Crying Over the Melodramatic Penis
by Peter Lehman,
and small additions from
Animals or Romans
by Ina Rae Hark
1. The mother/whore dichotomy, man style:
the action pumped, erect phallus almost literally dripping with masculinity (there's an image for you)
the weak, flaccid, chubby and pitiable phallus
much love to Doughnut Drake <3
masculinity through Power
masculinity through Honor
It is between these two visions of phallic masculinity, as outlined by Peter Lehman, that I see the majority of popular videogame characters fall under.
And, for those characters who are young males, or even women, I think it is equally important to look at how these characters function as avatars for the young male player. Both young male characters/women and younger boys playing videogames may be going though similar dilemmas: The character does not yet hold the power of the man, of the phallus, and must earn their right to one through an honor code, whereby they step out of their marginalized status level and into control of power.
***planning on finding more sources that talk about youth and bonding to marginalized characters - perhaps involving female last characters in horror film?***
2. Between the extremes: representation of the actual man
peace be unto Jeff, the cameraman
alas, poor Jeff, I knew him well
Then I paraded around in his skin when I beat the game.
Most masculinized forms of film and games tend to focus on one of the extreme binaries of male identity, as described above. In Lehman's article, he talks about the image of the penis on screen, and how greatly it is underrepresented in film in ways that female nudity is not. Somehow, despite being the organ with the most representational power in film, the physical being of the penis is also one of the most tabboo elements to show on screen. Lehman has this to say:
"The sight of the actual organ threatens to deflate and make ludicrous the symbolic phallus. Second, since so many areas of representation in our culture, including mainstream cinema, are male dominated, two other problems arise, one linked to heterosexuality and one to homosexuality. Men may fear that the representation of the penis gives women a basis for comparison and judgment and, although men have long engaged in such behavior toward women, the thought of the tables being turned on them is close to unbearable. Finally, the representation of the penis creates a great deal of anxiety for homophobic men who may become intensely disturbed at finding themselves fascinated by it or deriving pleasure from looking at it." (Lehman 27)
Now while Lehman here is talking about the visual representation of the actual penis, I believe it can be applied to how male stereotypes are driven into film and gaming because such stereotypes represent 'desirable' and 'undesirable'. What he really drives at, in this quote, is the idea that the average male is technically under represented because people do not wish to see the average male, with his flaws and annoying behaviors and boring moments. They wish to feel powerful, they wish to feel as if they have attained honor. They do not wish to be the average joe they see every day in real life.
This quote may also come into play when discussing representation in video games and why, exactly, some find it harder to identify with more marginalized perspectives. Mainstream video games have an interesting lack of range in the characters we see represented as playable main characters: most of them are male, most of them are white, and most of them are, if they have a sexuality at all, straight. Interestingly, while many games do involve heroes who do, in fact, win a love interest, by the end of the game, it is seemingly in the form of a non playable female character. Zack loves Aerith. Cloud also loves Aerith but kind of Tifa too. Nate gets Elena. Titus and Yuna. Link gets Zelda. Sora gets Kairi (er... sortof. Depends on how you feel about Riku). Mario gets Peach. Luigi gets Daisy. Pokemon are only ever interested in opposite gender pokemon (I want a gay machoke damnit! and would it kill you to have a bisexual magikarp?). I could go on, but for the sake of space, time and boredom, I won't.
As for the playable female character, something interesting occurs: Even the most sexed up character, like Lara Croft, is often denied a confirmed sexuality. In fact, more often than not, you are more likely to see a female playable character coded as a lesbian than as a heterosexual female. Lara Croft - can be coded lesbian. Vanille and Fang -- also coded lesbian. Ellie and Riley - lesbian. Lightening, while not necessarily coded as a lesbian, is seemingly without any sexuality at all (nothing against asexuals, I'm glad you seem to have representation, I'm just trying to point out that sexuality that would make male characters the intended object of a gaze are limited and often abandoned.). Even Serah, who is an openly heterosexual female non playable character in the first Final Fantasy XIII has much of her sexuality taken away from her when she does become a playable character in the sequel: Snow, her fiance, has vanished and is gone for the majority of the game. They continue, however, to use his existence, as an excuse for why she will not develop any feelings for her constant companion, Noel. They render her sexuality inert.
Why is it that so many male characters have a defined hetero-normative sexuality in mainstream gaming while women, who are most often seen as the cultural obsessors of "romance" often denied any sexuality at all?
Things to look into:
- "Film/Game Lesbianism" as spectacle for male pleasure
- The idea that perhaps female characters are designed without designated sexualities to be "more identifiable" to male gamers.
Also, as a bonus, look at this intriguing quote from Hark's Animals or Romans discussing problems in a previous article:
"When Steve Neale groups the gladiatorial bout in Spartacus with other epic contests... as examples of male combat that are 'moments of spectacle... but they are also points at which the drama is finally resolved,' he overlooks the fact that Spartacus and Draba are fighting for nothing, except the titilation of spectators for whom there is definitely not the intention 'to disavow any explicitly erotic look at the male body'" (Hark 154-155)
Hark suggests here that violence without meaning, fighting for nothing, is purely a titillation intended to arouse through the gaze upon the male body. I'm not sure what, yet, but this definitely says something interesting about how video games are played, by both men and women alike.
Do not turn off the power while your progress is saving.
LEX saved the Game