Leading in the Gaming Community

Gamer culture is rich with bright, intelligent, creative, energetic, passionate people. We love our games, love to analyze them, make them, mod them, love to praise them and love creating the forums, wikis, guilds and leagues around them. It is, without a doubt, a culture we want to continue to cultivate, a culture with value and potential. But the amount of bigotry, especially the casual homophobia and hyper-masculinity in the gaming community is a threat to this culture I love. Every time a gamer says “that’s gay”, every time guys get unusually excited over voice chat when they hear a woman, every time we call a woman a stupid bitch, cunt or fake gamer, the community dies a little. If we want to preserve gamer culture, we’ve got to do something about this. We have to change. All of us.

Since the greater part of the problem isn’t these vicious, misogynistic, racist, homophobic, able-ist attacks committed by a hateful few, I want to focus on those of us who are paralyzed by the displays of violence, or those of us fence-sitting, waiting for incidents to blow over, waving them off as insignificant, passively observing, watching as the community is made less. It’s not hard to see that something is wrong with this, but it’s very hard to know what to do, much easier to grow apathetic. Hearing about these violent events can get annoying, if only because they sometimes remind us of our feelings of powerlessness. But we’re far from powerless. To act though, we have to understand the problems. And unfortunately, not enough of us do or even want to. We have tons of excuses to continue with our own points of view, to stay within the confines of our warm and fuzzy ideas, despite any evidence that’s contrary to them – even if we know there’s evidence contrary to them. We’ve got to grow up.

If we really love this community, we’ve got to be willing to change.

Men

For relevance, let’s talk about recent events, though they’re far from the only problems threatening our beloved culture. The hatefulness and bigotry of those who violently attack people for having strong opinions is nuts. The fight to prove who does or doesn’t belong in gaming is positively destroying the culture, preventing progressive game development and killing our communities. Men are overwhelmingly the perpetrators of this destruction. Attackers commonly claim to be male in identity and commonly defend their violent acts. Keep in mind violence is much more than physical. Attacking people through insults and threats is possibly more harmful than outright slapping them in the face. While this behavior by men is definitely a by-product of the wider culture, that doesn’t mean we can’t deal with it within the gamer community. I’d argue that’s where most of us need to deal with it, because it’s the community we live in the most. This aggressive behavior is just a symptom of the way those men were taught to perform masculinity, and since group behavior is magnified the larger the group, it rapidly becomes heinous and out of control.

One can never be enough man that one can stop proving their masculinity. Unlike with women gaining the status of woman, manhood is something men believe we can lose. It’s not something we are, it’s something we do. And because we don’t focus on who we actually are, because we’re so hell bent on demonstrating what a man is, the blind and mindless anger and hatred is a really easy thing for us to reach for. It’s so bad men don’t even blame themselves for their bad acts (the nexus of victim blaming). Masculinity is literally a relentless, daily effort that men put into a performance:

Women are only tangentially necessary to prove male heterosexuality, a checkbox on the list of Masculinity. The less like people they are, the better because it’s not about demonstrating our love of women, but our solidarity with other men. Remember: men don’t get points with other men by being loving. We get the respect of other men by being emotionless, hard, tough, and, most of all, heterosexual. Sexualization of women in games is primarily about homosociality among men. Masculinity is a performance men do for other men and in which women are only a prop.

This brings us to the concept of the Man Box. The Man Box, a concept that sociologists and experts on gender studies have coined to describe the construction of masculinity, is at the root of our community problems because many of those lashing out right now are of the mind that gaming is a man’s domain. One of my readers linked me a really great article in the comments of a recent post. The article is by Charlie Glickman and he does a nice job of explaining, in a really light and clear way, the complexities of the Man Box. I highly recommend reading it for anyone more interested in exploring what it is and what it means for men in our culture. But how does this relate to the behavior we see amongst men in the gaming community?

The rabid defenses of sexualization of women, the vitriolic response to Tropes vs. Women, the hatefulness being thrown at Zoe Quinn for her sexual habits (if it were about journalistic integrity, there would have been more attacks on the journalist), are all performances. To be inside the box is to vehemently deny the validity of anything outside of it. This is partly why the issue of sexism in the gaming community is usually so black and white. Masculinity is an either/or proposition. I see this kind of thinking all the time with men. We see this extremism everytime someone suggests sexualization of female characters is out of control (“but censorship is wrong!” and it’s ilk). You’re in or you’re out with these guys.

Here’s an illustration of the box, though if it were a physical thing, it’d be more like a mask or a body suit. It’s something we wear, not something we are.

the-manbox

This isn’t all encompassing, of course. There’s lots more we can put inside this box and outside. Can you think of any?

Charlie explained that men have to be all of these things to be masculine, and while I’m willing to yield to his expertise, I must say this isn’t how it seems. Men try to be all of these things, that’s very true. But you only need to be as many of these things as possible and make sure that you’re not anything outside the box – that’s the trick. Whatever we lack (such as height), we just over compensate with what we have. Masculinity is more like a critical mass of manliness. Either you’re a real man or you’re not, and there’s no in between.

One of the studies Charlie mentioned asked men to braid hair or rope. As a reward for completing the task they could chose either a puzzle or to punch a punching bag. The men who braided hair always chose the punching bag, and they always tried to punch harder. The men who braided rope didn’t try to punch so hard. This is that over compensation.

Another example he gave was that men acting in groups are far more aggressive than they would be individually, and he mentioned cat-calling is one activity where we see this. The more men doing the calling, the more likely the situation is to escalate out of control. This he attributed to one-up manship. Each man in the group is striving to prove that they’re more inside the box than the other men, and none of them wants to be the guy in the group who’s at the bottom of this competition. I think most men can relate to this experience.

This competitiveness against other men is equal parts performing masculinity and homophobia. Fear of not being seen as a man is also a fear of being seen as gay. All the taunting using fag, homo, gay, etc reveals that fear. We’ve all probably seen men flare up at the mere suggestion that they might like men or act like a woman. Some of us have seen the reaction of men who, after learning that woman was a “man”, wanted to confront that person about being “tricked” – as if his attraction to that woman were based on her chromosome arrangement. This is the flimsy, fragile nature of our model of masculinity.

