Posted by: seanmalstrom | February 12, 2014

Email: Metroid and Masculinity

In your recent Metroid post, you said:

“Back during the Great Depression, men knew they should dress as well as they could. But if you try to get an adult male to dress well everyday, you will meet resistance.”

The difference between the Great Depression and Modern Times is our new masculinity: men aren’t supposed to have any. In any Hollywood story the man is (pick several) irresponsible, immature, uncivilized, or much less competent than his wife. Men are “privileged” if they get better pay than women and “patriarchal” if they try to rear families. When a woman realizes that she can divorce him and still get his money, he’s obligated to accept that.

Meanwhile women are oppressed because men make more money. They’re oppressed because men want to have sex with them. Some women at Harvard Business School are oppressed because too many nice guys ask them out; some at Yale are oppressed because no nice guys ask them out ( Whereas before women were privileged by not needing to be wage slaves, now it’s another tool of oppression.

When men are discouraged from becoming men, they stay boys or become women. The guys who turn away from reality and play pretend Marine Shooter are boys. This is especially true in English-speaking Xbox markets where traditional marriage has completely broken down and boys have no incentive to become men. (The Xbox only does well in these places.)

The Games Industry is filled with boys (manchildren) who never grew up, like Lost Children. They make games for boys. Games don’t sell in countries anchored by traditional marriage like Saudi Arabia, China, Russia, and (which all still produce men). With the First World in decline men are succeeded by boys who can only make games for boys.

Metroid is a very masculine experience: a sci-fi “shooter” where the player fights aliens to survive. There is no “gathering” — the player is a hunter in the wilderness. If mapmaking and reflexes are needed to play Metroid then it is much closer to the male hunter than the female gatherer. No one realized that Samus Aran was a woman until she took off her helmet (and even then it didn’t matter much).

Nintendo’s other experiences used to be similarly masculine. Zelda was a hero’s coming-of-age story. Mario was a blank hero fighting a hostile world to save his princess. Racing used to mean something like Rad Racer. RPG’s were tales of heroics and fantasy. Now, we have fairy boy Link, gathering fruit Mario, bright happy go-kart racing, and emotionally unstable spiky-haired Japanese outcasts.

Metroid Other M made Metroid more feminine: narrative and feelings free from any real exploration. The grind of having to master the world — of having to earn your way to the next ‘level’ — is gone. Players take brief romps through light action to unlock more story like pieces of a light novel. Metroid is now neither feminine or masculine but some in-between monstrosity appealing to no one. If players want the original Metroid, it’s because Other M was unsuccessful at rewriting expectations (unlike Zelda, Mario, etc.).

It will be considered impolite to recognize this masculinity in video games, but masculinity has been important to Western Civilization for centuries. Masculinity is breaking down as Feminism undermines men’s role in society. If Video Games can not escape today’s economic macro-trends, they certainly can not escape society’s decline.

I like to pin ideas on absolute nails. When discussions of a game’s “quality” comes about, I think much wasted time can be avoided by looking at the sales which is an absolute number. Or you can look at profitability. The financial statement converts everything into an absolute value for better or worse.

When you look at a nation like Japan and find out that the men and women are no longer making babies and that the men have become ‘grass eaters’, one might assume that the issue is ‘lack of sexual differentiation’ or something of the like. But a more definite answer is deflation. Deflation is eating profits from everyone including the corporations there. Deflation is coming for the United States very soon. When a man can’t earn much of a living, he isn’t going to go and get married and make babies.

You don’t mention any video games that have examples of this ‘masculinity’. Is Pac-Man an example of ‘masculinity’? What about ‘Donkey Kong’? Or ‘Gradius’? It seems a little absurd. It’s clear there is a masculine spirit in games like Double Dragon or Contra. But what is the first thing that happens in Double Dragon? The bad guys steal your girlfriend. Video games don’t seem to be examples of masculinity celebration so much as heroism celebration. You play the good guy. The game ends when you defeat the bad guy. The theme of heroism runs strong in most of the escapist games. Even the music is heroic!

But in order to have a hero, you need a villain. Comic book writers know that the superhero is only as strong as the villain he defeats.

You might have a point as sports games and shooters (either space shooter or FPS) have been the bread and butter of all video game generations. The escapist video games have been the re-telling of myths through video game. Something like Kid Icarus is like a convoluted growing child to defeat evil Medusa and minions. Every RPG has the hero grow to defeat the bad guy at the end.

Since most game developers are geeks, they will understand this reference. When the actor who played Kahn in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, he intentionally played the villain as if he were the hero. After all, no villain sees a monster in the mirror. The actor who played Gul Dukat tried to play that villain as the hero in Deep Space Nine.

You see, I don’t think video game villains are being written anymore as heroes-from-their-own-perspective. Bad writing comes from the villain thinking he is a villain. Villains don’t think they are villains! It comes across as cliched and ruins the adventure. Perspective is necessary. Ganon becomes a better villain as has a perspective that he is actually the hero in the game. Imagine if the Metroids or Bowser acted as if they had the perspective they were the heroes in the game. (How can Metroids see themselves as the hero? In Metroid II, they were ‘evolving’ which is pretty damn scary. To use another geek reference, the Borg were scary because they had the perspective that they were the heroes: “we shall add your technical distinctiveness to our own. Resistance is futile”. That perspective was lost in the Voyager episodes where the Borg became just green cubes that blew up when the Voyager turned into the Batmobile.)

There’s a reason why the RTS games always had the strongest fleshed out evil. Since most RTSes were designed with Good Side vs. Bad Side, you had an entire campaign where you are the Bad Side. You got to be Kane who saw himself as a hero (and he was a great villain). You got to be the Orcs rampaging the Humans in Warcraft 2. You got to be Kerrigan and play the ‘hero’ by slaying everyone. The point is not so much in playing the villain but in establishing the perspective. Good fiction is all about perspectives.

For pete’s sake, in Donkey Kong Junior it is Mario who is the villain! Back then, Nintendo understood perspective. Ever since they put Bowser in a Clown Car, there has been no convincing villains in Mario games.



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