The beefcake is not a lie

Welcome to the second edition of Fanny Fridays (shamelessly inspired by Grant Morrison’s Lord Fanny character from The Invisibles). These weekly posts examine the mirror of gender and sex that occurs between our culture and videogames.

The latest episode of the Brainy Gamer podcast has an interesting moment when the Gamer’s Confab is discussing the perceived homosexual appeal of the game Singstar (don’t ask me, not my cup of tea). Matthew Gallant then chimes in that it is odd, as games such as Gears of War and characters like Kratos from the God of War series are much more homoerotic.

He’s right. But, let us remember that homoeroticism does not equal homosexual, it merely states that someone of the same sex could be attracted to the scene. As ads are well aware, one can play with these conventions, especially when the perceived heterosexuality of the models is not threatened.

Beyond questioning the typeface of this ad (the word fights gets hard to read), it’s pretty clear what the ad is trying to get across. Wrestling is a man’s sport, full of blood and fighting. Pain is a masculine thing. At the same time, the model whose back is toward us has half of his singlet off, which creates an interesting juxtaposition of contact between the two men (though not if we consider the Ancient Greek style of wrestling).

This is from the same ad campaign around the year 2000. Wrestling itself is a fairly homoerotic sport (again, I’m not saying anything about the wrestlers themselves, other than they attract men who would be attracted to the same sex). This ad clearly states that these are not boys, however. These are men. The subtext is saying they don’t need to play with balls, and they’re not pansies. They play it rough. Despite Abercrombie & Fitch’s supposed claims, these ads are quite homoerotic (and racist, mysoginistic, and a whole other can of worms), which is why I purposely chose them–the company claims these aren’t sexually arousing in any way:

Same company. I’m told this sort of playfulness happens in a lockerroom. Having only ever frequented the green room myself, I can say that I’ve never really experienced such boys will be boys behavior. Are we still claiming this is not titillating? The gaze of the guy on the far right doesn’t look as if he’ll be disgusted by what will happen in the next few seconds.

Now, this image? Not so exciting just to look at it. However, they’re all men, and while they may be armored by technology, they do still share an armored state with the men in the pictures above. You may be sputtering right now, so let me explain (and feel free to disagree). We’ve become a pretty muscle obsessed culture, though this is hardly new. What we admire is a ‘hard’ body which will often be described with words such as chiseled, sculpted, taut, et cetera. Rock hard abs, a six pack, labeling arms as guns, et cetera. Those Abercrombie & Fitch ads do not have a soft body (though, because it was the year 2000, they haven’t reached the ridiculousness of today’s ad campaigns). They are bodies in tension, armored (with muscles) and fighting each other.

What makes Gears of War homoerotic then? Let me postpone that question just a little further while I bring other videogame examples to the fore:

Here we have Dante from the series Devil May Cry. His rather muscled body, shaggy haircut, and style lend him to the metrosexuals I spoke of last Friday. Yet he is often juxtaposed with the image of a schoolgirl or vixenish female on whom he can practice various sexual innuendos, placing his sexuality beyond reproach. This means that his low slung pants are perfectly fine to be oggled by women and gay men alike–though it’s the latter, again, that would have me label this as homoerotic. There’s a thread over at that actually asks for peoples’ thoughts on sexy game characters. Dante, not surprisingly, shows up quite often.

Dante is somewhat spared the exact same scrutiny and fantasy that can arise from Gears of War or any number of all (or predominantly) male environments. Any time you have close fraternization with males who are presented in a sexually desirable manner, there arises the question of whose eye is being attracted. Sure, as fighters, marines, and such in many of these games, these males are constantly making sure their physique is in the best of shape and they are prepared for the worst of dangers.

But, as I’ve pointed out in the past, this has to be countered with a pissing contest of sexuality. These men have to prove themselves straight, but that does not detach the desire with which we, the audience, players, and slash writers (not myself personally), are presented. While females are still traditionally much less clothed, and more often, in these fighting and fantasy settings (to points of ludicrousness–I’m looking at you, Ivy), males are also becoming much less clothed and are being presented as eye candy more frequently. We’re living in a culture that makes a commodity out of everyone’s body, though in different languages.

Ask a gay man how he feels about the male presentations? Tastes vary, but for the gaymers out there, believe me when I say there is a market that is looking at these game presentations of humans (and sometimes not so humans, as in the case of WoW‘s Draenai–it’s amazing what one can find out in reading message boards) and finding slash and/or masturbatory material. While there may be adolescents or adult males who oggled the chain that hung between Andariel’s breasts or waited for the cloth of the poor excuse for Ivy’s bra to snap, there is also a guy out there that is wondering just what exactly Dante is hiding a trouser’s zip away, or what would show up if that toilet paper didn’t roll across the save screen as Travis Touchdown sat down on the toilet to save the game. There are men carefully eying the tight t-shirts of the likes of Chris Redfield and Leon Kennedy. There are even those seeking out moments such as in Dead Rising, where one can see the protagonist in nothing but his skivvies. We all have different ways of getting our jollies–and for pure eye candy’s sake, there’s plenty of gaming fodder for the gay male (or straight female).

After all, if we really examine Kratos, is he that different from Ivy? He’s sporting the look of the one pauldron, has blades that extend a phenomenal distance, and is fairly lightly clad. The answer is, of course he’s different (and I’m not just talking the heels here). The same image presented on a female can present a dominatrix, whereas Kratos can be seen as a warrior per usual. Presenting a female and male body that appeal to the masses will see markedly different results. With that, I believe I have fodder for a future Fanny Friday.


About Denis Farr

Writer interested in intersectionality, games, comics, nerdy stuff in general, theater, and how it all mixes. Graduate of Wabash College, with studies in Theater, English, German, and Gender Studies.
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3 Responses to The beefcake is not a lie

  1. How much, if any, influence do you think the character’s portrayal in the game has on their homoerotism?Is Kratos more or less homoerotic because he’s basically a complete bastard?

  2. Denis Farr says:

    It does to some extent, but then I’d also point out peoples’ fascination with Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series. For male figures, there’s a long history of reveling and delighting in the bad boy, bastard image.The difficulty also comes in that many of these figures I don’t find personally attractive at all, so this is a somewhat (I guess I’m still male-desiring) removed take on what I observe through the gay community as I see it.It must play some small part, though, as Dante (rebellious and cocky, but not really a bastard) seems to have more fans than he, and the Final Fantasy main characters usually receive a fair amount of adulation. That may well be because Final Fantasy lames their own heroes with angsty emotions or some tragic past. Empathy, or what one can perceive as such, is a powerful drug regardless of sex.

  3. Pingback: Men As Tropes In Games | Vorpal Bunny Ranch

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