A strange thing happens to us psychologically because of this mask, this performance. We know there’s a difference between the demands of masculinity and who we are, and I think this is why men are less likely to take responsibility for their own terrible acts. We’re more likely to deny that responsibility and to blame external factors for our behavior. The attacks on Anita Sarkeesian are seen by certain groups of men as her own fault. She provoked this response, she’s responsible for what’s happening. We see this in cases of rape, assaults on transgendered people and other cases where men get violent. It’s always provoked. In a sense, it’s a way of looking at our behavior and saying “I wouldn’t do something like that”, but the man we wear would do that and then some. If men in our community want this hostile behavior to stop, we must re-examine why believe that being provoked is sufficient grounds for it.

A study in the previous article made me consider this connection between masculinity and the fierce denials of responsibility that are so common. Bigots and other hateful mobs who condone this toxic behavior see people like me as the problem, me as someone who provokes the demons out of them. They don’t believe their behavior is a problem. Their behavior, in their eyes, is perfectly sane, normal, and righteous. It’s a proper response to people who are demanding a better community.

There’s no nuance to masculinity. Recognizing the root causes of this behavior is kinda important if we want to be able to do something about it. We can’t be reactionary, waiting to respond only after the fact. We have to accept that these people are among us all the time and all they need is some event to provoke them. So why not think about why we see this behavior and talk about how we can foster better models of masculinity? This is a problem only mean can solve, because we are the problem.

Solutions

Let’s whip out the ole spellbook on this one.

spellbookOf particular relevance to recent events are Counterspell, Awareness, and Reinforcement. Show your support to people being targeted. There’s always the risk that those same people may retaliate on you, but how is that different than any other day? Those of us demanding a better community have to expect a certain amount of flack for standing up. All the same, know your own limits and give self-care as much priority as taking a stand. Only you know where that line lies and only you, in any given moment, can determine if it’s the best time and place to put yourself at risk.

I’ve been asked to help build an activist group for gamers. The basic idea is that gamers need a place to turn to, a refuge against the hate. We also desperately need a gamer friendly place to get useful information about social issues and pool our contributions to social justice. More on that another time, but if you’re interested in organizing and doing more for this community let me know.

Advice for men in particular:

  • Listen. This is the single most important thing for you to do in the sexism debate. Yes we have feelings. Yes we have things we want to say. But we have to first understand and we can’t do that if we’re too eager to speak.
  • Follow. Read up the issues to give yourself greater context. It’s really not enough to pay attention to the singular incident. The more you know about the wider issue, the better you can respond to any specific one. Follow people who usually have that information or who can help you access it.
  • Care. Give a damn. Never let the fact that REAL people’s lives are literally being devastated by this hateful behavior, whether you believe it or not. Let compassion be your first response to people who feel attacked.

Sexism: The Male Experience

Let’s talk about the second side of the same coin, take just a brief moment here to sort at least two sides of the often binary debate on sexism. Do men experience sexism?

Yes. This isn’t news. But we don’t experience it in the way we think we do. The truth is many men have no idea what sexism looks like, we just feel it. Think about how men react when the topic of sexualization of women crops up. There’s always that pack of guys who comes in and says “us too!” They use the images of muscled men in games to prove it.

CVS_ZangiefThe thing is, that’s not sexism. That’s not even sexualization. BUT …men do experience sexism! So, uh …what does it actually look like?

Anytime someone has called a boy a “girl” as an insult. Anytime a male has been accused of being feminine. Anytime a man’s sexuality is called into question when he’s emotional. These are some examples of sexism against men. Men and women have very different experiences of sexism, don’t they?

Sexism against men is about calling our masculinity into question and it usually means showing in some way that the man is acting like a woman. These register as insults because of an understanding in our culture that to be a woman is a bad thing. In a way, I think this sexism is also seen when we encourage men by appealing to their masculinity.

There’s this line in Gears of War 3 where one of the men praises Marcus, the main character, saying “Damn it, Marcus! You’ve got some hangers on ya’!” after Marcus does something very daring and bold in a gun fight. The “hangers” are a reference to his balls. When men do manly things, one way we’re given kudos for our show of strength is by being told we’ve got large balls. It works the other way too: men who don’t make shows of strength are told they don’t have any balls and since women literally don’t have any balls, everyone’s shocked when they encounter a strong woman. It really is funny how we’re often blind to these obvious things.

A lot of the time when men experience sexism, we experience it as a loss of masculinity or a challenge to it. While women definitely do this to men, men overwhelmingly do this to ourselves. Just visit any locker room, playground, or barracks. I dare you to find even a joke that’s not about dicks and power.

The language of sexism is funny like that, full of ironies and subtleties that we’re barely aware of. The symbolism of male genitalia in general is quite amazing for it’s sheer variety! My penis can be used to describe anything that’s awesome and powerful. Anything. The vagina is used to describe everything stupid and weak. That’s why “cunt” is such a bad word and why “suck it” is a statement of power. Test these ideas on your vocabulary. Think of the words for powerful and the words for weakness. Go ahead, try it.

Power. It’s not just having control over ourselves, but control over others. Everything is about power and sex, which is where all the talk of genitalia comes from.  Just think of the ways that we make bodies into objects and symbols of power, and how that language pervades our vocabulary.

Attention to the meaning of the central male slang term for sexual intercourse — “fuck” — is instructive. To fuck a woman is to have sex with her. To fuck someone in another context …means to hurt or cheat a person. And then hurled as a simple insult (“fuck you”) the intent is denigration and the remark is often a prelude to violence or the threat of violence. Sex in patriarchy is fucking. That we live in a world in which people continue to use the same word for sex and violence, and then resist the notion that sex is routinely violent and claim to be outraged when sex becomes overtly violent, is testament to the power of patriarchy. – Robert Jensen

When someone says that women are sexualized in games, and men respond that we are also sexualized, this is that twisted construct we’re grappling with right here, perfectly summed up in this quote. All the power fantasies in games are, in the eyes of these men, sexual fantasies for women. And it’s easy enough to see how these men arrive there: this is how men are supposed to dream of being perceived by the opposite sex, and anything dealing with the opposite sex has to be about sex. All portrayals of power fantasies are necessarily sexual fantasies in the eyes of these men. If you’re interested in a more thorough discussion of that, try this.

