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