Over the past 27 years, the Standing Committee on Men and Masculinities has evolved as a space to discuss the role men’s development plays in our lives as student affairs educators. Through this blog, it is our hope to increase discourse and further connect and support student affairs professionals. Follow us on Twitter: @ACPA_SCM and connect with us on Facebook: ACPA Standing Committee on Men and Masculinities
Monday, January 13, 2014
Education of Masculinities Through Video Games
headshot!” can be heard echoing down the hallways of many homes, residential
halls, and apartments complexes as adolescents and emerging adults go on a
virtual shooting rampage with their friends in the latest video game to be released.
While this may sounds terrifying to some, the reality is, it is happening. It’s
no secret that that these games are now a common everyday activity that many
men participate in. In a week, men play an average of about 13 hours of video
games (Kimmel, 2008). Our new generation of students has always had technology
in their lives, and it’s important to remember from here on out, they always
will. Video games are beginning to fall to the front and center of the media as
one of these technologies, but the question is, for better or worse? Blamed for
escalation of violence in our youth, video games have been a defining influence
in many of our students today (Kimmel, 2008). I urge our current and future
educators to not focus their energy on stopping this industry, but instead to focus
their aim on helping men understand their own development of masculinities.
It is important to first recognize
what values and societal expectations are being portrayed within these games. Think
of a video game character. Odds are the character that you just thought of, was
a heroic male. This is because predominantly male characters are the stars of
the game. Let’s take Mario for example. Mario is the well-known plumber who has
set off from the ‘Mushroom Kingdom’ to save the princess from Bowser, the main
antagonist of the series, no matter what obstacle stands in his way (McLaughlin,
2010). It is in this way that gamers from a young age get an idea of what it
means to be a man. The notion that they are expected to be brave and self-sacrificing
is strongly emphasized within these games and throughout all media as a whole.
Because of this, there is an unspoken expectation within society for men to
take on these roles. This can be particularly stressful for men who are not yet
ready to be a leader, but feel the pressure to step up.
It seems now that every hero needs
his “damsel in distress.” It is very common that games have females who portray
this role. Thus, women are projected as objects of desire for men to seek out.
Objectification of women through these games gives some men the sense that they
are superior and creates a false sense of what women want from a guy and
perpetuates the assumption that all men identify as heterosexual. Men’s perceptions
become skewed and what they expect is not always what they get in real life. Family Guy, a popular cartoon targeted
at young adults, depicts this discrepancy in a brief clip using the popularMario character discussed before.Beyond this, woman are often used as sex symbols for men. Perfect slim, hourglass
shaped bodies, large breasts, and a flirtatious personality are all the
essentials of a well-liked female character. Often a side character, these
females usually have clothes that show off their sex appeal. These images become ingrained in many men’s
mind as what women should look like. Though often unrealistic, it is no secret
that sex sells. With men as the primary consumer, there is little chance that
these depictions are changing anytime soon.
Another expectation that is portrayed
in video games is that men become super macho killing machines. Popular games,
such as Gears of War and Halo, have an emphasis on strong male protagonists
with game play focused content of shooting and killing the “bad guys” with a
variety of violent weapons. What draws men to these games? Power. Power is the
value that is being illustrated in these games (Kimmel, 2008). What feels more
powerful then picking up a rocket launcher and firing it at a crowd of enemy
monsters? The answer is, probably not a whole lot. In real life, many of these
men perceive that they have very little power or control over where they are or
what they are doing in their lives (Kimmel, 2008). Thus, the video game becomes
an outlet for them to feel the power and control they are missing in their own
lives.While this is probably not the
reason for violent behavior itself, the fact remains that these games help
construct a fictional reality of what it means to be man.
Who are these “guys” anyways? The
way we describe them makes them sound like sex crazed, ruthless monsters. It
might be surprising to find out that these killing machines are the stunning good-looking
men featured here.
are everything these days. Almost all the heroes of these stories are
physically perfect. Being athletic, muscular, having six pack abs, and stunning
smile are all the must haves of a lead character. But what does this image of an
overly perfect body mean for the development of our youth. Studies have shown
that men have similar body issues as females, but in different ways. Men seek
the muscular physique that is so openly displayed in these games (Harper and
Harris, 2010). Many underweight men view themselves as less desirable, felt as
though they were more likely to be rejected, and were often found to be
lonelier(Harper and Harris, 2010). We
must recognize that body issues are become increasingly prevalent in men, and video
games are just one of the many media outlets that contribute to this type of
Video games are evolving and rather
then working against them, we, as college student educators, should be working
with them. It will be impossible to instantly change the culture of the gaming
industry, but it is not impossible to change the way men critically think about
their own identity in relation to the games they are playing. I suggest 3
simple steps that will engage guys in their own development of masculinities
through video games.
1.Relate and understand the games that they are
playing. Nothing is more off putting then someone trying to make a point on a
subject matter they don’t know well. Take time to ask questions or
independently research popular games, so that you can discuss things on their
level. Knowing the details makes you more relatable and opens the lines of
communication. If they start talking about something you don’t know, ask them
to explain.This places you in their
2.Facilitate a discussion with them. Find out how they view the character’s
roles, the story, and what they enjoy about it. This is a time for them to
teach you about the game on a personal level.Give them time to talk. Just through them talking alone they may pick up
on some of the stereotypes and stigmas that are hidden throughout games. This
will allow them to personally reflect on their own thoughts and opinions.
3.Educate them about how you perceive characters and
aspects of the game, and take some time to point things out that you see things
differently. Get them actively engaged in the conversation, and have them
discuss how they see things differently. The age of an individual is a major
factor in the amount influence a game can have. Because of this, it is
important to discuss how different ages may warrant different conversations.
There is no way that, as an educator,
you will be able to teach every guy everything you want to about this topic and
completely open their eyes to everything that is being ingrained in their
minds. But we can slowly make change if we try and engage these men in
critically analyzing what they are being exposed to. As they set their aim on
other players, we should be taking our best shot at getting them proactive at
recognizing the depiction of masculinities in these games.
McAuliffe is currently an Academic Support Coordinator at the University of
Maine for the Department of Residence Life. After receiving his BA in
Psychology at the University of Maine, he decided to return for graduate school
in the Master’s program in Student Development in Higher Education.
Harper, S. R. & Harris F.
III (2010). College men and
masculinities: Theory, research, and implications for practice. San
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
M. (2008). Guyland: The
perilous world where boys become men. New York, NY:
McLaughlin, R. (2010). IGN persents the history
of Super Mario Bros. It’s-a Mario! A look back on the greatest franchise in
gaming. Retrieved from http://www.ign.com/articles/2010/09/14/ign-presents-the-history-of-super-mario-bros?page=1