It starts to feel like our brains are being warped by our use of language. Funny how that works. Men definitely experience sexism, but many of us have no idea what it looks like because we’ve drilled that bad is good and good is bad (that not crying is good, crying is bad, therefore man good, woman bad). We like to think we’re smart enough to sort these differences out, but we’re probably creatures of habit far more than we are creatures of intelligence. It helps to be aware of what’s going on in the words we speak, but we can’t always understand on our own.

Probably some of you are surprised that the experience of sexism for men and women is so different. Definitely for those who believed it would look the same as it does for women. But that’s why it’s important to understand the entire conversation about sexism. That’s why it’s not some objective concept removed from gender constructions and assignments in society. In a culture dominated by men, how these things work for us won’t be the same way they work for women.

Maybe I’ll start a community project to get men to tell their stories about their personal experiences with sexism. Maybe. At the very least, I hope this gives everyone something to think about and consider.

Game Guys That Straight Guys Would Date

So back in like February I watched a video by Smosh Games on their “Why We’re Single” series – a super awkward video for the clearly uncomfortable, straight guys in it – where they talk about male game characters that they would date. It was a funny video, but also really interesting to see how these men picked their dates.

But before I talk about their choices, let’s talk about mine. That only seems fair, right? What male game characters would I go on a date with …

…its taken me months to come up with these names, not because it’s so damn hard, but I had truly never considered this. And now I’ve been considering it ever since I saw this video. The more I thought about it the more it made absolutely no sense that I hadn’t asked myself this question before. Why? Because I’ve definitely had conversations with friends, usually when sitting together around a party game or some similar situation, about guys we think are attractive. It isn’t an uncommon thing to talk about among men. More on the homoerotic overtones of male bonding another time.

Adan looked something like this. Those eyes!

Adan looked something like this. Those eyes!

So who? Who would I go out with? This may seem a little vain, but I’d date the character I made in Dragon Age Origins. He was a rogue, dual daggers. What I liked about him was that he wasn’t afraid to tell people to fuck off, but he was also the most risk taking best friend my party could ever have. If anyone was in a tight spot, Adan would switch plans in a heartbeat for them. I’m a sucker for loyalty. For those wondering, Adan was a brown-skinned male at about 200 lbs, with short dark hair and brown eyes. I wish I had a screenshot of him, but I bought this one on Xbox 360 and I don’t have the machine any more to pull pics from.

Shadowrun-DragonfallThat’s an easy one though. What about other characters I haven’t made? Dietrich from Shadowrun Returns: Dragonfall.  I like how he carries himself like a wisened veteran, he’s super loyal, and his attitude is awesome. I also think the shamanic runes on his skin look pretty hot. He also strikes me as someone fun and cool to hang out with. I really enjoyed his company while playing the game.

prisonerPrisoner Johnson in Prison Architect is growing on me as well. His story makes me want to give him a hug.

The Smosh Game hosts’ picks weren’t any more interesting than mine, really. But that shouldn’t be surprising to any of us. We’re all a little weird when it comes to attraction. What I found interesting was how they made their choices.

ezio-assassinscreed2-4Lasercorn picked Cloud from Final Fantasy because he’s a great fighter, he dressed-up “convincingly” as a woman once and he’s got an airship. He also picks Ezio from Assassin’s Creed pretty much because he’s a well-equipped fighter and he’s smooth with the ladies. He talks about how Ezio would take him out to any restaurant he wants. He picks his dates based on how successful they are and also sees himself as assuming a traditionally feminine role in the relationship (where Ezio does the pursuing and wines and dines him).

Nathan-DrakeSohinki picks Nathan Drake from the Uncharted series and very shyly tells us that Nathan Drake is hot (“no homo”). He admits he likes cuddling and Nathan seems like he’d be a great cuddler. He also picks Prince of Persia …because Jake Gyllenhal plays the prince in a movie and Jake is hot! He picks his dates based on how they look and how good they are romantically (kissing and cuddling). I really got a kick out of him picking an actor over the character itself. Nice touch.

poisonJovenshire picks Poison from Street Fighter strictly for her looks. He calls her a he/she the entire time he describes how attracted he is to her body. He also picks Snow from FF13 because he thinks Snow kinda looks like a cute girl. Jovenshire picks his dates based pretty strictly on how they look.

I think the video’s great and if you haven’t seen it, entertain yourself. It’s funny and it’s guys being as honest as they’re able on a show that airs to a large internet audience. I think they did pretty good with it, but even I felt awkward seeing how awkward they felt about making these choices. There are some problematic things going on in the video for sure, but overall I took it as guys trying to have an interesting, if awkward, conversation about homosexuality. And for where they are with this in their personal lives, they did great.

If you were to date a game character of the same sex, who would you pick and why?

Male Power Fantasies in Gaming

This is another relevant throwback article I wrote a couple years ago. It’s always funny to read my old self. I’ve learned so much since then, but there’s still some good information here so it’s worth reposting. In fact, I’ve updated the whole thing. There’s also a link to the original article if you want to have fun watching me change. EDIT: Some pictures didn’t properly display. Also, it appears some edits didn’t get properly transferred over. My mistake. I’ve recovered them.


My purpose here is not to show how males are exploited or are victims of something. The broader culture is structured to reward males for their conformity to sexism such that even while their presentation is problematic, men are the clear beneficiaries. In this article, I want to  examine those presentations and respond to some of the most vile defenses of them. I’m targeting men, but I think any reader can gleen an idea or two from what follows.

