Masculinity in the Gaming Industry | Pop Culture Essays


– [Narrator] Toxic Masculinity
is finally being challenged in the gaming industry. And one notable example
we wanna discuss today is none other than the
Ghost of Sparta himself. Unlike every other game in the series, God of War for PS4 begins with a moment of quiet solemnity and vulnerable reflection, as opposed to the
screaming, bloody violence and gratuitous sex that
made up the entirety of the other half dozen
games or so in the series. Nearly a decade since we last
saw him, Kratos has changed. We’re reintroduced to the Ghost of Sparta as a man who, no longer
boldly curses the heavens as he button mashes a bloody hole in the face of every God
from here to Mount Olympus. But as the mournful, second time widower who can barely look at his own son, as he tells him there are
consequences to killing. – You are not ready. – [Narrator] How did we get from this, (screaming) (moaning) to this? This shift, in one of the most successful video game franchises of the 21st century marks a dramatic departure
from the way masculinity has been portrayed in mainstream gaming. In the years since we last saw Kratos at the end of God of War 3, a lot has changed for him. He left the doomed Hellenic world for this frozen land of fjords and giants. Met and fell in love with
Faye, had a son, Atreus, and hid away his blood
soaked blades of chaos in an attempt to bury his
furiously murderous past. He has realized that all
of the quick time event fueled violence in the world won’t change the fact that Kratos was participating in the same toxic cycle that caused his first family’s death to begin with. Likewise, the real word has changed significantly since 2010. #MeToo and a host of
other empowering movements have sought to challenge
the masculine masks that have shielded toxic
behavior for centuries. Gaming sub-cultures are
particularly infamous for their toxic behavior towards anyone who does not conform to archaic ideas of what it really means to be a man. Kratos’s life as a Spartan
was defined by sweaty, steamy, bare-chested
dude on dude conflict. Violence and war were
the currencies by which he and every other
Spartan life were valued. So much so, that on the
verge of defeat in battle, Kratos made a Faustian deal
with the OG God of War, Ares and traded his volition for victory. And like the billions of
men throughout history who might have done the same, his lashing of himself
to the emotional slavery inherent in patriarchal
power systems cost Kratos the love and life of his
family at his own hands. These ideas didn’t die in Ancient Greece. In the 21st century, many men and boys are told by society that anything shy of the kind of emotionally stunted machismo Kratos originally embodied,
depreciates their worth as a man and a person. Our games and movies
routinely spin us tales of how an acceptable reaction
to tragedy and loss for men is to go on a righteous vengeful rampage. Like some many other
quote, unquote heroes, Kratos was haunted by his loss and his continued exploitation
at the hands of the Gods. Namely, big daddy
patriarchy himself, Zeus. He was portrayed as being entitled to his revenge at all costs. – I will have my revenge! – For every cruel divine head severed and evil deity smashed, there are a host of innocent Greek men and women
caught in Kratos’s path. Just think about that poor boat captain. – Thank the Gods you came back for me! – I didn’t come back for you. – [Boat Captain] No! – [Narrator] As such,
Kratos was the pinnacle of the kind of roided out
manly man, anti-hero that has been oh so popular
for decades in modern media. Men who don’t have to answer for the damage they do in
pursuit of their goals. The toxic trope of
righteous anger marginalizes women as nothing more than plot devices. It also teaches men and boys that emotions other than anger are to be masked. That brute strength will be rewarded with unchecked dominance in every space. In the mid 2000’s, many young
men in their formative years came to the God of War franchise
for the tight controls, visceral combat and epic narrative. But stayed for, (groaning) In 2018, many of these
young players had grown up. They had watched women
in the industry attacked on every corner of the
web during Gamergate. The #MeToo Movement had only
just begun to finally promote the voices of people who had survived through the kind of entitled
victimization that the original God of War games,
arguably glamorized. About the dramatic shift in his games, director Cory Barlog said in
an interview with Polygon, “the concepts of strength
and emotional vulnerability are not two warring or
diametrically opposed concepts.” Kratos’s overriding personalty trait is a simple, all-encompassing rage. This anger is often all
the character has to motivate and propel him through the story. This anger is the source of Kratos’s power and grappling with this legacy
as it is inherited by Atreus is a major point of the latest title. For Kratos, this anger is rooted in agony and the fear that his
sins are unable to be, or not worthy of being understood. He hides his true nature from Atreus. And in doing so, hides his
son’s nature from himself. This same betrayal is all
too common in the real world where young boys are emotionally repressed by a society that demands they fit a rigid mold of masculinity. In her 2003 book, The Will To
Change, author Bell Hooks says “anger prevents love and
isolates the one who is angry. It is an attempt, often
successful, to push away what is most longed for,
companionship and understanding. It is a denial of the humanness of others as well as a denial of your own humanness. Anger is the agony of believing that you are not capable of being understood and that you are not worthy
of being understood.” This same male anger is rife in our world, in gaming communities in particular. God of War is only one clear
example of this recent trend. Red Dead Redemption II shows
the most quintessentially manly profession of wild west
outlaw through a modern lens. Player characters Arthur and
John Marston grapple with betraying the patriarch
of their gang, Dutch, who sacrifices innocent lives as he clings to traditional ideas of manliness in a rapidly progressing world where women want to do
revolutionary things like vote and wear pants. – The cycle ends here. We must be better than this. (crunching) – [Narrator] A year
after release, God of War continues to rack up critical
and commercial acclaim as one of the greatest
games of this generation. The story it tells about men, their sons and the self destructive
cycles of inheritance transcends ancient pantheons
and power structures. It is an example of how games
as a story telling medium have matured, along with the
people who make, and play them. Its success steers towards a bright future fueled by societal winds of change for an industry with
a dark and toxic past.

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