote his Hyrule Warriors review. That whole body of games journalism has proven itself increasingly irrelevant to me. It’s of no consequence – we need to stop worrying about this. Make your own opinions. Read those you trust – ignore everyone else. It’ll all come out in the wash.

 

If the games media is guilty of anything, it’s not corruption – rather a faliure to understand how it perpetuates negativity. The endless retweeting, congratulating, back slapping and consoling over twitter and in comment feeds acts like an echo chamber – where one particularly erudite comment or article, a whisper, becomes amplified tenfold bv the games media’s insistence on talking about itself endlessly.

 

2/ The games industry isn’t just ‘a bit sexist’. It’s, really fucking sexist! Being defensive isn’t going to change the fact.

 

I’ll freely admit – I’m also sexist. ‘Sexist’ in so far as I really like looking at pretty girls, I enjoy the company of pretty girls and I find  pretty girls very arousing. Sometimes I like to share pictures of pretty girls with other people for the simple reason that they’re pretty. I sometimes see them as pretty things.

 

I do this with zero consideration for what their personalities may be like. For all I know, when she’s not wearing sexy Sword Art Online cosplays, she might enjoy long walks, once spat out some avacado into a napkin, or sometimes thinks about murdering babies – I’ve never taken the time to find out. I’ve been too fixated on what she looks like to consider those possibilities. I don’t know if that makes me a bad person. I guess that’s for you to decide.

 

good-on-you-anita

 

It may surprise you, then, to hear I have huge, HUGE respect for Anita Sarkeesian. I watch her videos and I come away thinking that, not only does she have a point – her point is really fucking good. It doesn’t make me feel good about myself as a human being and I don’t come away feeling like I’m a particularly progressive 21st century guy, but she’s right. The industry has to change and it’s looking very much like she’s the one to lead the charge. Well done to her. I don’t think I’d have the courage to put up with what she’s endured or the tenacity to continue her fine work.

 

One thing I am sure of however is a) more women work in games now than  10 years ago. b) there will be more women working in games in 10 years than there are now. In that sense, we are going in the right direction. I have little doubt Anita will help accelerate this process – for me this makes her a remarkable individual.

 

3/ There are loads of people doing n̶o̶t̶ ̶v̶e̶r̶y̶ ̶n̶i̶c̶e̶  appalling things to other people. There’s no excuse for it. I don’t care what the cause is, who said what to who – there really is no excuse for threatening anyone. I’ve been a little unpleasant to someone in the past (in this article) and I was called out for it. It made me feel really bad about myself afterwards. What worries me is that there are people out there who are enjoying being horrible to other people. Not just enjoying themselves – but are organising themselves around the whole process of being nasty to people.

 

This isn’t good. This is never a good thing.

 

4/ Angry young men are being challenged on what being a ‘gamer’ really is and what their precious games have become. Backed into a corner, they’ve become aggressive, savage – like some wounded animal. Thing is, there’s really no such thing as a ‘gamer’ any more. In the same way there’s no such thing as a ‘Reader’, or a Listener’ or a ‘Movier’. Instead we have ‘people who play videogames’- only now it’s becoming increasingly clear that a very large body of these people also happen to be ‘assholes’.

 

What I do take heart in though, is this – the assholes are losing power. They have no more of a ‘grip’ on videogames than my local book club has a ‘grip’ on the whole of literature.

 

Casual-readers

 

 

And so back to that title. In all the noise that surrounded gamergate I’ve not seen a single article that addresses the representation of men in videogames – if there is such an article, please link to it for me below.

 

I, we, men have enjoyed a position of ‘power’ for what? 2.5 million years? So men are in no position to play the victim – not once have we had to put up with the same recent harassment as Carolyn Petit, Zoe Quinn, Dina Abou Karam and countless others, for example.

 

What I would like to touch on however is, when we look at the roles men play in videogames, what does it tell us about ourselves and what does it mean for us? I’d like to suggest that, in its current state – the representation of men in videogames isn’t doing us any favours right now.

 

There’s nothing wrong with traditionally  masculine behaviour. Having a great beard, chopping a tree down with an axe, watching boxing on TV, flexing your biceps in the mirror – that’s all good. I’ve done a couple of those in the past and I’ve enjoyed them.

 

The problem lies in when masculinity is used as a yardstick by which to measure yourself against another human being. Doing so invariably leads to using that masculinity to dominate or exclude people – the act of comparison sets up a better and worse, bigger or smaller, stronger or weaker. That’s exactly the kind of bullshit we’re seeing right now – being exercised with such ferocity in the gamergate debate.

 

Is this outcome really so surprising? When male gamers are so well practiced in the art of masculine dickery?

 

Young men in western society play a lot of videogames. Depending on your source, young men, on average, spend between 13 and 22 hours a week playing games. It’s not an exaggeration to suggest that the vast majority of videogames center around traditionally masculine activities – and using them to dominate, to conquer, to kill and oppress.