Something We Have to Know About Ourselves to Understand Our Fantasies

I’m not going to explain “Not All Men …“. We’re all intelligent creatures, yeah? This is directed to whom it applies. All men can learn to question their interest in fantasies, especially the power and the sexual ones, which are often intertwined in the imagery of games. Receive this only as an opportunity for personal introspection, not an attack on your person.

wow_alexstrasza_by_gooloo0_o-d32edoqSo who is this picture really painted for? Why is it painted in this way? I have my own theory. It goes like this: the artist, especially if male, is painting for a male audience. His goal is to idolize sex itself. The woman is simply a necessary element to demonstrate his heterosexuality. If he could do it without painting a woman, he would but most male artists are never this clever and creative. They opt for the woman. She’s an obvious marker of heterosexuality to other men, so the art will read easily with a male audience. Next, the sex. Sexualized images of women focus on the big two, tits and ass, to help men fixate to get it up. If her back has to be contorted and her breasts immeasurably large, then the more sexual the picture is. When it comes to sex education, men learn that their erection is the most important component. The harder, the better. To get it on rock we must fixate our minds on something that turns up the intensity. We learn to do this so we don’t embarrass ourselves when the moment comes. When the moment comes, we want to prove our manhood — be as hard and erect as humanly possible. You just can’t get there pre-sex without fixation.

Back to the art work: so the focus on those two essential parts of a woman’s body aren’t really about the woman. They’re about demonstrating manhood, proving to peers that you too know the secrets to a good hard on. That’s what all winking, nodding and loud approvals are about. It’s got nothing to do with the woman. She’s invisible. The painting is of breasts and buttocks. This is objectification incarnate, a literal object in human form. She’s been completely reduced out of humanity in the name of erections and manhood.

avengers-posing-like-womenAs me and my closest friends got older, we had some very revealing conversations about our actual sexual tastes. Chief among them was that it wasn’t boobs and bottoms that did it for us. One friend couldn’t resist long hair — he later learned he liked it on men as much as women. Another liked high pitched voices. Boobs and bottoms were nice in the moment, but they were not essential to the physical attraction. I suspect this is true for most men, that our tastes vary and that any given picture of a sexualized woman isn’t actually our thing — but we can never publicly say so for fear of the relentless shaming. It’s much easier to just go along to get along.

Women are only tangentially necessary to prove male heterosexuality, a checkbox on the list of Masculinity. The less like people they are, the better because it’s not about demonstrating our love of women, but our solidarity with other men. Remember: men don’t get points with other men by being loving. We get the respect of other men by being emotionless, hard, tough, and, most of all, heterosexual. Sexualization of women in games is primarily about homosociality among men. Masculinity is a performance men do for other men and in which women are only a prop.

Normality

By making fantasy depictions of women normative, sexism remains part of our daily mode of operation. This mostly goes unexamined and unquestioned, and that’s key to the perpetuation of it. It’s not just a few sexists in an otherwise non-sexist society, which would be easier to fix. It’s institutions that reproduce it. So remember this when you hear the following arguments:

  • There’s no such thing as sexism. The argument goes that since no man in the vicinity has qualified the alleged sexism (only they can be trusted to identify it), sexism is a myth. Men and women act the way they were born to act, that this lopsided relationship between them is natural. Cries of sexism are just women acting emotional, as is their natural condition or some variation thereof.
  • Sexism without sexists. This argument accepts that sexism actually exists, but no one anyone knows is sexist. Your friend isn’t sexist, you aren’t sexist, you haven’t seen sexism in the work place, it’s not happening in your games, and on and on. The supporting arguments for this are that sexism is ONLY when your grandpa tells your grandma to get in the kitchen (but even that kind of sexism is ok because it’s natural), that sammich jokes are funny, and that chivalry is Good for Women. There are no sexists. This ultimately has the same implications as the first argument.

It’s supposed to feel like things are just normal. That’s what structural problems feel like: Normal. That’s what makes them difficult problems to address. Normality means acceptance, even if what’s happening is wrong or negatively impacting certain groups. Normality means status quo, “that’s the way it is”. It means those who benefit from normalcy are blind to it (the privileged).

Our Complexity Reduced to XY

In fantasy art, men have motives, problems, goals and dreams, and a strong sense of justice. We bring the law because heroes are the law — they cannot be corrected and they are the solution to every problem. We’re complex, complicated, multi-dimensional characters dealing with fate. We’re capable and competent, trustworthy and loyal. We epitomize everything that’s worth redeeming about mankind and that’s an important message of the fiction: men represent the reason everything is worth redeeming and we are there to correct things. And people.

On the other end though, our heroes are shallow, ever the revenge driven patriarch out to protect us from ourselves. Socialization teaches us that these are innate features of male biology, the emotional under-development and drive to violence. And as they say, when you’re a hammer everything is a nail. Male violence is always justified as natural and righteous.

In the end our complexity is reduced to biological rage that’s channeled into the role of lawbringer and protector. So much of the “development” of male heroes is in explaining why their violence is righteous. In the end, our complexity is reduced to a chromosome which we are slaves to, the opposite to that in-control hero we project in our fantasies.

The Art of Heroism and Absence of Heroinism

Superman Male Power FantasyAesthetically, what’s attractive about the superman is his confidence and power. His posture and physique exude it. This is what men are supposed to aspire to: strength which grants confidence that commands respect. The fantasy images aren’t for women (again, women aren’t even important to the artist), but for men. It’s rare to encounter images that are created to celebrate female heroism.

The art of the male and female hero is about inspiring power in men. Male hero figures are all about strength. It’s a fantasy about power. The female figures are also about power …sexual power for men (imagery that inspires erections, which is a symbol of our potency). Sexualization is actually about sexualizing male power. Again, the woman is merely a prop in this process. She’s not important.

Heroes are natural born leaders. That’s why most of them are men. Our place as men is at the front, to dominate because that’s what heroes do (“it is natural for men to lead”). Media messaging for men tells us that we must aspire to these things, because they define true manhood. Every man is taught to pursue true manhood. We cannot fall short of these expectations or else we risk being ostracized, shamed and having our man card revoked.

Remember those words “be a man”. What do they mean? These images are attempting to draw that out for us.

Of Women and Redemption

Through it all, the messaging in our fantasy tells us that men, as in males, must be redeemable, no matter what.

Masculinity is power, and power is attractive. The women in these games want these heroes because they’re strong, powerful figures. Or at least that’s the narrative. The sexual aspects are subtle, but present. The images of men are rarely sexualized in the same way that women are, but rather their power is sexualized. It’s a kind of balance to maintain the humanity of the character. Too much focus on raw power, and you’re the bad guy; too little and you’re as useful as the female characters.

