By Malin Lövenberg.
The Elven Slave and Conan the Barbarian:
In the end of 2012, I was to create a bachelor thesis in Game Design, and decided to study male sexualized characters in video games. In this article I will summarize my findings and give a few examples of what a sexualized male game character is, and a good example is of what he isn’t. If you’d like more examples and more detailed studies, please refer to my thesis.
The Basics of Sexualization
As sexualization is often misconceived, I will briefly explain how it is used on females and then correlate to how it is/can be used on males.
The Male Gaze
In films, sexualization is a technique that is used on females and goes under the term of “The Male Gaze”. It is often used by putting the camera in specific angles and/or movements – all of them examining and focusing the female character’s body in detail.
The character can also pose for the camera herself, showing off her body parts towards the lens in an erotic and exhibitionistic way (Mulvey, 1975: 6-18). Characters that take this description to an extreme exhibit what is called “The Brokeback Pose”.
The Female Gaze
The Female Gaze is something both Mulvey (1975) and Berger (1972) describe as watching the self being watched. Berger (1972) also mentions a male is unable to bare the gaze of another, thus saying the Female Gaze does not exist except when other females are watching either themselves, or other women. These examples from the 1970’s have since then been criticized.
In a more recent book, Susan Bordo’s “The Male Body” (1999), it is described how a female gaze can be put into action by using a more leanbuilt man in advertisement. This man uses activity in a feminized manner to invite the viewer, instead of telling it to look away. One of the survey’s members also described a female gaze being put into play during the film James Bond: Casino Royale (2006), where the main character arises from the water in a way where you would normally expect to see a woman.
While video games might not be particularly known for male sexualization, some of their fanarts are. As a relatable example, portraits by Joe Phillips (2012) depict male superheroes that are giving the viewer an inviting smile. They are not showing off their muscles, but their slender yet masculine physique by posing in a feminine S-curve. In addition to a very distinguished V-line being present in every portrait, their crotch or buttocks are clearly rendered.
What Male Sexualization Means
Sexualization has a lot in common with sexual objectification. Smythe (2007) describes it as the viewing of people solely as de-personalized objects of desire instead of as individuals with complex personalities and desires of their own. Sexual attraction is therefore not the same as sexual objectification; objectification only occurs when the individuality of the desired person is not acknowledged. The person is only being viewed as a body.
Survey members (S, Zak 2011) declared all that was needed for a sexualized male was to be proud over his body and show it off, no matter what it looked like. A research established by Martins et al (2009) showed that male’s bodies in video games weren’t disconnected from reality. Their theory was that the male characters were “just slightly better” than the average male to give players a realistic model to which they could aspire. However, can it be that for a male to be sexualized he needs to have a realistic body?
Bordo (1999) mentions that advertisement featuring men for heterosexual men often use males with obscene muscles. These bodies seem to be surrogate penises; nothing to do but to stand there and look massive. A sexualized male, she says, has a dynamic tension in his lean and taut muscles, as if he’s designed for movement, for sex (Bordo, 1999).
This can be linked to a stereotype named “Bishõnen” in Japanese, which is found in “Eroge”. Bish?nen typically means “beautiful boy”, and is a male character that possesses androgynous or ‘feminine’ physical traits. He is usually tall, slender with almost no fat, usually little to no muscle, and no body or facial hair (Wood 2010). In an erotic context this type is often used in “Boys Love”, a genre where the main characters are all male but take on feminine and masculine roles. Nagaike (2009), states that the genre’s main audience is female because of females wish to escape the dilemmas associated with being a woman within a patriarchal context. Alongside the character’s sexual preference, its skin color is also of importance. According to Kuwahara (2008), Bishõnens with matchless sexual appetites are always Arabic or Caucasian, while the more passive parts are native (Japanese)
You can say that sexualized males are custom-made for its viewer. As an example, a homosexual man said (S, Zak 2011) straight men were hot, but in a meaningless way. The character has to appeal to a certain audience not only by looking or acting sexy, but also by having a specific sexual preference.
Analyzed Male Sexualized Characters
While looking into the book “The Male Body”, the male described is always active in the way he poses (exhibitionistic), often taking one of two roles: the one that takes (“aggressive”) or the one that invites (“passive”) (Bordo, 1999). Using this information together with the three Bishõnen stereotypes (Linderström, 2007), the sexualized male can be described in three different versions; Aggressive (dominating, masculine, protective, oppressed), Passive (inviting, feminine), and Passive Aggressive.
