Masculinity in Video Games and Sport

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Like advertisements video games display high levels of violence, heterosexist, misogyny and death. The overabundant masculinity in video games can have as damaging effects on male’s perceptions of ‘ideal’ masculinity as advertising. Video games create a virtual reality where males can revel in violence, women and action, accentuating and glorifying hypermasculine characteristics. The sporting world also depicts masculine and heterosexual “ideals” for boys and men alike to conform and base themselves on. If gender is performative and culturally defined, than it’s worrying and must be considered what these video games as well as popular sports are doing to the perceptions men have of “ideal” masculinity. One attribute, which is evident in both gaming and sporting, is the glorification and ideology of heterosexuality. So what’s wrong with being gay?

The concept of hegemonic masculinity describes how men benefit from patriarchy (Connell, 1995). Connell outlines how intra-masculine hierarchy is created and legitimized. She contends that one model for hegemonic masculinity is that a man should embody masculinity for the purpose of earning social capital. Some characteristics for hegemonic masculinity may include attributes such as athletic ability, technological competency and heterosexuality.

Connell argues that gay men, for example, who are more effeminate are closely associated to the feminine end of the binary, therefore, are lower in the hegemonic masculine hierarchy, thus being marginalized. For these reasons homophobia has served as an effective tool for encouraging conformance to heterosexuality. Homophobia is deeply embedded in gender order, resulting from conceptions of contemporary masculinities and male identity. Thought broadly in relation to sexuality, homophobia is often triggered by nonsexual behaviors, such as the failure to conform to socially constructed standards of masculinity. If a man is perhaps skinny as opposed to muscular, gentler as opposed to aggressive, people assume that they are not heterosexual.

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In relation to sports, this is probably the reason why so many sportsmen are reluctant to publically admit that they are gay. Sport is deemed to be the epitome of masculinity and therefore heterosexuality: in particular rugby, football, boxing and hockey. Sportsmen are muscular, strong, dominant, aggressive and competitive: they embody all of the stereotypical “normative” traits of what a man should be. Thus, people assume that sportsmen are straight.  In fact footballers, are famed for having kiss and tells published in newspapers about their sexual exploits as well as being sexually promiscuous and rampant. Flicking through another kiss and tell, told by another gorgeous topless model about her steamy night of passion with another famous footballer is so “normal” it’s become an expectation. If a story hasn’t been printed about a sportsmen sexual escapade their sexuality instantly comes into question!

Another problem sportsmen face is their fans, predominately heterosexual boys and men who look up to them as role models. If a sportsman admits he is in fact gay, he risks a huge homophobic backlash from them, which could jeopardize his career as well as his happiness and name. No one wants to be called a “fag”! Butler (Gender Trouble) suggests that homophobic language is part of a larger heterosexist framework working to cripple the acceptance of alternative conceptions of gender. Homophobic speech encourages gay male athletes to remain silent about their sexuality and protect hegemonic masculinity. And it’s no wonder why. Below are some extremely homophobic newspaper articles about sportsmen who have revealed themselves as gay.

Despite all this controversy, more and more sportsmen have publicly “come out” which gives a positive indication that societies are moving in the right direction. However, all of the men have described vividly their fear and reluctance in admitting their sexuality, as the sporting world is so homophobic. Even the current Winter Olympics in Sochi have banned all homosexual athletes from competing. Is it any wonder men are reluctant to admit they’re gay?

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In relation to gaming, heterosexual sex/desire as well as male dominance is also glorified. Men are often depicted in gaming as being sexually aggressive towards women who will fulfill their every desire. Female characters in gaming, similarly to other visual media, are sexualized and deemed the weaker and vulnerable sex. Women are often depicted as damsels in distress and/or highly sexualized objects of desire or scantily clad warriors, as is the case with Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. Some game play is solely based on seducing and achieving sexual pleasures from women.