Kratos Male Power FantasyLet’s look at Kratos from God of War. There’s a moment in the game where he lays Aphrodite, tames the goddess in her own sanctuary. Aphrodite is the prop and the scene focuses instead on Kratos sexual prowess. It’s another opportunity to put his power on display. Was it his body she was attracted to as is the case with men and female imagery? No. In the end, Aphrodite is written up as a nymphomaniac, his superb physique significant only inasmuch as it eroticizes his strength. It’s the power he radiates that she lusts after, that makes him a real man. She’s been waiting for a real man for so long, she tells him. Kratos is a real man, his power absolute (this is why he can sleep with a goddess). Male sexuality is not about sex, but power. This is just another way we know that sexualization is about masculinity, disguised as femininity (enlarged breasts, hips, facial features, make-up, and weakness …Aphrodite is all these things and more).

But there’s a price for this mascuinlity. While Kratos’s entire story is built on his quest for power, at times we’re not sure if he’s the hero or a villain, but this contradiction still humanizes him. He’s a man who’s descended from the gods with the power to take even them to their end, even death himself. Over the course of the series, Kratos is a destroyer and in the end of the series his character is offered as a sympathetic figure. A fragile man reaching for godhood, a rejected god reaching for manhood. Yet he spends all of the first game destroying gods for personal satisfaction. He murders his wife and child in his blind lust for power and suddenly, a man who’s spent his entire career destroying others is presented as deserving our compassion.

These new, divine dimensions of character make him more worthy of redemption than before; men must be redeemable the game tells us. He’s come to see the blood on his hands as a curse …and he yet continues to bludgeon every god until the world is no more and nothing is left. Yet by the end of the series, Kratos is transformed from destroyer to redeemer. Men can act in this self-centered manner and we still have to forgive them because, as the narrative tells us, men are the solution. He emerges a god who grew into a better man. That should be a familiar tale for most of us.

The Darkness PicIn the end, we know Kratos’s whole story. He’s not just an abstract figure players don’t care about and he’s not just some power-hungry warrior with a great body. He’s complex, yet shallow. He’s perfected directing his anger to the point of a blade, but he’s just not there emotionally. In fact, when he encounters emotions we find him in the game lost on a black road amidst total darkness. His quest for power has reduced him to nothingness.

Having Our Cake

Game designers believe that we really identify with this sort of thing. They count on it. It’s not so much that they think this applies to all guys, but that they know all men are bound by the same oath of silence to never speak about it. Our task is simple: nod and approve of the cleavage and hips served up in our fantasy art or be ridiculed. Men are supposed to approve of the Kerrigans, Laras, Camys and Aphrodites. Kratos isn’t the only character to be built on male power fantasies.

The values our games espouse exist within a cultural context that reinforces positions of privilege for some and positions of inferiority for others. Every character is made for us, every image made to appeal to us, and we get a lot of variety. We don’t have to want it or ask for it.

Male power fantasies, as an idea, aren’t bad. There’s nothing wrong with being male and enjoying fantasies of these kinds. Modern fantasies come at the expense of everyone but men, though.  Sexualization of women is done for men and men are done for men. It’s all about us and that’s part of why it’s such a big topic in games and fantasy. By all means let’s have male power fantasies, but do we have to throw women under the bus in the name of them? Do we need to be the center of attention? Must everyone be defined as though we are the center of the universe?

Do people other than ourselves matter?

It helps to understand exactly what we’re talking about when we speak of power fantasies for men, and who it’s actually about. There’s no separating them from the harsh realities of traditional manhood which help construct them. It’s OK to chose differently and it’s OK to seek the approval of women, not just men. If we did that a bit more, perhaps we’d get our sexy fantasy art that’s about women instead of just power.

Original Article: http://www.trredskies.com/male-power-fantasies/

Scree Tags: #malepowerfantasy #sexualization

There and Back: Gamer Spaces for Men

This is an article I wrote a long time ago (almost 2 years ago!) that I think is worth revisiting. After reading it again, I realized some of my ideas about gamer spaces for men have changed. For one thing, I’m no longer sure I believe we need a new space for “good” men. I’m more of the mind that we need to reform the current one claimed by “real” men — which includes shrinking it down, filtering the harmful from the beneficial and then dealing with things from there. In other words, there is a vast gamer space for men. We just don’t want to clean up all the garbage laying around …but that’s the only way to reclaim ourselves and our community.

Without further ado:


Original: http://trredskies.com/gamer-spaces/

No, I haven’t turned my blog into strict social commentary. It’s just that, as they say, I “can’t unsee”. Once you become aware of something you start to recognize how much of it is around you. In my case, blogging about it is simply a recent thing; for years I’ve kept out of these discussions, relying mostly on others to do the hard work of speaking up. I also don’t expect I’ll keep talking about games the same way I did when I was 24 (I’m 33). I’m pretty sure I’ve done a lot of growing, learned a lot of things, and have changed. Plus, there’s no games out right now that are worthwhile to write about. That makes it a good time to focus on what we’re doing as gamers other than playing games.

As a male, a white one, I hear others making statements all the time about how things are made for me, for my “type.” And I get that. I totally get that and I understand what’s being said and I completely agree; it’s the truth. The irony though is that there actually don’t exist any gamer spaces for straight white males who despise the societal privileges we receive. There’s no safe space where we can express ourselves in the same way people of the margins do (people of color, homosexuals, transgenders, women, and even children). I’m not glorifying their position in this: there’s a reason they speak from what is referred to as the margin. They don’t get the same attention nor audience being a straight white male allows me and, at best, they are believed to actually play games. That’s part of the irony. Men like me, once we’ve been given our audience, if we dare speak out against traditional masculinity, the silencing begins along with the shaming. There are no safe places where we can speak the truth. We’re not acceptable because even while men are criticized for not changing their ways, very few men find people willing to accept a changed man. This includes women (even some feminist women) and probably especially so. Yet, it’s not anyone’s fault but our own that we have precious few spaces or, depending on your geography, none at all. We haven’t dared to create them. That’s hard work.

Consider all that any one of us has seen or experienced from the shoes of the straight white male gamer.

