A Lady Gamer’s Look at Male Characters

As a fledgling blogger, when Cer requested (he didn’t give me a choice in the matter!) that I write for Variant Avatar as a guest, I was equal parts nervous and excited.  It’s something I’ve definitely wanted to get into, but have never felt like I had enough time to dedicate to a blog.  That, and I can never quite wrap my mind around the notion that there actually might be people out there that are interested in what I have to say!

Some of you may know me either as a fellow guildie of Cer’s from “Phalanx of Nod“, or as one of the three co-hosts from the greatest podcast ever “The Sundering” (ok, so maybe I’m a little bias on that one) For those who don’t, some quick background on who I am.  I’m a 26-year-old student in pursuit of my Master’s degree in English (yes, I am quite the masochist).  I have lived and breathed gaming since I could finagle a controller (or mouse!) in my hands…and no, before the jokes come in, that doesn’t mean I learned how to use them yesterday!

As such, much of my day is spent listening to other people talk about how great literature and literary theories are.  Nearly everyone has a specialty in something that sounds really grown-up and fancy.  I’m still coming to grips that I don’t love crap like Victorian romance novels as much as my classmates. That’s not to say I don’t love literature or writing (although writing research papers can be pretty lame).  Conversely, none of my classmates love video games the way I do. I have an edge in that I recognize the textuality of things that exist outside of just novels.  Of course, admitting this out loud in a professional setting is a hurdle I still need to jump. That said, no one is allowed to pass judgment on my atrocious pictures (I wanted to add some humor to this, because I didn’t want things to become like another one of my damn classes).

One theory that has run rampant in video game studies right now is that of looking at them through a Feminist lens.  There’s nothing wrong with this, although I would argue that there are too many of these papers that view broads solely as being victims and/or are over sexualized, versus pointing out women who hold roles that are empowered.

But I’m not looking to talk about that right now.  I want to talk about men.  Not so much about how they have weens and the fact that having one would be freaking sweet (I would physically pee off EVERY ledge I could find) but how men have been portrayed in video games.

One of the things that bugs me is how a great deal of attention is paid to the size of a chick’s breasts and waist, yet no one takes a minute to point out the outrageous sizes that male avatars are given:

Seriously?  I’m pretty sure I don’t look like a plastic doll, and Cer doesn’t look like a kitchen appliance (the only similarity is that both can store a serious amount of bacon in inside of them).  In a lot of ways, society (some would argue that it does completely) determines how we define what it means to be masculine and feminine.  In gaming culture especially, I think we find that they can be very binary, black and white things.

My husband has been quick to point out that guys don’t really give a damn that their avatars can sometimes have a 60’’ chest and a 28’’ waist.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say he’s probably right (although I’m careful to categorize an entire group in one fell swoop).  Which may be a reason why we don’t have a lot of discussion about it at a professional level like we do regarding women.  But that doesn’t mean it’s something we shouldn’t think about or just sweep under the rug.  One of the great things about this industry is that the sky’s the limit, and the more that we push ourselves to think outside of the box, and to turn stereotypes on their heads, the bigger variety of games and characters we are going to see (and that’s always a good thing).  I think the industry is moving in a healthy direction (I love what Bioware has done for FemShep, for example).

Since I know how boring this stuff is, I won’t go on and on about how males in video games always seem to fit this mold of what we define as “manly”.  I also don’t want to imply that they should be emasculated in some way.  But having a character that doesn’t look misshapen, and that has some sense of emotion wouldn’t be a bad thing in my opinion (just like having a strong female protagonist can be a good thing too).

I just want to say thanks for having me on to write a bit Cer; it’s refreshing to write something for once without fear of having the hammer of academia smashed down upon me by a professor.  And of course, thanks to anyone who took the time to give this a read; I’d love to hear what your thoughts are on the portrayal of characters within the games we play, or if it’s something you even pay attention to!

4 Comments on A Lady Gamer’s Look at Male Characters

  1. Mukluk


    Excellent commentary and you know what? I LOVED THE HAND DRAWN PICTURES. Seriously, they are excellent and add value to the story.

    Game companies need to come to grips with the fact that more and more women are playing games now. More choice shoudl be given to avatars of BOTH sexes to make them more customizable and allowing people to identify with them.

    The archtype of the Manly Hero with perfect abs and pecs to kill for and the Buxom Broad, who not only can swing a sword, but NOT let her boobs get in the way is still out there. Let’s face it, we DO like our heros to be heroic. But, let’s have our hero’s be heroic through their deeds, not their looks.

  2. Xia,

    I am always a fan of anyone who is willing to look deeper into video game culture than just “the gameplay and graphics rock!” I have thought about this very subject as well, especially when playing The Old Republic. When you go to make a character there are 4 body types, which is great, but all 4 have some serious T&A going on.

    As for the males, I always found it strange that a mage has rippling muscles just like a warrior. Do all heroes need to be ripped and bad-ass? From a real perspective, that would be like discounting scholar and doctors as heroes because they couldn’t punch the hell out of a bank robber. Action movies have always centered around the Schwarzenegger’s and Van Dam’s of the world, but could it not be said that the scrawny egghead behind the computer that found the location of the bomb is just as much the hero? IMO some of the greatest heroes are the most unlikely ones. It always brings an interesting element to the table when the guy saving the day has thick rimmed glasses and a bit of a gut.

    Keep this up, it was a great read.
    turtleowlman´s last blog post ..Mass Effect 3 on the brain

  3. Xia, nice job. I think this is a topic you can delve into quite a bit, and I think there’s a lot of good discussion to be had here. I’m sure Ceraph can point to some resources covering how this discussion has gone on in comic books for years (Q: Why do all the women have great bodies? A: Because the men do, too).

    I think you have a great take on this because of your literary background; many of our favorite characters from novels are the anti-hero or the unlikely-savoir types, both ideas that are a lot easier to portray via text only.

    We should, of course, keep in mind that video games exist within a smaller scale than novels in terms of both attention span and narrative length. For our heros to make us want to play them, they have to be more heroic than believable. Do I really want to play Dragon Age to see the hero go back and forth about the moral choices of being vegatarian, or wonder if he just objectified that evil female caster? No, I want to blow shit up with fireballs and make “moral choices” that only impact the story. Flat-out, we don’t have time to let a less-heroic character develop in most cases. We’re agreeing to suspend disbelief in the physical because we’re already suspending it with regard to the setting and world events.
    Viktory´s last blog post ..Ep 51 – Vik blows his shit about Bubble Spam, and MadCast Prince is actually remarkably calm

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