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In “Leisure Suit Larry” (1987-2009) series of adult-themed video games created by Al Lowe and published by Sierra. The game follows Larry as he spends much of his life attempting to seduce attractive women. However, Larry is lacking all over the usual and key hypermasculine attributes, which rear men “ideal” and sexy. He is a balding, leisure suit wearing “loser” in his 40’s. In representing traits that aren’t “ideal” masculinities, it emphasizes that by being the opposite of Larry you will be successful with women and attractive. Thus, Larry presents a standard which men are encouraged to laugh at as opposed to idolize. But still there is a heavy emphasize on sexual pursuits.

Gaming and sports all deem physical strength and muscles as “ideal” masculine traits. Sportsmen are often depicted on the front of magazines or glorified and lusted after in women’s. In gaming, the male characters physiques are borderline ridiculous, offering an unattainable view of the male physique. Muscles and accentuated jaw lines are all the rage. As an outcome, of both these (miss) representation men are more likely to desire to gain weight and increase their muscularity to attain a mesomorphic physique. However, similarly to female representations, these bodies are of course not real and don’t reflect the average man so are just as damaging to men’s ideas of body image.

In both gaming and sporting violence, competitiveness and aggression are sensationalized and encouraged. A focus on rivalry and aggressive competition bolsters cultural conceptions that violence is a normal expression of the masculine identity. What’s more worrying is that gamers interact with the games physically, psychologically and emotionally, thus their experience and understanding of violence is completely different to other visual media. They assume the identity of the characters on the screen, thus distorting their ideas of reality as well as “ideal” masculinity.

An example, of violence and aggression being a normal part of masculinity and game play is within The Grand Theft Auto franchise. GTA allows players to assume the role of an idealized male for a period of time. Niko Bellic, the protagonist, earns respect from other men, weapons, women, wealth, and status through a series of violent acts. This gives boys the impression that they too can achieve sexual pleasure, money, and status and respect if they are as aggressive and violent as Niko. Robbie Cooper in “Immersed” shows the shocking and disturbing effects gaming has on children. The video also highlights how verbal intimidation is employed, whilst the children seem oblivious to their shocking language.

Video games and sports advance very limited notions of gender. They often reinforce the sexual objectification of women, a stereotyped and often unrealistic body shape as well as deeming violence and aggression as “normal” masculine traits. Gaming is also predominantly heterosexual, reinforced through the depiction of male and female relationships in games, where men are dominant, women objects in need of saving (and penetrating). Similarly the world of sports is expected to be heterosexual. Sportsmen embody stereotypical masculine characteristics: strong muscular bodies and a career in being physically active, powerful and competitive: the epitome of masculinity. However, because sporting is deemed so masculine, sportsmen are reluctant to come out due to the homophobic nature of sports.

Gamers and sportsmen highlight the performative nature of gender and identity. In gaming, men can feel masculine and strong through becoming the characters being depicted in a virtual reality. Video games offer men an opportunity to succeed, when in reality they can never match up to the ideals being depicted in the games. However, the depictions of violence and sexualization of women can distort boys and men to think that these are “natural” masculine traits, which is cause for concern. In sports, sportsmen can continue to appear hypermasculine but keep their homosexuality a secret, thus reinforcing that gender doesn’t correspond with sexuality.

References:

Connell, R .W. (1987). Gender and Powers: Society, the Persona, and Sexual Politics. Cambridge Polity Press.

Connell, R. W. (1995). Masculinities. Cambridge Polity Press.

Butler, J. (1990). Gender trouble: Feminism and the subversion of identity. New York: Routledge.

Tucker, S (2011) Griefing: Policing Masculinity in Online Games.

Smith, E (2009) Sociology of Sport and Social Theory. Human Kinetics.

Venture Beat (2011) The Misconception of Masculinity in Games [online] available from< http://venturebeat.com/2011/03/17/the-misconception-of-masculinity-in-games/> [20 January 2014]

Mail Online (8 January 2014) Retired German football star becomes first Premier League player to come out as gay – after ‘realising he preferred to live with another man. [online] available from< http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2535832/Former-Premier-League-footballer-Thomas-Hitzlsperger-announces-gay.html > [24 February 2014]

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