Sexist, racist jokes are, as many among us would say, par for the course. Expectations of female sexual fantasy characters are also normal. There are those of us who sit in these groups of “dudebros” quietly, not quite thinking the jokes are funny but knowing we aren’t supposed to object. We’re supposed to accept that this is what “guys” do. We talk about women as though we date so many and revel in dick jokes and talk about how gay something, someone, or some event is. And we all quietly accept this.

We tell ourselves things like “this happens to everyone” and “no big deal” and “it’s common” and “welcome to the internet” and other things which suggest there’s nothing to be done about it. The underlying attitude, the underlying value that’s being asserted in most cases is that this is how men act. And that we’re supposed to act this way, supposed to be stoic, uncaring, or hard enough that such things don’t matter to us. The truth is that it burns. It makes many of us madder than hell to feel so powerless in the face of such ignorance. We don’t speak because we fear being emasculated; being called soft, weak, or gay. We don’t want to be the object of our own ridicule. And we want others to laugh as though something’s funny about this. We don’t question “normal”, straight white male. It’s too hard. And truthfully, a lot of us believe in it and would die for it.

It’s a vicious cycle that ensures we never have a safe gamer space to truly be ourselves without pressure or rejection. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy because we continue the same choices out of sheer fear.

What Brought About this Article

Izzy Sparks in 2 different costumes. Epitome of cool.

The other day I gathered with two of my best friends for a round at Gears of War 3. I, personally, really only enjoy the single-player campaign, but I do appreciate time with friends to compete for sport. Once we were done with Gears we put on Guitar Hero 3, a classic favorite of us all. I always play Izzy Sparks. For those who aren’t aware, he’s by far the coolest rocker in the whole franchise! He’s a glam rocker and his costumes are second to none! Hair, boots, make-up, tights, and a sassy guitar …fun as all hell for me. Now that you know how hardcore a fan I am of Izzy, you can predict the feedback I get from “the guys”. It’s all in good fun, friendly jests that none of us take to heart. But the predictable comments are “you’re a closet cross dresser” and “you like men?” and other jokes about how feminine Izzy is and how feminine I must be. I don’t mind the teasing to be honest because I am fascinated with my obsession with Izzy. I haven’t understood why I think he’s so damn cool, but it’s actually quite simple: he’s expressive. He’s free to be whatever he deems himself to be, just as old 80’s glam rockers were. If he wants to doll up and rock out, he does it. Gay jokes don’t get in his way. If he wants to wear purple, lace, polka-dots, and eyeliner, he does it. And when he does it, it’s mega cool to me!

I am learning everyday to be that guy in my personal life. No, I don’t enjoy polkadots and lace; I’m not what anyone would describe as fashion conscious. I just want to be able to feel and be felt on a genuine human level, to be me without strings attached. I strongly dislike what’s expected of masculinity. It’s damning and the pressure is relentless when every male in your life, even the ones you don’t know, assume things about you based on your sex and sexuality.

However, in my own life there are no gamer spaces (other than this blog) where I can be that expressive without ridicule and shaming. Sure, I and other guys like me, can shrug it off and continue to do what we want, the way we like it. And for the most part, we do. That doesn’t mean the ridicule doesn’t get old, unfunny, or even irritating depending on the circumstance. In all cases, there’s social, systematic pressure present to get all men to conform to a certain standard. The standard is the problem. It’s hard to believe more men don’t reject it because it’s so very limiting. I can tell you, we don’t benefit from it in the ways we think we do.

The Manly Standard

What’s a 21st century man? This can’t be it …

I’ve gone over this in some detail in the past, so I won’t rehash too many of the details here. The short of it is that to be manly is to be unaffected, distant, tough, cold, and (when appropriate) angry. Manliness is defined by our ability to dominate. We do this through coercion of some sort. It’s not always physical. Coercion can be incessant teasing. Shaming is the most common form of coercion we use to get males to act a certain way.

It’s undeniable. I ask any one of you males who are reading this who are prone to disagree: what does it mean when people say “man up” or “be a man”? It means exactly the things I’ve described above. I know why we try to deny it though. Because we’re caught up in it without a lot of spaces where we can legitimately break away. There are no acceptable spaces in our gaming community (or society at large) where men can feel, be real, expressive, soft, feminine, emotional, and honest. We live the lie that we’re unemotional biceps. Sure, we can break our individual selves free of it like most people of the margins do, but unlike them we have no solidarity outside of traditional masculinity. Rarely, if ever, do we seek solace in community, a fact that allows us to continue to hold on to traditional masculinity by convincing ourselves that by acting independently, we’re “strong men”; that philosophy adheres to the tradition. But we feel trapped in the lie. Society doesn’t accept us. It only accepts manliness and deviations from this sacred mold are chastised literally to death. There’s no scarcity of murder against homosexual men, no small amounts of abuse hurled at men deemed too feminine, wimpy. There’s no playground any one of us can visit at this very moment where we won’t see little boys acting out against others who “act like girls”; no little boys who believe they can safely play with a barbie doll. There’s a reason for that.

The Manly Standard is that reason. It’s this unrealistic standard that all men are expected to live up to. That counts doubly so in our gamer spaces, where fantasy and acting out is supposed to be welcome. Men aren’t allowed by their peers to choose Izzy Sparks in the pink and purple garb, lace gloves, knee high heel boots, white hair, and sparkly white star guitar (my favorite get up!). I was surprised in my google search for images of Izzy in his various costumes to find that the most popularly posted image was not Izzy the Glam Rocker. It was Izzy in black leather attire with the spiky cuffs, football pauldron, and black sunblock under his eye. It was the “manliest” Izzy available.

Values = Choices

…same goes for looking/acting “manly.”

How did we get here? How did I arrive in a culture where my friends and I can’t share a session of gaming without talking about our manhood? If I’m truthful, I’ll have to admit that we rarely discuss much else and especially not how we feel. Over the past year, that’s changed somewhat as we’ve all been asking ourselves the hard questions about our identity (thanks to other strong, persistent people in our lives who love us). But in aggregate, what we mostly talk about boils down to 3 things: work , women, and dicks. These are our chosen values.