Shen Woo, King of Fighters
- Bishõnen physique
- A closed fist; aggressive
- Oiled up muscles
- Bulge in his pants
- Distinct V-line
- Purple shirt; femininity
- Tanned skin; sexual appetite
- Dog collar; oppressed
- The shirt covers his buttocks
- No definition of muscles below the waist because of the baggy jeans
- Often uses “The Face Off”-pose
- Pointless leather straps
- Showing off his buttocks
- Slender figure
- Objectified – silenced; his lack of vision and mouth
- Objectified – owned; master Vercci
- Pale skin-color; no sexual appetite
Passive Aggressive Example
- Exhibitionistic character
- Tight pants
- Tanned skin; sexual appetite
- Fabric framing his crotch
- Raped/humiliated after winning “The Man Festival”
- No nipples
- Uses “The Face Off”-pose
- Scared and confused when it comes to sex; no libido
- Aggressive; shows that he can kill (or have sex) with whatever he wants
- Nipples are fully rendered
- Costume shows off his thighs
- Belt covers the V-line
- Uses “The Face Off”-pose
- Fabric and bandages covers crotch and buttocks
- No libido during sex scenes or when women approach him
- “Surrogate Penis”-physique
- Pale skin-color; no sexual appetite
Part 2: Conclusion
Male sexualization is difficult for many to pinpoint. For example, many believe that characters with, as Bordo (1999) puts it, engorged Schwarzenegger bodies, have sexuality.
According to my study of such characters, that is often not the case. Many of them were rendered sexless by confusion or numbness when confronted with sex. Likewise they made use of the unwelcome “Face-Off” pose that Bordo (1999) describes being used for heterosexual advertisement.
The bodies that were sexualized were often lean built; a body that the Japanese Bish?nens always have, and a body that Bordo (1999) describes as being built to provoke ideas of it moving. When characters were being sexualized, it was often not only by the way their body looked, but the way they acted.
There were also small details of how much of the character’s v-muscle was shown. If it was displayed it was often in unison with humor, or, without the character owning sexual appetite. This seems to often be done by giving characters a pale and almost dead skin color alongside a bald head; long hair being a stressed factor for sexualized traits by heterosexual females (S, Zak, 2011).
All characters in my thesis that were sexualized had no more than one or two features from Nussbaum’s Objectification list (1995), most of them being number eight and nine – “reduction to body” and “reduction to appearance”.
However, my thesis left one important question that I’d like you all to consider. Do the creators in fact actively choose traits for their characters so that it can or cannot be connected with sexualization?
Is it different depending on what gender is meant to be watching them, and what sexual orientation they have?
Part 3: References
Berger, John, 1972, “Ways of Seeing: Based on the BBC Television Series”, Penguin Books
Bordo, Susan, 1999, “The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private”, Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Kuwahara, Mizuna, 2008, “Mizuna juku: arabu k?za” (Mizuna’s school: lecture on Arabs), B-BOY PHOENIX, no. 12, 2008, front cover
Langton, Rae, 2009, “Sexual Solipsism: Philosophical Essays on Pornography and Objectification”, Oxford: Oxford University Press
Linderström, Jenny, 2007, “BOYS’ LOVE En studie av maskuliniteter och maktrelationer i yaoi manga”
Martins, Nicole; C. Williams, Dmitri; A. Rabindra, Ratan; Harrison, Kristen, 2009, “Virtual muscularity: A content analysis of male video game characters”, Body Image 8 2011 p. 43–51
Mulvey, Laura, 1975, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Screen 16.3 Autumn 1975: p. 6-18
Nagaike, Kazumi, 2009, “Elegant Caucasians, Amorous Arabs, and Invisible Others:Signs and Images of Foreigners in Japanese BL Manga”, Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific, Issue 20, April
Nussbaum, Martha, 1995, “Objectification”, Philosophy and Public Affairs, 24(4): 249–291
Wood, Andrea, 2010, “Choose your own Queer Erotic Adventure: Young Adults, Boys’ Love Computer Games, and the Sexual Politics of Visual Play”, Over the Rainbow: Queer Children’s Literature. Eds. Michelle A. Abate and Kenneth Kidd. Ann Arbor, MI: U of Michigan P, 2010: p. 354
Malin Lövenberg is a story writer and game designer who has worked on games like Deponia 3: Goodbye Deponia and The Night of the Rabbit. She has a BA with a major in Game Design from Gotland’s University and enjoys any sort of narrative that makes her feel like she’s somewhere over the rainbow. Her twitter is @malinlovenberg.
Feature Image Source: http://www.godofwar.com