 

death-face-war-bringer

 

 

I walked into my local CEX yesterday lunchtime and did a quick count of one of the walls at random (Xbox 360 and PS3 second hand bay, if you must know) of the 124 games on the shelves, it could be safely argued that 111 were games which involved characters dominating other characters in some way – whether with fists, magic or firearms. That’s a good 89% of the available titles, in my not-very-scientific survey.

 

If we can honestly say that this has ABSOLUTE ZERO affect on how young men think about themselves, measure themselves and view their place in society – then move long, nothing to see here. I would like to politely suggest that, maybe, just maybe, it’s having a greater effect on young men and their view of what it means to ‘be a man’, than we want to admit.

 

Ugh – ‘to be a man’.

 

I heard that a lot as a kid. Mercifully, not from my parents – but an awful lot from my peers. It’s something that’s stayed with me – I’m not haunted by it, but I’ve always wondered, and still wonder, what the phrase really means.

 

I have a nephew in his early years of high school – we hang out quite a lot and play games together. He’s growing up to be a decent kid – but I see in him all the struggles I went though when I was in school. The confusion of trying to determine what it is ‘to be a man’ still very much exists – and it’s a phrase which defies any kind of logical definition.

 

When I was a kid in school, it’s safe to say that I didn’t really ‘fit in’. I had a pretty rough time of it sometimes – but generally I stayed true to myself. There were times when I had to adopt ‘manly’ behaviours in orders to stop people doing unpleasant things to me. Inevitably this meant I would have to cause physical pain to someone else so that they’d back the fuck off. It worked too, but I hated the fact that a) in order to ‘stay safe’ (as I saw it) I had to behave in a way which wasnt ‘me’ and b) That doing ‘manly’ things often got me into a lot of trouble and made me do quite a lot of not-very-manly crying.

 

creamy-scones-for-gamergate

 

In retrospect, I’m pleased that I managed to come though it all relatively unscathed with some semblance of my individuality intact. Looking back on those times I also remember how much it used to piss other people off that I didn’t fit in. It really was a big problem for so many people – and it never ceased to amaze me how much they would try to emasculate me in front of others.

 

‘Weakling’, ‘tiny dick’, ‘virgin’, ‘poof’, etc etc etc – you can imagine the kind of thing. Usually ‘banter’ and almost always in front of girls (nothing makes you more manly than making the guy next to you ‘less manly’, right?) and it was something that was, almost entirely, born of my love of videogames and anime.

 

Most guys in my class talked about football, lied about who they’d ‘boned’ and which of the girls in our year was a ‘slut’. I talked about how much I like Poky and Rocky and how to unlock Tao’s Bikini in Shining Force – which inevitably made me ‘gay’.

 

My nephew is now going though a very similar experience. While his mates all want to play FIFA, or the next Call of Duty – he wants to borrow my copy of Danganronpa and Ys Celceta. He never talks about these games to his mates as he worries that they’ll judge him. He’s already started to show concerns about his lack of ‘manliness’ and  begining to be more conscious of where he is on the ‘manliness scale’ alongside his friends.

 

It’s easy for me to tell him ‘it’s okay’ and ‘not to worry about it’ – its harder for him as a young boy to resist the urge not to stay true to himself. Not to join his mates in referring to girls as ‘hot’ or ‘slut’ or ‘bitch’, or watching KSI on YouTube, or praying on the weak in the playground or attributing ‘unmanly’ behaviour as ‘gay’.

 

Determining the best way to be a man is not easy with so much in the way of conflicting influences – but it’s our responsibility.

 

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Increasingly, I’m understanding that sexism really isn’t about women (yeah, it’s taken me this long). Or rather, it’s not an exclusively female problem.

 

Can it be argued that it’s really a male issue? Ultimately, the biggest change has to happen within US.

 

Do women need to undergo a fundamental personality change to gain equality? I don’t think they do.

 

After generation upon generation of biological and sociological dominance, it’s men who hold the key to affect change more quickly than anyone else – both in terms of how we treat women, but also in how we treat OURSELVES.

 

It’s about how we conduct ourselves day to day, whether we’re allowing for EVERYONE’s personal freedom, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

 

It’s too late for my parents generation to change. My generation should know better – although the Gamergate fiasco tells me that we’re obviously not there yet. And so responsibility now rests on my nephew’s generation and below- a generation of gamers who are still being fed a 90% diet of masculine bullshit, 22 hours a week, and god-only-knows how many more hours in the wider sphere of consumable media.

 

Perhaps, for young men, the question shouldn’t be – how can we bring about equality for women, rather – how do we conduct ourselves in a way which doesn’t impinge on the liberties of others?

 

How do we redefine what it means to ‘be a man’? Failure to take responsibility for this question will mean that the tiresome abomination that is gamergate will never truly go away.

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