We talk about work because work ethic is highly prized as a sign of manhood in our culture. It symbolizes our independence and power. A working man is a real man, this value is unmistakable. We know this for sure by the evidence: men everywhere believing that men who don’t work aren’t real men. Furthermore, work is defined by hard work, industrial work. Iron Chef’s are definitely not what your average guy would consider manly work. Male gamers are also considered “weaklings” of some type by men who don’t play games.

We talk about women because that’s what men are supposed to do in our culture: obsess about sex. And we don’t talk about actual women, we just talk about whether there’s sex involved. “Oh the wife is holding out” we’ll say or “you need to get laid” we’ll chide or “<insert latest porn>”. Worse, we’ll talk about one of our sexual adventures, careful to describe only tits, ass, and positions. We’ll discuss how long we did it to her, how potent our erections are, how and where we ejaculate. This is the stuff of men.

This leads directly to dicks. Once the sex talk is over we’ll move on to some other insignificant topic, like sports or games. We’ll talk about Mario Brothers and why Princess Peach is named Peach (wink, wink). We smile and giggle at Aphrodite in God of War. We call Anya Stroud a “stupid bitch” while grabbing our dicks and criticizing how she handles a gun. Name a game and “guys” will find a dick joke in it. For a bunch of so-called straight men, we sure do love talking about the penis. There’s a reason for that as well, but it’s outside the scope here.

The choice is yours. Don’t be a Troopa.

So many make statements to the effect that this is normal for “guys”. “Guys” are born this way, it’s nature, what do you expect? We’ve all heard this tired excuse. As a guy, I feel embarrassed and insulted when other men boil our sex down to well-groomed monkeys who aren’t able to think, feel, or act any other way. As if there’s no choice involved and we’re slaves to biology, creatures who don’t have agency in our daily lives. Few will acknowledge TO THEMSELVES that these are daily choices we make. The cumulative effect of continuing to “act like a man” is the current state of affairs: men everywhere trapped by living the lie. Trapped into not creating spaces where we can express ourselves without shame.

Stranded in the gaming community with no spaces to truly indulge our greatest fantasies of self expression.

The key here though is the choice. Yeah, it’s a sucky situation. Yeah, to a greater or less degree we’ve been groomed for this role since boyhood, something that was beyond our control in our youth. But as grown men, we can make a different choice. Victims we may have been, but continuing in this way doesn’t make us continued victims. It makes us apologetic fools. Once we know the situation, it is up to us to turn it around, to make different choices, to create these crucial spaces. Without them, we remain bound in the web of Man Standard, unable to express, not allowed to show our full humanity, repressing our true spirit.

Making Choices in Modern Times

Too many of you are preparing a retort which will go something like this:

“You should be comfortable enough in your own sexuality to play Izzy,” or ” You shouldn’t worry what other people think,” or “Real men do exactly what they want,” (never questioning why they believe this or why this is true) or “You should be happy with who you are, forget other people,” or something similar.

These are convenient statements. They completely ignore what’s actually being discussed, which isn’t my comfort with Izzy or his sexuality. The topic at hand is the Man Standard and what’s wrong with it. We can hem and haw about how this doesn’t exist, but we know that’s a lie. Again, what do we mean when we say “be a man” if the Man Standard doesn’t exist?

This angers men. It’s one of our many secrets. It angers us because we feel a total lack of control and, as we understand it in our culture, men are supposed to be totally in control. That’s our M.O. We’re the creatures god made who can control our emotions, control our actions, control other people. But we discover more and more each day that we don’t actually control any of this. It’s an illusion. To chose things other than what is defined as masculine, is to blatantly state you’re not man enough, to open the door to rejection, and to face ourselves. It’s scary.

Still, despite lacking spaces today, there’s a brilliant horizon in our near future. I don’t believe all is lost; not in the slightest. Despite all these awful barriers to creating spaces many of us are trying and, though few, succeeding.

In modern times, things are a lot better than even 10 years ago. Everyday I see men making choices to reclaim themselves from the Man Standard. They are choosing everyday to reject conventional masculinity. This ought to be celebrated more, but it’s so very difficult to get men to even admit that this exists. That adhering to the standard is extremely problematic and traumatic to ourselves. That there is something very wrong with acting like humans who don’t feel, who can’t respect individuality, who are so angry that they get joy from shaming and ridiculing others. It’s far, far easier to let the dick jokes prevail, to denigrate homosexuals for a laugh, and pretend we’re laying different women every weekend; if everyone else is keeping up the ruse, then admitting the truth has no known rewards. There is a horrifying problem there that we, men, don’t dare discuss because it’s scary to imagine that’s what we’ve allowed ourselves to become.

We can all chose to make spaces for ourselves outside the Man Standard. Society doesn’t want us to and has succeeded in many ways in preventing it. For some reason, the gamer community seems notorious for sexist and racist behavior, yet I have known far too many awesome people to believe this is all we’ve got. As the years wear on, more men awaken to this reality and challenge it. It’s slow and painful, but it’s progress.

As far as gaming with friends go, at least 2 other friends of mine are open to the idea of having a space where we can establish continuity; a space where we don’t have to change gears and hold our dicks to uphold the Man Standard. We can just be ourselves, exactly as we are. We can laugh AND CRY. Wow!
Scree Tags: #trredskies #gamertalk #sexism

Men Should Consent to Sex

I wrote this for an awareness group I attend and I want to share it with my gamers! As ever, I think gamer spaces are one of the most important places to share these kinds of things because there’s so much stigma and narrow-mindedness in these spaces that it stifles maturity, growth and serious conversation. Please be warned that I’ve never published anything on my blog as descriptive of sex as what I do below. However, I would still rate it PG.


Xbox Sexpad

Oh the things you can do with 2 joysticks …

Let’s talk about sex. Specifically, the kind of sex men like and dream of. As a man I’m going to disclose some of my personal experiences with sexual consent and what I’ve come to understand about it. I want to tell other men: Don’t look at consent as a way to prevent rape; that’s like looking at assault as a way to prevent murder. Consent is about engaging in provocative, seductive, mutual and open sexual acts. It’s the launchpad for that erotic trip to the moon; it is the only way from down here to up there. Just like that big silver button on this Xbox controller, consent is the first step to turning on the game and having the time of your life.

