In the latest issue of Custom PC,Tracy King looks at the still-persistent myth that men who play video games aren’t ‘manly’.
Years ago, I debunked the then-common myth that girls are naturally inferior at games. That belief is still around in a few dank corners, but I’ve definitely observed a shift away from it, perhaps because female gamers are so visible now that it’s an accusation easily dismissed.
Most adults under 40 grew up with some gaming experience, and many of them will have kids of their own with whom gaming is important family time. I know mums who play Minecraft and dads who spend hours in Animal Crossing, and one family of four who play Battlefield together. But while progress has been made in the perception of female gamers, there’s still a slew of people who think male gamers are somehow … not real men.
It’s an accusation as old as games, historically made by grandparents or parents with old-school values who thought kids should be outside kicking a football (a ‘man’s’ game), throwing a rugby ball (a ‘real man’s’ game) or hitting a ball with a bat (a ‘gentleman’s’ game).
‘The demise of guys?’
Mucking about with Tetris would rot your brain or your muscles, and then you wouldn’t be a real man, whatever that is. Overall, there’s less of that attitude now the Tetris kids are the parents, but in 2015, the psychologist Philip Zimbardo, most famous for his (now debunked) Stanford Prison experiment, tried to claim that it’s literally true, that video games are somehow making men less … manly.
In a 2011 TED talk and the inevitable following book, he claimed that men aren’t as awesome (by his standards) as before, and by 2015 he’d concocted a theory that this was partly because video games are for softy losers. Or something. I’m unclear about exactly what went on there because my brain is obviously addled from decades of gaming and, more importantly, he didn’t actually provide any proof.
Zimbardo wants us to believe that men in society have specific roles and attributes that passive hobbies such as gaming are destroying. Men should play sports and be in charge of everyone, perhaps like it was in his youth when men were men and women were in the kitchen.
Better things to do?
Never mind the evidence, society should go backwards. Aside from the sexism, it’s hard not to detect a hint of homophobia here as well. In September 2021, the Chinese government outlawed ‘effeminate’ male characters in games for much the same logic as Zimbardo – young men are apparently so easily influenced, they’ll abandon their potential futures as real manly men and instead become gay or weak.
At the same time on this side of the world, a Telegraph journalist wrote that ‘grown men shouldn’t be wasting their lives playing video games’. This genuinely bothered me, not just because it’s kind of nasty but also because it shows a major newspaper propagating myths that gaming reduces something in men that’s essential for their progress.
She was specifically ranting about a Nintendo advert on the London Underground that features adults using a Switch, which she claims is and should only be for children (terrible news for my commute and the forthcoming Steam Deck).
It’s all transparently stupid, not least because what’s considered ‘masculine’ has changed multiple times throughout history. If playing video games isn’t masculine enough then masculinity will adapt, because games aren’t going anywhere and real men aren’t afraid to play them.
Custom PC — Issue 219 out NOW!
And if you’d like a handy digital version of the magazine, you can also download issue 219 for free in PDF format.