Marines, the new Cowboy

For some reason, I enjoy giving the reasons behind my thought process. This weekend, Maggie Smith posted a news item on Kotaku concerning two female gaming blogs’ coverage and explication of the game Cunt.

I played the game shortly and was still processing it when I checked the comments section. The first comment (which has since been disemvoweled–the vowels have been removed so that you have to try to actually read the comment) was as follows: “I just can’t pretend to take any of that seriously… sexism against women just isn’t a real problem anymore.”

After sardonically responding that I hoped the commenter was sarcastic, another person backed him up and quickly told me to “Shut the fuck up,” while proceeding to assume I was a she (only females care about sexism toward females) and telling me that sexism is only visible when one seeks it (after all, if I just worked harder, I’d earn the same wages). Here I go seeking it again–consider the following posts (I’m not sure how long this will take–at the very least two) my response to him, as I refuse to get into it over at Kotaku. Instead, I’d like to try and produce an instructive argument that won’t be dismissed as soon as I post it.

A large number of shooters place you in the avatar of a military inspired male. This can be a space marine, soldier in a previous war, counter-terrorist, et cetera. To be considered unique, the first person shooter deviates from this formula. Yet, the fact that these shooters are seemingly so popular perhaps speaks volumes on the microcosm of gamers.

Teddy Roosevelt was a genius of marketing and branding. When he was running for president of the United States, it there was some danger for him to be trapped into an image of an effete New York scholar. To combat this image, he carefully manipulated the cultural rhetoric of the time and, as a male, fought against the trappings of civilization. Looking at the artwork of the time, there was a romanticism of the escape from the city and the trappings of feminine civility. Men needed to be beasts and roam the wild.

If it were not for Teddy Roosevelt, the cowboy image we saw in Brokeback Mountain would not have been so romantic. In seeking to ‘rough’ up his image, he appropriated the image of the ranchers and brought into popularity the image of the cowboy as we know it today:


Here was a man who was not chained to the city and the trappings of an academic and city-faring life–oh no. Instead, here was a man who knew quite well that his attachment to places like New York and being intelligent meant that in order to be a tough man, he had to explore the wild and be sure to look the part while doing so while calling on his military background.

Looks quite different, doesn’t he? Even something as frivolous as clothing can make a huge difference in how we see someone. Why not the avatar to which they liken themselves?

Escaping civilization is growing harder and harder to do. It is possible, but in today’s world of wifi, digital moneys, cellphones, and other accoutrements, we males have to find new ways of proving our masculinity. We also happen to live in a state of constant military action and a call to arms versus an enemy. In the realm of videogames, what better place to release these frustrations than shooters? What better breeding ground than places like Xbox Live, on WoW‘s PVP servers, and other such social spheres, where one can be primal, uncivilized, and be a non-fettered-by-woman man? It is in these places where they can decry how different their games are than The Sims, Ubisoft’s ‘z’ titles, the Barbie franchise, and other other of a number of normally pink and feminine games.

Sure, we also have sports (which have their own problems with aggressive players), but males in society are put in a double bind, especially in the United States. The commenter telling me to shut up is probably among those males that believes women are asking for free-handouts and are benefiting more than he in terms of affirmative action. Instead, males are the ones who are supposed to be ‘naturally’ more aggressive, physical, and working harder to earn their money. This is why there are more male CEOs. They’re more self-assured, confident, and physical–not emotional and prone to bearing (and then, of course, taking care of) children. But stop when told no, and acquiesce to a female’s demands when she makes them.

If one happens not to be the sports faring type, one is still looked at through the eyes of a male who could become a beast at any time. Any male can turn into an animal at the drop of a hat. Naturally, all males need to be able to break free and explore their inner, true man (or so we’re told).

When one cannot fulfill these desires, a proxy may be used in its stead. After all, killing in a videogame and yelling at someone over headset is hardly the same as if one were doing it in person. Becoming a space marine, then, becomes the same avenue of escape that Teddy Roosevelt encouraged men find through being a cowboy–without the threat of actually being shot. We still allow boys to become men, if the intiation rituals seem to be somewhat altered. Videogames just provide one more avenue for this assertion.

We’re living in a society where it may seem the two sexes are becoming more and more equal, but where distinct masculine and feminine traits are being sold so as to keep two separate markets to which one can sell the exact same product. The difference comes in branding and the key words one uses to sell these products. Remember, though, the key to advertising these products is that men act and women appear. Men’s products will tell them they’ll be given more confidence, and the verbs with which they use them will be active (e.g. exfoliants and astringents will scrub). Contrast this with female products which will discuss the end product, making women something pretty (anti-aging, brighter, healthier, et cetera become popular buzz words).

After all, when we put a female in the space you occupy in a videogame, she has to be in a horror game, where she can shriek, be startled, and it’s okay. She’s female, and by the end of the game we can masculinize her somewhat while making sure she’s a sexy image. What do we about those shooters that do not follow this trend, then? Games like Beyond Good & Evil and Mirror’s Edge? That will be the focus of tomorrow’s post.

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 Marines, the new Cowboy

  1. I am honestly shocked that somebody could believe that sexism does not still exist. It might not be as blatant as it was several decades ago but there is still a very common degree of sexism in western society, often tacitly accepted by everybody as simply “the way it is”.

  2. Brinstar says:

    I only skimmed the comments in Kotaku about four hours after it was posted. I don’t know what the comments are like now, as I make it a point not to visit Kotaku regularly, especially whenever my blog is linked there, however I was actually surprised that there was some mature discussing mixed in with the regular sort of comments on Kotaku.Anyway, I was happy to discover your blog through the Brainy Gamer, and I look forward to reading more from you.

  3. Denis Farr says:

    @justin: I was flabbergasted as well. Having frank discussions with my mother concerning her being discouraged to pursue anything in any of the sciences she was interested and attempts at degrading her due to her femininity (and a number of other females in my life) mean I really can’t believe these people have that mindset. Of course, sexism against males exists as well–but not nearly to the same degree. Hopefully my next post will illustrate how much more steep that sexism curve is for females.@brinstar: Yeah, I skimmed them shortly after I made my comment. I saw some of what you mentioned, but I was really just amazed at some of the other stuff that was said. Guess I don’t follow Kotaku very closely.Thank you, always a pleasure to have more readers. I had just started reading your blog after the interview with Michael, so will look forward to your future posts as well.

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