You probably think I’m going to talk about receiving consent from my partners. That’s usually the form discussions about consent take on: men need to ask women for consent to sex. And yes, that’s important too. It’s the only kind of sex I find enjoyable: loud, specific, demanding desire and volition from my lover. Because how can I know she really wants me if I don’t understand her fantasies and if she never tells them? I want her to say yes, and I want it loud and proud — not just with her voice but her body and explicit instruction. Where does she like it, how, when …hearing, seeing and feeling these things lets me know shes not merely saying yes, but enthusiastically inviting me to share an adventure with her. But I digress …

What I really want to talk about today is the consent I give. Now that’s an unexpected twist, isn’t it? Men don’t talk about giving consent because it’s supposed to be a given in our culture. Men always want sex, right? Our lovers don’t need to ask, or so we are lead to believe. This is just another myth used to reinforce the idea that men don’t need anything because we don’t feel anything. This leads to having our feelings trampled underfoot to meet the requirements of masculinity. But our sexual power isn’t in our ability to take from others or to give freely of ourselves when we’d rather not or as if we have no emotional stake in it. Our power is in shamelessly expressing sexual need and emotional desire. The emotional prohibition of masculinity is what makes us believe we consent by default and that we can’t say no because doing so is emasculating. I’m here to call bullshit and reclaim my sexuality for myself. If you enjoy great sex, you should too. And you should start today by actively consenting to your own sexual desires. This can enable you to see consent not as permission, but as essential to your own sexual fulfillment.

As a gamer, nerd and geek, as an ordinary member of this community who has been stereotyped as the impotent, weak, whiny, and effeminate loser …I have to confess: I like when my lovers ask for consent, even though it may play into those stereotypes in the eyes of some. It’s a feel-good kinda thing when that happens, being explicitly sought and wanted. Nerds are not used to this kind of attention so I welcome it. Consent becomes confidence and self-respect, the power button on my console that gives my joystick purpose and makes pressing buttons exciting. It feels different when someone you like, respect and find attractive lets you know that they want you without you being required to initiate — as men are taught to do. As a group, we rarely get to enjoy this side of sex and romance because of it. But it feels goooood. Crave this attention and bask in it when you receive it. It is the first step towards truly consenting to sex with another.

What is Consent?

There are different kinds of consent and one-size doesn’t fit all — just like condoms, cuffs and harnesses. Consent starts early, as soon as the two (or three or four) of you begin romantic dating. Sometimes I want to be teased or even abused along the way. I might say no just to add intrigue to the game. I may say no and then yes, or yes and then no — and I’m entitled to change my mind. I want my lover to play along while I figure out exactly what I want. More importantly, I want her respect my commands. That’s sexy too and not just the power fantasy involved, but the mutuality; she wants to do this and so do I, but right now we’re in the rapture of seduction. Consent is seduction. 

Sometimes I want to do something weird or kinky with my lover. I’m allowed to have such desires and so is my partner, without fear of embarrassment or emotional harm. I’m not ashamed of my fantasies because they’re so good to me that I feel she might want to share in them too. We can test our physical and emotional boundaries in the sex arena (or the kitchen or wall or garden …) together. We can have a good time while we do, because we want this exchange of sexual creativity, even if we only wind up missionary, froggy or doggy. Maybe I want to try this outrageous fantasy with her tonight …tomorrow I might decide I hate it. Consent is temporary. Just because I give it now, doesn’t mean I give it later.

Then there’s the kind of consent that you gradually give, that you’re tempted into, that you acquiesce to, are lured to. Remember I mentioned that men are expected to do all the chasing? That idea isn’t just wrong, but harmful to us. I want to be chased, too. Maybe she really wants me more than I want her. Maybe I’m not in the mood or I’m not sure. Maybe I can see and feel that she’s craving a piece of me that she can’t get through conversation and kisses. She wants the heated breathlessness of my embrace. Eventually she could win me over and I’ll submit willingly and enthusiastically. I’ll give her my body to be satisfied that she’s satisfied. Satisfied that she respected me enough to ask, to pursue, to not judge my masculinity for not being on auto-pilot, to not treat me like she owns me –though that last bit can be sexy at the right time and place too. Consent is respect.

There are times I don’t consent or can’t; I’m not a machine. I get tired, my body can refuse to be interested, or any other number of reasons I simply don’t consent. In the back of my mind, I’m hoping her disappointment leaves the opportunity for a really promising sexual encounter later. I don’t have to say yes to her all the time just because I’m a man. It’s absurd to even expect this from ourselves or others. She may have to play alone for now, but we both know we have something to look forward to when I’m ready. Hopefully she’ll be ready for it too. Consent is patience.

We are all at our sexual peaks when we are consenting creatures. There’s no sex like consensual sex. And guys: you can consent too. You don’t owe anyone sex and you’re not obligated to be a sexual beast due to gender or chromosomes. You can say no and say yes. And you know what? I think you’ll find the secret to satisfying sex and fulfillment of your deepest fantasies lies in understanding and seeking active, passionate consent.

Respect + Trust + Seduction + Patience = Consent

Men can consent just as women can, and we’re missing out on exciting sexual events when we disengage or treat it like a license. Consent is also self-respect, so men should get to know their own feelings and desires about sex. It’s not just about knowing your own fantasies, but knowing that your fantasies include an additional living, breathing, sexy creature; that the fantasy literally requires their investment. Don’t aim so low as a mere “yes”, but strive for a partner that actively and overtly shows they can’t wait to have you. If the consent you receive is equivalent to engaging in a conversation with an NPC or if you feel like you could have the same amount of consent from a rubber doll (passive; the absence of a no and the lack of a yes; she’s willing to be a prop in your orgasm, but not participate, etc), re-evaluate and start over. From the top. You WANT to be wanted and desired and this is the only way to achieve it.

Indulge the seduction and suspense; aim for mutual desire, not just permission, by sharing fantasies. Even say no sometimes just to turn up the heat.

Consent isn’t about rape prevention. It’s about having the sex you really want.