Hey there champ, buddy, dude. You may have noticed that yesterday, November 19th, was International Men's Day. If your man-senses somehow didn't tingle, be no afeared, as there's really no legal requirement to sing the praises of all things androcratic.
Of course, International Men's Day has a serious side to it – most pertinently, to increase awareness of the devastating suicide rate amongst males, currently the highest it's been since 2001. In 2013, 78 percent of all suicides were men, and suicide is the biggest killer of all men aged between 20 and 45. Do we really need a special day "for men"? Of course not, but anything that helps to highlight a genuine societal concern can only be a good thing, whatever its less-appealing connotations.
Gaming has long been focused on a very simple kind of "real man", the hero archetype, usually massively muscly, often overpowered versus his enemies, not uncommonly on a quest to rescue a princess in some form or other. We've played these roles since the dawn of gaming. But in recent years we've controlled more vulnerable, relatable males in video games, characters that we see something of ourselves in. Joel in The Last of Us, Ethan in Heavy Rain – both father figures forced to overcome incredible hardships to protect and preserve the ones they love. We've even seen the once unreadable Master Chief of the Halo series reveal a chink or nine in his armour, his emotional side.
Gaming is still learning to present female characters in a fashion that best reflects the even gender balance in the gaming audience, painting them as more hard-ass than helpless, but it's making progress, which we'll see more of in 2016. But with International Men's Day fresh in the memory, now feels like a good time to look at some of gaming's current males with more, characters both virtual and entirely flesh and blood who aren't regressive macho men.
Geralt of Rivia
Geralt is a real man's man: strong, a confident outdoorsman, and a big hit with a number of ladies. Throughout the Witcher series, Geralt and his creators have become far more sensitive when it comes to showing, and letting players control, romance and relationships with female characters. In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt – and its recent expansion, Hearts of Stone – Geralt provides a strong role model in stark contrast to so many other male protagonists. He brings his (sort of) adopted daughter Ciri up to be a warrior, his long-term partner Yennefer wears the boots in their relationship, and sometime girlfriend Triss Merigold has saved Geralt just as many (if not more) times than he's swung into a village to rid it of a monster infestation.
Geralt's as gruff as they come, and has difficulty expressing his feelings – a real problem for many men, let's be honest. But he overcomes this at key moments, to act tenderly and with heartfelt honesty. He's also treated as an outsider and a freak by many of the people he encounters, but lives by a strict code of almost knightly honour. Oh, and he knows how to brew a great jar of psychotropic battle-brew.
Renaissance Man Points: 9/10
Dragon Age: Inquisition's Cremisius Aclassi, aka Krem, is a mercenary lieutenant in the Bull's Chargers. The outfit is led by a Qunari man so manly he's actually named Iron Bull. Krem is cut from different cloth to his boss, though: funny, sensitive, insightful (it was he who convinced Iron Bull to get in touch with the Inquisition) but can still hold his own. In one skit during the game, Krem can be seen almost pushing Iron Bull back with his shield while sparring – it's hardly cow tipping.
Also, though it's not even a big deal to Krem, he was technically born a girl. Iron Bull claims at one point that Krem fits the Qunari concept of "Aqun-Athlok", that translates "born as one gender but living like another". It's something Krem has had to fight for his life over, being pursued by the pesky (going on downright demon-worshipping sociopathic) Tevinter Imperium who intended to make an example of him with the business end of a flail.
Even when the Inquisitor inquires rather tactlessly inquires about it all, Krem answers with chill patience and understanding. Attaboy.
Inquisitor's Verdict: A strong asset. Sweet skin fade. Original gender/orientation irrelevant.
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Senpai, please notice me senpai! Let's be honest, who amongst us, no matter how strong and unfeeling, hasn't felt like squealing this at some point? In the case of Persona 4's Kanji Tatsumi though, you might not want him to notice you. The rumours are he's angry, violent, a typical delinquent. Get to know him a little better, though, and you realise the dark, rough exterior holds a soft and sensual centre, much like a delicious, naked Ferrero Rocher.
Kanji actually gets in fights to protect people, and puts on the tough guy front. He's afraid of being mocked for showing "feminine", traits like being a gifted sewer and crafter, loving all things kawaii (silly/cute) and having a conflicted, fluid sexuality. Through the obscure Japanese art of alternate-Freudian-dimensions accessed through TV screens (not to be attempted by amateurs) Kanji eventually demonstrates what being a real man means: "I'm gonna start by not lying to myself. No more being scared of everyone, hiding my hobbies... anytime, anyplace, I'm gonna bust right through as my own self!" Now that's my senpai.
Social Link Level: Supa Kawaii Rank 5
Related, from the VICE archives: I Am a Masculinity Expert
Tycho Brahe/Jerry Holkins and Gabe Gabriel/Mike Krahulik (Penny Arcade)
Being a white American human male isn't easy. You've got to stay buff, learn the correct nuances of the bro-dude lexicon, amiright brah? Oh, and remember not to make bad jokes about dick wolves and then make T-shirts about it all. However, another important part of being a man – well, being a human, really – is owning up to your mistakes, taking responsibility and learning from what you did wrong.
Jerry and Mike, otherwise known by their desperately geeky alter-ego avatars, have grown up in front of a huge audience. They've made mistakes, and we can relate – I'll bet all of us have had awkward times growing into our strapping, impeccable current selves, but few of have lived through those rough patches while being watched by so many.
Now each married with kids, Mike and Jerry communicate hilarious wisdom about parenthood as often as they do Destiny in a cool triple-panel cartoon strip. We all like to act like stupid kids sometimes, and Penny Arcade often does; but it also shows you can be grown up about it. We shouldn't underestimate that.
Manly Manliness: Boys 2 Men
Representations like these of what it is to "be a man" are too rare. We don't need an International Men's Day, but let's at least consider the males, working in an incredibly dude-dominated industry, that offer us alternatives to misogyny and machismo. A lot of men out there need help letting go of being manly, and we're beginning to see games characters and personalities become valuable aids in that process. We don't a celebration, then; we need a focus on destroying harmful stereotypes. Pretty much half of us are men, whatever that means to you, so let's at least do it right, in video games and beyond.
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