PBS Game/Show Talks Harmful Male Stereotypes in Games


Not everyone can be a tasty stack of man-muscle like Marcus Fenix, and that might hurt your self-esteem.

A real man bulges out of his orange tank top, glistening with sweat and chewing on a cigar. Maybe he wears heavy, futuristic armor that barely contains his biceps, his face craggy with scars from brutal fights. Even better, he is stoically silent, instantly adapting from life as a theoretical physicist to defeat aliens and military alike with his trusty crowbar. PBS Game/Show suggests that these hyper-masculine ideals are not just unattainable fantasy, but also possibly harmful.

The latest video from PBS Game/Show tackles the question of how videogame stereotypes can be harmful to men. Stereotypes for videogame protagonists include an exaggerated physique, stoic silence, and a complete mental imperviousness to trauma or guilt. Emotion, vulnerability, and stress are all removed from these heroes, lest they seem less masculine. The video notes that distorted body image can contribute to eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia, and that an estimated 10-15% of eating disorder sufferers are men. Rates of eating disorders among men are on the rise, and so is muscle dysmorphia, the unhealthy use of steroids and exercise in the pursuit of an unattainable ideal.

Stock videogame enemies are also largely men. Faceless wave after wave of men are regularly thrown against our Killbot hero to be dispatched. The video introduces the idea of the expendable or disposable male, applying concepts from sociology and anthropology to explain how society reinforces the idea that men should sacrifice themselves for the protection of children and women.

The episode continues the dialogue started in a previous video which asked whether gamers need feminism. The video introduces the sociology concepts of in-group favoritism and outgroup derogation, which describe how we identify with groups and react to interlopers. The episode uses these concepts to interpret the backlash received by GameSpot’s Carolyn Petit for her review of Grand Theft Auto 5 and the hate directed at Anita Sarkeesian over her Tropes vs Women in Video Games Kickstarter and web series.

PBS Game/Show is a production of PBS Digital Studios, the web-only division of the Public Broadcasting Service. Other shows include PBS Idea Channel, which explores the connections between pop culture and art, and It’s Okay To Be Smart, a science program that highlights the connections to science in everyday experience. PBS Digital Studios launched in 2012 with a Mr. Rogers’ autotune video. At the 2013 Webby Awards, PBS Digital Studios received four Webby Awards and three Webby People’s Voice Awards.

Source: YouTube

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