Features, Games

Muscle Museum: Gender Equality in Discrimination

For some reason everything in life seems to be broken down by gender. Negative or positive, everyone is assigned a role by society. As gamers we are often generalised as being nerdy overweight men, and while in my own case this is true it obviously isn’t for all, you need look no further than this very site to see there are female gamers.

The very nature of me pointing that out implies it needs to have some light shone on it and I am in fact covering myself from charges of sexism, whilst in process showing sexism; this could be put down to political correctness gone mad or it could be assigned to the fact I’m a middle class white man who’s scared of confrontation with anyone.

With the fairer sex and gaming there is often the knee jerk reaction to assume that there is a negative portrayal of women in games. The idea that you can’t be a female main character unless you are somehow sexualised is still flourishing today with titles like Bayonetta and Tomb Raider doing nothing to help. However before we all jump on the Daily Mail bandwagon let us remember that sexism can go both ways.

In games we assume the women to have nice derrières in our third person action games so certain pathetic men can ogle the pixels. However close your eyes for a second and think about a couple of main characters of this generation of gaming; Marcus from Gears of War, Kratos from God of War. What do these two have in common? Both in games with the acronym GOW, both have slight anger issues but more than anything they are both built like a tank. The idea that women are the only characters in games to be stereotyped to some sort of stripper body type is preposterous.

Looking at any character in Gears of War will just show you a body type that all men aspire to on some level, a muscular behemoth that’s capable of kicking down a steel door with little to no effort. The idea of Alpha males is one that is a double edged sword, showing men that a strong alpha male gets the job done, saves the day and some times gets to hook up with the negatively portrayed woman does have the potential to inspire some sort of change in the man, but it could also turn them into a space marine tool like Marcus.

A positive role model in games for men is actually one of my favourite characters out of any game; Mike Haggar. For the un-initiated Mike Haggar, or just Haggar to his friends/enemies/chiropractor, is the epitome of health and career. Haggar started out his game life as a character in the Final Fight series. Final Fight was essentially on every platform of the early 90′s, especially well made for the arcade machines. The story revolves around Mike Haggar a former wrestler turned mayor of Metro City, his daughter is kidnapped by the Mad Gear Gang. Unlike most mayors Haggar doesn’t rely on his police to get the job done, which obviously says something about his offices funding to that department.

Instead of trusting the fuzz Haggar instead decides to rip off his shirt and go walking the streets looking for his daughter, piledriving anyone that gets in his way and eating whole turkeys from bins, this is a true man we can all look up to. Firstly this man has a moustache, secondly he is a family man, the fact he doesn’t trust anyone else to deal with this issue and rescue his daughter shows real care and love for his offspring, or a lack of faith on the part of hostage negotiators. Finally he is in gainful employment, to go from wrestler to mayor of any city is a feat in itself, but he manages it and is successful at his job.

Haggar is a manly man, I am partially negative towards the muscles on Marcus before but somehow there is justification and restraint with Haggar. Someone that tall could reach that level of physical prowess and maintain it even whilst having a white collar office job. Plus if you have ever seen the picture of him piledriving a shark then this man should instantly be your hero as he is mine.

I would also like to put forward Zangief as a particularly good role model for the muscle inclined men of the world. If for some reason you are reading this and are not sure who Zangief is then the best way to describe him would be; a character from Street Fighter series of games that has somehow managed to gain muscles on his muscles and yet be hideous and ridiculed because of his body hair.

Zangief is my character of choice when playing a Capcom fighter featuring him. He is slow and unsightly to look at but that’s why I see a lot of myself in him. I’m not the smallest fella in the world and I do have chest hair in a disturbingly similar shape to the Russian Red Cyclone. Zangief is a very strong character that, power wise, can stand up to the vast majority of the Street Fighter world.

To look at him from outside of the world of gaming you would assume that this character is a stereotypical Alpha male that isn’t exactly the best influence to have on men, but really Zangief is the underdog. More often that not in the films, games, comics and cartoons Zangief is the comic relief, ever angry and stupid to boot. Yet in the early games he was an intimidating opponent and always a challenge, if anything today Zangief falls under the Beta Male category and as such deserves respect rather than ridicule.

Obviously not all game characters with muscles are held in high regard, Nintendo took quite a large swipe at the concept a couple of years ago with Muscle March on the Wii. The game itself saw you take control of a particularly well rippled shiny male. This specimen of peak physical condition was whiling the hours away oiling up his muscle men friends, and a bear, when out of no where a man steals his Protein Powder! What proceeds this is quite simply one the those games that you will either become fascinated by, like I did, or make you
drop into a ball shaking and rocking praying for the next Call of Duty to come out to re-affirm your manly hetero-lifestyle.

The game is camp, the men are camp, even the bear is camp and all of this pseudo sexual nature is derived from the games simple premise that muscles are stupid. It’s odd to have to look to the Japanese industry to break down social standards in games, especially when it comes to gender issues. They have maintained in this game the concept of “Heroes have muscles” but turned it around so this very manly and aspirational aspect of the body is now surrounded by a world so camp that John Waters couldn’t shoot a video for Elton John that even
compares to this.

Muscles are always going to be a prominent part of main characters, just as the women are always going to be quite well endowed in the chesticle area. The real issue isn’t going to be whether the industry maintains this but how we perceive it. To take it too seriously by either gender is to on one hand miss the point of escapism and gaming but on the other is to not have enough respect for the gaming masses.

Although there are some horrible stereotypes of gender in games and some awful aspiration targets to choose from, I know what is real and what isn’t, I don’t presume every woman is going to look like Lara Croft just as most women aren’t looking for Kratos on dating websites, most should be looking for Haggar instead.

What are your thoughts on the matter? Share them below…

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Ruaidhri

Big-Boss of PixelBedlam.co.uk
Ruaidhri has been writing for a number of sites over the past few years, spewing his vitriol and love in equal measures on all topics from Video Games to Film and Board Games to Geek Culture. He started PixelBedlam in September of 2012. Follow him on Twitter!

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1 Comment

  1. Brad

    I personally am tired of over masculine characters in video games. I think a lot of people are. I find games more enjoyable if the protagonist has weaknesses, like far cry 3 for example. Just a regular guy forced to kill to save his friends. I like the idea that anyone, when faced with seemingly impossible challenges, can overcome and defeat his enemies if his cause is just.

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