Post-GDC 2014 Week: Awesome resources on male sexualization in games

Hello, and welcome to yet another installment of my post-GDC breakdown of my talk on “Fewer Tifas, More Sephiroths: Male Sexualization in Games.”  So far, I’ve shared my slides and presentation notes, as well as my early drafts. Now I’d like to share the work of other people in this topic.

Part of the reason I wanted to talk on the topic of sexy and sexualized men in games is that very few people seemed to be talking about it, other than a quick, “yeah, doesn’t happen much.” But that doesn’t mean there weren’t some really intelligent and worthwhile articles on the subject! So for this post, I’m sharing some of the most useful sources and writing I came across in my research, since I ran out of time to put them up on the screen during my talk. I thank all these writers for helping pave the way for my own talk, and I invite everyone to leave suggestions of any other articles or resources I may have missed… I’m sure there are many!

Heidi McDonald – Writing Romanceable NPCs (download link for Powerpoint through GDC Vault)

The original inspiration for this talk, this presentation was given at GDC Next back in 2012. Heidi does an amazing job of detailing how to write attractive love interests in video games, particularly how to incorporate traits that we may not want in “real” mates but find sexy in fictional mates (e.g. being broody, intense, even violent). It may not be specifically about male sexualization, but there is so much useful info here about attraction and appeal that it’s a must-read for everyone.

Mattie Brice – On Men’s Sexualization in Games

This was one of the first articles I read on the subject, and remained my go-to through much of the speech preparation. It is a fantastic introduction to male sexualization in games… or more specifically, the lack thereof! While I might offer some VERY minor quibbles or debates about a few of her points (mostly about how shirtless scenes CAN be sexualized depending on the context, though her points about low-riding pants are on the mark, and how such a presentation can be both sexualized and offer power/agency) it’s overall a fantastic article that really highlights the sort of weird double standard that exists within Male Gaze. Case in point, she analyzes the two shower scenes in Heavy Rain and notes how Madison’s is all sexy and almost porny while Ethan’s is awkward and done at arm’s length. I really wish I’d had more time in my presentation to examine that more, but better for you all to read Mattie’s stuff instead as it’s awesome and made of win.

Malin Lovenberg – Male Sexualization in Games

Another fantastic resource, this article/bachelor’s thesis examines sexual and non-sexual presentation of male characters in games, presenting “passive,” “aggressive,” and “passive-aggressive” models and identifying certain posing (e.g. the S curve, the V line) as highlighting sexuality. This post focuses a little bit more on the visuals and art of sexy male characters and as such, it may be of more use to character designers and other artists, but it’s still useful to writers and designers to help better visualize what a sexual and sexualized male character might look like, behave like, etc.

Paul Tassi – The One-Sided Problem of Oversexualization in Games

This article doesn’t really cover male sexualization so much – as the topic suggests, its focus is more on oversexualization of women – but it does stress the notion that in the game industry, we really have no equivalent of “cheesecake” for male characters, and that the difference between the idealization of male and female bodies is that only the latter are presented in terms of sexual attraction. I do take issue, however, with its statement that emphasizing sexual characteristics of male characters is hilarious/stupid rather than sexy and that any attempt to accentuate “packages” or butts or whatever will immediately be “goofy.” Part of the whole point of my talk was to challenge that and point out that men can be sexualized in subtle and non-subtle ways, and that that sexualization is not necessarily a bad thing. I have a lot of complicated thoughts on the whole trend of drawing men in the same poses as sexualized women, but I think that should be a separate blog post in the future.

Kate Cox – The Gamer’s Gaze

A multi-part article that closely examines how Male Gaze informs game writing, mechanics, perspective, and so on. Choice quotation that inspired me: “But a game isn’t designed for a male player to appreciate a male lead character’s ass.  It’s designed for a male player to project some aspect of himself into that male character, and to take back some of that male character’s general badassery unto himself. ”

Doctor Nerdlove – Nerds and Male Privilege (Part 2)

The article as a whole is more a deconstruction of male privilege in nerd spaces, but his section on “but men are objectified too!” is worth a read or ten. Not only does it break down the issues of Male Gaze and how the male characters are idealized for men, but it also contrasts what female readers of the blog actually find attractive (characters like Jareth, Nightcrawler, Gambit, Tenth Doctor, and Sephiroth vs. Batman, Kratos, Kazuya). Also check out the comments for further discussion.

Other interesting sources:

  • Laura Mulvey, Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema – one of the definitive texts on the Male Gaze, though originally looking at it through cinema and other media
  • TV Tropes, particularly the articles on Male Gaze, Female Gaze, Bishounen, and Eating the Eye Candy – a nice crash course in media that dabbles in these concepts
  • Rantasmo, “Gaze needs more Gays” – an internet critic who examines the lack of the “gay male” or “straight female” gaze in media
  • Nostalgia Critic, “Why is Loki So Hot?” – while these other articles discuss sexualization in general, this video tries to get more to the root of WHY certain characters are attractive. Gets a bit mansplainy sometimes – he fails to take my advice about restraining his inner eye roll in parts – but still makes some good points about how confidence and badassness coupled with emotional vulnerability can be incredibly compelling.

I hope in the future I’ll be able to share more articles and material in this vein, but for now, hope this gives a good starting point for people to research.


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