Moosa’s Musings : Real Men Don’t Game

Apparently, real men engage in “industriousness [sic], marriage and religion” to be empowered. Men are becoming increasingly apathetic, rather engaging in these things called video games than… I don’t know, going outside and skinning a bear with his teeth, or whatever real men do. The point is men should stop playing video games (so much). This is according to William J. Bennett, a columnist on CNN.com, who loves men or being a man so much he wrote a book called “The Book of Man: Readings on the Path to Manhood”.

What’s strange about this article is his focus on video-gaming. Sure, the entire thing reads like the scrawls of a madman whose been consuming his own sweat and hair in a 17th-century dungeon for too long… but still. I’m always sceptical of people who claim to know what “real” men and women are supposed to be like. After all, “real” women weren’t supposed to be anywhere else but in the kitchen, bare-foot, pumping out babies and broth. Luckily and thankfully that is slowly changing, to being not only equal but, according to Mr Bennett, the opposite. See, while we should celebrate the rise of the better sex, we need not see the decline of the bumbling, hairy, smelly one.

Let’s just be clear. Mr Bennett is not advocating that men become better than women or that women should be less successful than men. He is only saying there is no reason for men to be spending so much time playing video games when they should be doing… other things. Having never been a member or even ever considered as anything remotely related to “manliness”, I assume that a real man is someone who plays sport, gels his hair, goes to clubs, works in the corporate world, has a BlueTooth headset, laughs annoyingly loud, drinks too much, touches too many women inappropriately and probably has a friend called Russell. I can afford to make my list because Mr Bennett doesn’t bother telling us what it means to be a man, only what it does not mean – and one of those negative things is playing video games.

Here’s thing. What are these other things? Why can’t we play games?

And, finally, who the hell cares?

Yes, seriously. Who cares what “real” men or what “real” women should do? We’re adult enough to decide for ourselves – we might need some urging, some persuasive arguments, perhaps we require aid to think beyond the fact that we are a mortal, fallible, and stupid species. But dividing us in two and saying “Here is what you should be doing because you have a Y-Chromosome” is idiotic.

There’s no justification to saying because you have a particular natural attribute you should be a specific way (hello Prof Stephen Hawking). It’s like saying because you have hands, you should be building things. Er, no thanks. I’d rather use them to write or hold a book – does that mean I’m not a “real” hand user? This is no different to people who don’t qualify as real men for Mr Bennett – but recall, he provides no examples of what men should be doing – only what they’re doing “wrong”.

Anyway, my problem is his focus on video games since he incorrectly implies it’s a problem rather than a symptom of apathy (we’re assuming he’s correct that many men are apathetic – wow, thanks, Gandalf. That’s like saying many men have two eyes).

It seems his major problem is that 18-34 year old men play more games than 12-17 year olds. This is not surprising given that it’s also the age bracket that makes the games. Furthermore, this also implies games are not to be taken as anything other than a self-indulgent past time, where people switch off. (Oh, by the way, Mr Bennett, I didn’t know games and gaming systems were free since, you know, someone needs to pay for those things! Presumably it’s the hard-working lady of the house? I’m not sure about you, but if I had an older lovely lady that bought me games and gaming systems and didn’t expect me to work, I would not be complaining. Am I weird?)

Mr Bennett is wrong to have this implication that games are merely or only brainless pastimes. Just like comics or books or television-series, it is only a medium (for expression).

Within books we have A Brief History of Time and Hannah Montana Birthday Party Bash (I’ve not bothered to check whether the latter book exists, but after my writing the title, it probably will emerge like Cthulu from non-existent slumber); within television series we have The Wire, Planet Earth but also Jersey Shore and other horror series; in comics we have Watchmen, Maus, Persepolis, and Superman, X-Men, and other yawn-inducing superhero comics.

We can’t take a broad brush and say the entire medium is about time-wasting or even mainly for that. The sheer volume of titles in each medium would be too crass. Gaming has its Deus Exes and its Limbos and its Shadow of the Colossus’s just as it has its Duke Nukems and Call of Duty: Modern Warfares. I would argue Deus Ex is a more important creative experience than any movie I’ve seen this past year (I would’ve said Transformers but there’s no Megan Fox so I didn’t watch it).

This does not imply everyone becomes all weird and reflective like I do when engaging in creative works, but it certainly indicates there’s no single way to engage with a fully functioning medium.

When critics like Bennett seek a problem and pick on games, they need to say why games and not television, or movies, or books. They forget gaming is a medium that can actually help the world in various ways – even if it is to engage socially, think critically, advance technology or raise awareness about important issues. There are many reasons for us to change not only our opinion on games but the way most people perceive games. Just as people who think all comics are superhero comics, it annoys me to no end when critics of gaming use a broad brush to paint gaming as degrading something like “real” men or is nothing but a time-waster. I’m not denying that for many it is but that is not true for all of us.

There’s plenty wrong with Bennett’s article. Not only is the appropriate reaction “So what?”, he gives nothing concrete. But where he has, he’s touched on our favourite medium and shot himself in the foot.

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